Food and Beverage Packaging: The Good, the Bad and the Weird

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Once upon a time, groceries made the journey between stores and consumers' cupboards wearing little more than a paper bag. But as packaging technology has taken off in the past 50 years, our food and beverage products have gained an extensive wardrobe—so extensive, it can get a little crazy.

According to this article about food packaging trends:

"Today’s consumers want to access the Internet while ordering lattes, call their physicians while taking public transportation, send text messages while crossing intersections, and watch the latest film release on DVD while driving to grandma and grandpa’s for clothing and interact with friends over the Web while dining on 7-minute Asian cuisine that tastes great and is safe for consumption."

Yikes. Today's consumers sound like brats. The article says we also desire "active" and "intelligent" food packaging, which can control and monitor things like temperature, oxygen and moisture levels to preserve the artifacts—I mean, products—longer. But we also want creativity, convenience and novelty, which has resulted in some unusual packages.

Here's a few examples:

1. Cascadian Farm, which sells things like jam and frozen vegetables, hides tiny human faces amid the digital images of foods like broccoli and grapes on their packages. The astute Bread and Honey blogger pointed this out a few years ago. Like she said, it's wacky but "pretty darn funny."

2. Gross or brilliant? Well, it's an efficient use of space, anyway. The Col-Pop package combines a soda cup and chicken nugget container, freeing up the hands of "today's consumer" so they can drive...or text-message through the next intersection. Ugh.

3. Definitely gross: beer bottles made from taxidermied squirrels. (I know, you want one, but they're SOLD OUT.) And on a similar who-the-heck-buys-this-stuff note...I present Bling bottled water, decorated with Swarovski crystals. (Only $2,600 for the fully-encrusted bottle!)

4. Would we all be more likely to eat healthy foods if they looked unhealthy? Baby carrots packaged like junk food, or celery sticks in a french-fry container, for example?

5. Here's a nifty milk carton that really spells out its purpose. But why do we even bother with cartons or jugs? I like the way Canadians (and folks in several other countries) buy milk in bags.

6. Many fruit juices are mostly sugar and water—but hey, at least these juice boxes look and feel like real fruit.

7. Would you drink from a battery? How about a hand grenade? None for me, thanks...but I might like to decorate my own bottle of soda.

8. It's not fun when your meal "talks back to you" after you eat it...but how about before? Interactive packages are all the rage these days, from talking pizza boxes to chatty wine labels.

9.  We might be able to eat our yogurt containers or frozen pizza wrappers someday, according to this article. Why would we want to? Well, that's a good question.

10. Here's something this consumer does want: food safety. And since you can't have safety without accountability, traceable produce makes sense. A system called HarvestMark gives an individual barcode to each piece of produce sold by participating farms. Consumers can scan that code with their smartphones and find out where and when a particular watermelon was grown, for example, and if it is subject to any recalls.

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