As more customers opt for delivery and takeout, restaurants like Ihop are tinkering with to-go containers and packaging for quality control.

Packaging Enters a New Frontier in Foodservice

More consumers are opting for take-out and delivery, raising the bar for packaging higher than ever.

Fueled by an accelerating consumer appetite for convenience and choice, restaurant delivery continues to climb.

Over the last five years, foodservice delivery sales have jumped 20 percent, according to The NPD Group. Meanwhile, Morgan Stanley analysts predict foodservice delivery to represent some 40 percent of restaurant sales by 2020.

Such soaring growth has compelled many full-service eateries to turn a more critical eye toward packaging, specifically investigating products that complement a restaurant’s brand identity and ensure the safe and appetizing arrival of food.

Fortunately for restaurants seeking a piece of the swelling foodservice delivery pie, there’s been an array of innovation in the packaging space long ruled by utilitarianism.

Function and fit

In 2017, after more than a year in development, IHOP unveiled its proprietary IHOP ‘N GO packaging, featuring a clear plastic component designed to the specific diameter of the company’s famous pancakes. This portion then interlocks with the bottom compartment to hold hot items such as eggs, hash browns, bacon, and sausage.

In a savvy design twist, small side vents on the top, pancake-holding compartment allow steam to escape, while insulated heat from the bottom compartment helps keep pancakes in the upper compartment warm and fluffy.

“Making sure our hero item—pancakes—was an integral part of the packaging design process was a top priority,” IHOP president Darren Rebelez says, adding that the custom packaging positions IHOP to capitalize on off-premises growth opportunities, including the chain’s current experimentation with delivery.

Meanwhile, Applebee’s, IHOP’s sister brand under the Dine Brands’ umbrella, rolled out its own customizable modular packaging in the spring. Like IHOP, Applebee’s packaging makes better use of space inside the containers and reduces the number of packaging products needed in the kitchen.

“[We] believe this packaging solution allows us to offer our guests an improved on-the-go solution while also creating efficiencies for the restaurant teams,” says Scott Gladstone, Applebee’s vice president of strategy and off-premises.

Eco-friendly options

Fin & Pearl, a Nashville seafood concept committed to sustainable and traceable sourcing, uses an array of eco-friendly packaging options that honor the two-year-old restaurant’s environmental ethos and its high-quality food. Fin & Pearl uses Earthchoice for individual portions, soup cups, and coffee cups, as well as bio-compostable clamshell boxes made by Monogram Foods.

“Products that are solid material that biodegrade back into the soil are what we refer to as compostable. A biodegradable product has the ability to break down, safely and relatively quickly, by biological means, into the raw materials of nature and disappear into the environment,” says Fin & Pearl general manager Philip Leaberry. “Both of these methods leave behind a smaller carbon footprint and align with our mission.”

While more streamlined, cost-effective packaging alternatives exist, Leaberry doesn’t balk at the investment.

“We choose not to let those aesthetics get in the way of our mission, which is to be a good steward of nature,” says Leaberry, who expects more restaurants to embrace environmentally conscious packaging amid continued packaging innovations, more accessible pricing, and government regulations.

“If businesses and the public continue to demand it, we will definitely see a shift toward more eco-friendly packaging products,” he adds.

Arriving safe and sound

With pressing concerns about brand protection in the world of rising third-party delivery, Pan Pacific Manufacturing vice president Mike Tan invented the Seal-2-Go tamper-evident plastic bag for food containers. The bag features a permanent closure adhesive to prevent pilferage and contamination as well as natural built-in vent passages for steam to release, a perforated line for easy opening, a wide, flat bottom that allows the bag to stand on its own, and a die-cut handle for easy carrying.

“It not only benefits and protects the restaurant, but it also benefits and protects the driver and consumer,” says Tan, who directed the development and release of other tamper-evident packaging products at Pan Pacific, including drink carriers and a paper bag.

He adds that Pan Pacific’s restaurant partners, a roster that includes multiunit concepts such as Wood Ranch BBQ in California and Texas-based Black Walnut Cafe, report diminishing shrink costs with respect to their third-party delivery business when using the Seal-2-Go bag.