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Insights: Articles & Resources by Oliver Inc.


What Materials Can Be Used for Food Packaging?

Although a variety of materials are used in food packaging, finding the right combination for your products depends on your branding and sustainability goals while maximizing protection, safety, and shelf life.

    5 minute read

The answer to what materials can be used for food packaging can be complex. Companies have relied on a range of materials over the years: paperboard for folding cartons and boxes, now including tree-free and post-consumer recycled options; plastics for protection, linings, and barriers; coatings to provide a layer between the contents and the packaging. The setting also impacts your choice of materials. Packaging for frozen food products, for instance, requires special treatments. 

So rather than going into a discussion on food packaging with a firm idea in place of the materials you’ll need, focus on your packaging goals as a whole and consider how the materials support those goals. Here are some things to think about.


Prioritize SQF Certification

While the materials you’ll ultimately need for food packaging might change product to product, one of your main priorities shouldn’t: Working with a packaging manufacturer that holds an SQF certification

On a macro level, the safe quality food certification assures you that the packaging supplier meets the highest food safety standards in the world. It’s earned through a rigorous review process that includes a third-party audit. From a more micro perspective, it means that the manufacturer has practices in place to safely handle your food products and provide packaging solutions that come into direct contact with those products. 

When you choose an SQF-certified manufacturer, trust that your products are in good hands.


Material Considerations

The appropriate materials for your food products will ultimately be determined by your packaging goals. As you assess options, think about how the materials will support branding, protection and safety, and sustainability.



The boom in e-commerce has reached the food and beverage industry. That means that in addition to standing out on crowded grocery store shelves, your products need to make an impression in digital settings.

You’ll need materials that help you achieve your branding goals. This could be clever windowing that gives consumers a glimpse at your product before they even open the package (windowing also plays an important protection role—see below). 

It could be choosing a substrate that supports intricate designs. Consider the packaging for Williams Sonoma Pizza Crust Mix. The off-white of the script against a dark background speaks to the elegance of the brand. The level of detail captured by the finish also makes the box appear like a pizza stone. 

It appeals to customers looking for something a little more creative and old-fashioned than purchasing frozen pizza or placing a call to their favorite delivery spot. 

While Williams Sonoma targets adults, think of how important decorative branding is to companies that market to families. The Original Cakebites’ packaging captures the vibrant colors of their sweet snacks with playful imagery to boost the brand in the eyes of young shoppers. 



The right substrate makes such depth of design possible. 


Protection & Safety

Packaging protection is about getting your products into customers’ hands intact and making sure they’re safe for consumption. 

The aforementioned SQF certification signifies that the holder can safely handle your food products and limit the risk of contamination. The last thing you want is a costly recall, in the monetary expense it takes to rectify the issue not to mention additional efforts to restore your reputation. 

There are other material considerations that preserve your products from manufacturing to your consumers’ kitchens. The most obvious is physical protection. If someone drops your packaging during shipping or stocking, the sturdiness of the packaging combined with the right folds and glues should prevent breaks and spills. 

Then there’s maximizing shelf life. The biological clock of food products starts ticking as soon as they hit shelves. The packaging should prolong the contents, while also establishing you as a trustworthy brand: The expiration dates are accurate in terms of safety and quality of the products.

The right barrier coatings also keep grease from compromising the packaging (and prevent the packaging from contaminating the contents). Windowing, decorative in some instances, serves an important protective purpose as well.

Reducing exposure to air is the best way to increase shelf life. There are two types of films typically utilized to do so. A poly film is the most common, and great for providing visibility to the product while also ensuring optimal shelf life, due to its restrictive air-penetrating properties. The second is an acetate film, which does allow for some airflow. Acetate is critical when dealing with products that go through a thaw cycle in the box (i.e., pastries or donuts that arrive at the store frozen and thaw on the shelf). The breathable window enables moisture to escape and not end up as condensation on the inside of the window.



Sustainability is directly tied to other packaging material considerations. For example, brands could choose an alternative board option that retains a natural look and speaks to their eco-friendly initiatives. Emerald Tree-Free™ packaging, made from sugarcane bagasse, comes in a natural, grease-free option that’s ideal for fried foods and pastries. 

Recycled paperboard is also a popular choice for brands appealing to environmentally conscious consumers. In an effort to reduce plastic overall, experienced manufacturers can create designs that limit its use or enhance its recyclability. 

Finally, right-size packaging supports sustainability as well, by optimizing the amount of material used while limiting carbon emissions with more efficient shipping.   

With so much to consider for food packaging materials, you need a partner that can deliver a creative solution that meets your goals. 

For years, companies have turned to Oliver for that very reason. We are an SQF-certified packaging supplier that relies on green energy, has access to a wide range of decorative effects to elevate your brand, and offers fulfillment services. With vendor-managed inventory, you can also get your packaging when you need it. 

Your brand plus Oliver’s expertise, resources, and capabilities is a recipe for packaging success. 

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