Food Packaging

Recyclable packaging for meal kits makes consumers feel better

Meal kits with pre-cut ingredients grow in popularity. But they come with packaging waste. A new study shows consumers prefer fully recyclable packaging of meal kits.

The food industry reacts for the increasing demand for healthy and convenient food by developing new and innovative products. Meal kits, that provide pre-measured bundles of raw ingredients usually worth recipe cards to easily prepare a home cooked meal are especially growing in popularity. But they do come with packaging waste. 

Research has shown that consumers prefer to buy them at their local grocery store rather than online, if they can find them in both places. This way at least the packaging waste that is necessary to ship the meal kits is reduced. Researchers at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) wanted to know how efforts to reduce packaging waste impact consumer preferences for meal kits. 

“We wanted to know if consumers would feel better about online meal kits in terms of waste generation when provided with fully recyclable packaging,” says Sungeun Yoon, a postdoctoral researcher in food and resource economics, who conducted the research with UF/IFAS professors Zhifeng Gao and Lisa House. “It turns out they do. Consumers perceive fully recyclable packaging as comparable to minimal packaging of in-store meal kits. However, the perception change does not lead to behavior change. Consumers still prefer the grocery option for other reasons than environmental. Other reasons could include flexibility of in-store meal kits.”

Yoon, Gao and House also found – among other things – that consumers are willing to pay $2.14 more per serving for meal kits sold at grocery stores, compared to those sold online. Although the research was done prior to the pandemic, consumer demand for meal kits has increased since COVID struck. People are more likely to stay home and get their healthy meal ingredients delivered.

The trick, says Yoon, is to make the meal kits fully recyclable.

“Fully recyclable packaging significantly reduces the negative emotions associated with the packaging waste of online meal kits. Consumers perceive fully recyclable packaging as comparable to no packaging waste,” Yoon said.  “Packaging waste might not be one of the critical reasons determining consumers’ decisions to consume or not to consume food products. Still, with the increasing awareness of environmental issues, food should be consumed to minimize its environmental impact.”