Ready-cooked foods, semi-prepared dishes, quick-heat options, and frozen products are just a few examples of the different kinds of items that can be found in the realm of fresh and convenience foods. They represent the forefront of new lifestyles and consumption patterns, with ready-to-eat dishes - in all their guises - being their prime examples. Mainly sold in large-scale retail stores, often found in the deli section, ready-made foods have also become a regular presence in more traditional settings, like home dining. This is a reflection of a consumption model that takes into account the dynamic lives we lead, spread between work and personal time, where cooking is not always an option.
According to the Italian Packaging Institute, in 2022, Italy produced 16,900 t/000 of ready-made food products. Of these products, 84% were frozen or non-frozen dishes considered first courses in Italy, 10.2% were ready-to-use and ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables, such as salads, fruit salads, and cooked vegetables, 0.9% consisted of fresh fish products, including appetisers and main courses but not sushi, 0.7% were frozen foods (including pizzas), and the remaining 4% ("others") included various meat-based dishes, savoury pies, sushi, and desserts.
A wide range of packaging incorporating high levels of service
Such a diverse range of products naturally demands a wide variety of packaging solutions, all of which must combine high levels of food safety and shelf life with an attractive appearance for on-shelf brand and product identification. Another aspect that shouldn't be overlooked is the information function of packaging. In addition to nutritional properties, packaging must also feature instructions on how to maintain sensory qualities such as taste and flavour perfect both before and after products are sold, by providing information on storage conditions (temperature, environment, and humidity).
Packaging drives sales
In 2022, the segment consumed approximately 531,000 tonnes of primary packaging, which reached a total of 540,000 tonnes with secondary packaging included. At 74.5%, the materials in contact with the products consisted mainly of plastic, particularly PET and polystyrene trays, while multilayer flexible bags and trays made up 16%, aluminium trays accounted for 8%, and cardboard packaging stood at 1.5%. 40% of the total plastic packaging employed in the food industry is used for convenience food (excluding beverages). An examination of other materials reveals that aluminium is widely used in the delicatessen segment in both large-scale retail and neighbourhood stores; cardboard, meanwhile, is the preferred material for freshly prepared ready-to-eat food, where special inner linings are added to cellulose containers to create a barrier effect, turning them into sturdy composite packaging options.
(Source: Italian Packaging Institute for ItaliaImballaggio)