Takeout Takeover: Navigating Packaging Beyond the Pandemic
Over the last year and a half, the hospitality industry has changed rapidly, and we have felt the pressure from stakeholders to keep pace and stay afloat. As a result, a critical element of survival has been takeout, reimagining every component of food & beverage offerings and the dining experience itself.
Restaurants new to takeaway and delivery found themselves scrambling – which menu items stay, which go, and which travel well? Also, which third-party platforms do we partner with, do the cost of goods sold (COGS) work along with the labour requirements, which subsidy programmes we qualify for, and most importantly, can we do this? But guess what – we figured it out.
Takeout is here to stay, even for fine dining, and the pandemic has changed consumer purchasing expectations and behaviours. If you asked me in January of 2020 if Aburi Hana, one of our properties at Aburi Restaurants Canada, would ever curate menu items for Uber Eats, I would have laughed. Now I am reimagining the entire consumer journey from pick-up to unpacking in the home. Here, takeout containers are a critical part of the culinary experience; I find that they fit into four pillars of decision making: economic, practicality, brand optics, and sustainability.
The essential purpose of a takeout container is to efficiently and safely transport items from point A to B, arriving as the restaurant intended. The functional needs of takeout and increased demand have helped propel more effective design options. Bento and tiered boxes for kaiseki-like experiences and pizza-esque containers for charcuterie and nibbles have helped keep us working across the country. Takeout vessels need to fit into a standard courier bag and be securely stackable; the packaging also needs to keep food cold or hot and never become soggy when wet – nothing is worse!
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The containers must be fiscally responsible, benefiting the business’ bottom line; they have to work into the COGS for each menu item, consumers will ultimately have to find value in their functionality and brand fit as the cost is passed onto them. Operators also have to walk a fine line by forecasting consumer demand to achieve economy of scale savings with bulk container ordering.
The packaging needs to be a visual extension of the brand’s ethos. Labelling, logo placement, design and artwork should tell a narrative and attempt to create a similar dine-in experience, albeit at home, that guests expect on-premise. Brands like Cafe Boulud have done a great job sourcing beautiful, transportable high tea towers to offer an experience you would expect from the brand. Special thank-you messages and other paper collateral outlining a brand story have also been increasingly necessary when connecting with guests from a distance.
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Curating packaging for holidays and special occasions have seen a significant rise. For example, McDonald’s collaboration with boy-band BTS brought in hoards of guests, Craig’s Cookies incorporated Pride messaging into the packaging, and Aburi Hana created a dessert bouquet for Mother’s Day with a celebrated Ikebana artist. Design is critical for drawing in guests, having them return and creating Instagram-worthy organic content to drive your brand forward digitally.
Takeout must also be sustainable. Utility, cost and design mean nothing if containers end up in a landfill. We purchase from sustainable farmers, partner with organizations like Ocean Wise to prevent overfishing and need to be just as conscious when procuring takeout containers. A new comprehensive scientific study suggests that takeout food and drink litter is dominating ocean pollution. Companies such as Loop are starting to expand their global reach, working with food manufacturers to design reusable and sustainable packaging, showing extensive consumer adoption.
Takeout is here to stay, and innovation, cost-effective and sustainable packaging will continue to be critical for all food and beverage stakeholders well past this pandemic – choose carefully!