The foodservice sector sees disposables, such as packaging and cutlery, as a safer alternative to reusable products during Covid-19
Businesses in the foodservice sector are turning to disposables in an attempt to prevent the spread of Covid-19, according to an industry expert.
Since the coronavirus outbreak, restaurants have moved to disposable food containers and cutlery due to contamination fears.
Other sectors, including education, have looked to pre-wrapped cutlery to prevent spreading the disease.
Speaking at a webinar hosted by industry organisation the Foodservice Packaging Association (FPA), foodservice wholesaler Bidfood’s marketing director, Dr Andy Kemp, said: “What we have to do as an industry is really recognise we’re in a new world, and that plastic and disposables have got their benefits.
“The issue is not about plastic and disposable, the issue is how we dispose of it.”
Consumers will continue to move to takeaways during Covid-19 outbreak, says industry expert
One area in the foodservice sector to receive a huge boost during the Covid-19 pandemic is the delivery marketplace.
In May, research organisation Kantar announced that takeaway deliveries have gone up by 250% year-on-year in the UK.
It coincides with an increase in supermarket alcohol and take-home grocery store sales.
Foodservice industry consultant Peter Backman believes takeaway deliveries will make up much more of the market over the coming months.
He added: “Last year, it accounted for £8.4bn ($10.6bn) in sales to consumers, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if this year it reaches around £10bn ($12.6bn) or so.
Disposables seen as a safer option during Covid-19, says industry expert
Despite the growth in the food takeaway market, consumers are becoming more conscious about food safety.
According to a study conducted by market researcher G&S Business Communications, 69% of Americans are more concerned about food safety than they were a few months ago.
Published in May, it also found that 44% of people say they now clean their food packaging with disinfectant, while 65% said research indicating food and packaging are unlikely to spread Covid-19 would be reassuring.
Backman says, due to concerns like this, operators are generally looking at disposable products in a positive way.
He explained: “This is because they see it as one the ways that they can ensure properly safe conditions.”
Alongside becoming more attuned to food hygiene, the number of people concerned about the environment during the pandemic has also grown.
In May, market researcher FMCG Gurus published research that found that 55% of consumers have now become “more concerned” about the environment as a result of Covid-19.
Dr Kemp believes the foodservice industry is “ready to pick up the challenge” posed by the environmentally-conscious consumer during this time.
He added: “I think most consumers today are more green and think about sustainability more, but I also think we have to wake up to the fact that we’re living a world where people are very conscious about health and safety.
“Therefore, if health and safety means we move ourselves to disposable packaging when away from home, then that’s going to happen.”
To make this disposable packaging as sustainable as possible, Dr Kemp believes the industry must think about recyclable and biodegradable products.
He said: “If we move to materials such as bamboo, we will be able to mix both recyclable and biodegradable elements.
“If we’re going to take this to the right levels, then organisations such as the FPA have to very carefully advise their customer base — what we do with these products, how do we dispose of them, and how do we work in a responsible way.”
Covid-19 science needs to be fully understood before dismissing reusables, says industry leader
A hot topic of conversation in the industry is the short to medium-term future of the reusable packaging market.
In March, coffee chains Starbucks and Costa announced it would suspend its refillable cup scheme in the UK.
That same month, McDonald’s stores in Australia and New Zealand also put refill services on hold.
Writing in GreenBiz in May, recycling company TerraCycle founder and CEO Tom Szaky said: “Reusable packaging is faced with proving its trustworthiness alongside disposables in a world that is standing six-feet apart in the grocery aisle.”
FPA director Martin Kersh believes more information is needed around how safe reusable packaging is during the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said: “At this stage, there are three things that need to be taken into account, and that is science, science and science.
“This whole debate about hygiene should be led by experts and we need to allow them to do their work before making some decisions.
“One of the things that I’ve gathered recently is, as far operating solutions are concerned, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.
“Solutions vary in terms of customers throughput, where the premises are, the profiles of the businesses and so on.
“Premises are different from each other, and they will require different solutions.”