Whether compostable, classic or chip-shop tray, the disposable packaging you use to hold your takeaway speaks volumes about the quality of the food within. John Porter takes at look at the latest offerings.
It doesn't require a great deal of insight to work out why the UK catering industry's need for disposable products has increased substantially over recent years. Research by Allegra Strategies has shown that one in five consumers now visits a coffee shop daily, compared with one in nine in 2009.
The coffee shop market, defined by Allegra as branded coffee chains, independent coffee shops and non-specialist operators serving coffee as part of the product mix, grew by 7.5% in 2012 to more than 15,700 outlets, with coffee generating £5.8bn in turnover.
Beyond coffee, many food- service operators are looking to expand trading hours and develop new revenue streams to maximise income from high-rent outlets. Last autumn, sector analyst Horizons identified food on the go as the key growth area in the UK eating out market in its annual Ones to Watch survey. It has also reported a growth in sales in snacks and breakfasts.
Neil Whittall, chairman of the Foodservice Packaging Association (FPA), says that despite the economic climate, "retail coffee shops, fast casual and on-the-move operators are all recording positive growth, and street food looks here to stay. As a result, UK consumers are using more food disposables than ever, as demand for convenience, innovation and sustainable options continues apace."
All of which generates demand from caterers, not simply for more disposable products, but also for a wider range. Independent research commissioned by Huhtamaki, one of the world's largest packaging manufacturers, has shown that 84% of caterers serve takeaway food.
John Young, foodservice sales and marketing director for Huhtamaki UK, says that as well as performing its primary function of protecting and preserving food, packaging also differentiates products, making them more appealing to customers in a competitive market.
"Operators should place the same level of importance on the standard of their disposable solutions they would on the ingredients for their food and drink," says Young.
BETTER BY DESIGN One brand recognising this need for differentiation is Birchall, an East African tea company, which traces its roots back to 1872 when Captain Birchall Graham became one of the first British planters to successfully grow tea in Darjeeling. Coinciding with the tea's foodservice launch, parent company Imporient recently launched a range of 12oz take- away cups using Huhtamaki's design and print service.
Daniel Graham, fifth gener- ation family member, says: "The landscape design on our cup is a representation of our Pfunda tea estate in Rwanda. It com- municates the provenance of Birchall in East Africa, while also reflecting our family's long heritage of growing tea."
"However, there are products, such as the polystyrene 'chip-shop' and 'burger-style' trays that are still used by some establishments as a cost-effective alter-â¨native. In a large proportion of venues, cost is a major factor, which drives the majority of clients to use the product range that offers the best value for money."
THE ENVIRONMENTAL AGENDA On the environmental issue, Stephenson believes: "Following a relative boom around 2007 and 2008, the price issues in the marketplace and the ambivalence on the shop floor are now the main â¨reasons for a slower uptake within the greener disposables market. Most businesses now only 'go green' on disposables if they are seeking green credentials, or if they have additional budget to allow for these pricier products."
One operator happy to make the investment is the Table café, a canteen-style restaurant in Southwark. The business puts sustainability at the heart of its food sourcing, and has used Vegware compostable products for several years. Vegware products don't need to be separated from food waste, which means they can be included with the food waste the café sends for composting locally.
Chef and owner Shaun Alpine-Crabtree says: "Vegware is always expanding its range, so as new products have been launched, we've been using them. Vegware now supplies lunchboxes and cartons, which are excellent for our takeaway trade. But the core products we use - soup cartons with lids, coffee cups and bags - have stayed the same."Alpine-Crabtree acknowledges that the efforts the business makes may not influence people when making a choice about where to eat. "Does it make a difference to â¨customers? I genuinely don't know. I think if you make a general statement about sourcing responsibly on your website or menu, that's probably enough for most people.
"We do it because it's the right thing to do. Yes, there's increased costs involved in sourcing compostable, disposable products - as there is with responsible sourcing generally - but we have to take whatever steps we can to preserve the environment for the future."
Whittall at the FPA says that the boom in the food-to-go sector "gives those who buy, supply and make foodservice packaging considerable opportunities but, as always, these come with their own challenges. The FPA was pleased to see that the WRAP Voluntary Agreement for Hospitality and Foodservice is making the reduction of food waste a major priority and that packaging's role in reducing food waste has been recognised."
NEW DISPOSABLE PRODUCTS
Artisan Bunzl Catering Supplies has launched Artisan,a sandwich tray made in the UK from recycled material. The tray sits in the base of a sandwich bag and acts as a cradle for a square-cut sandwich. The bag has a clear window, enabling operators to display the ingredients. Bunzl as also produced two matching label designs, and both the labels and bags can be custom-printed.
Chinet square plates Huhtamaki has added stylish white square plates to its range of single-use Chinet tableware. The plates are perfect for buffet-style event catering or receptions, with a 16cm side plate for canapés, desserts and salads, and a 24cm main course plate.
Natural Pots Planglow has developed the Natural Pot, which has thermo-insulating properties. The 12oz container is suitable for frozen products, such as sorbet, ice cream or frozen yogurt, or hot takeaways such as porridge, pasta, curries and stews. The pots are lined with a food-safe bio coating, which meets the European compostability standard, and there are two choices of matching lid.
Press & Dress Solo Cuo Europe's press&dress containers allow wet and dry ingredients to be stored separately. The development was driven by the need to separate wet and dry ingredients in takeaway items such as salads and dressings, granola and yogurt, or fruit and sauce, while limiting packaging waste. It is available on its Olivine salad bowls and UltraClear ranges.
Lotus Lotus has solved the takeaway coffee problem of how to hold a complementary biscuit by introducing a specially designed lid. Manufactured in association with Solo Cup, the lid is available in two sizes to fit the most popular cup formats. The lids are available in packs of 1,000.
ZERO WASTE SCOTLAND
The Waste (Scotland) Regulations 2012 will require all businesses to separate metal, plastic, glass, paper and card separately for collection by January. Hospitality businesses in urban areas producing more than 50kg of food waste per week will also have to segregate that waste for separate collection.
The move is part of the Zero Waste Scotland initiative, which aims to minimise waste going to landfill. To help it meet the requirements, Edinburgh microbrewery and beer café the Hanging Bat has served its food in packaging from Vegware since it opened last October. In January it contacted the Food Waste Network, which links businesses with recycling services, to see what else it could do.
An initial audit looked at the recyclable materials going to general waste, which was mainly food waste, packaging, cardboard, plastic and paper - all of which could be recycled.
By introducing two clearly signed bins behind the bar, one for food waste and compostable food packaging, and another for plastic, cardboard and paper, the Hanging Bat has reduced its weekly waste collection costs, as well as reducing its waste to landfill by 90%.
Bunzl Catering Supplieshttp://www.vegware.com" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer">www.bunzlcatering.co.uk](http://www.bunzlcatering.co.uk) - 01372 736300
Huhtamakiwww.foodservice.huhtamaki.co.uk 02392 512434
Lotus[www.greatwithcoffee.com ](http://www.greatwithcoffee.com)0800 834050
Solo Cup Europe[www.solocupeurope.co.uk ](http://www.solocupeurope.co.uk)Stephensonswww.stephensons.com 0161 483 6256
Vegware[www.vegware.com - 0845 643 0406
Zero Waste Scotlandwww.zerowastescotland.org.uk