Food Packaging 1: Different Ways to Package Food

The packaging is a huge concern for anyone starting a food business. In our blog, Why Packaging is Important, we likened it to a silent salesman, as it contributes enormously to one’s branding strategy. Here, we shall discuss how startups can package food inexpensively for retail. Read on to know more about different food packaging ideas that can help your business.

Different kinds of food packaging

How Should I Choose Packaging for My Food Product?

Choosing the right food packaging material is not always easy. Remember that, aside from making a profit, you must ensure product safety to establish a good name for yourself. The consequences of neglect are massive, so it is best to be particular about it from the start.

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Here, we have a rundown of the factors you must consider in finding the right container for your product.



Physical Protection of the Perishable

In Startups’ Step-by-Step Guide on How to Ship Food, we mentioned the different elements that can spoil perishables. Air, moisture, temperature changes and microbial growth are just some of them. Proper packaging safeguards food from environmental elements that can ruin its quality.

Potential UV light damage is not a concern when shipping food because it is entirely wrapped inside the package. This is not the case when it’s displayed on store shelves. UV light can strip off some vitamins and other additives from dairies, fermented food, etc. You may have to use opaque or darkly colored containers on these goods.

Coffee Beans


Product Visibility

Studies have shown that viewing the actual food product elicits more positive responses from buyers than mere images can. This is why some edibles are better packed in a transparent than opaque container. Additionally, consumers can examine the merchandise better when it is well-exposed.

However, to protect public safety, the law requires proper food labeling, even from startups. Aside from the branding aspects, food tags should contain product and company information, an ingredients list, allergen declarations, and if it applies, a nutrition facts table.

All of these details can take up much labeling space and end up obscuring product display. Good packaging designs balance food visibility with other branding components.


Convenience to Buyers

Hungry people want to open up food packages quickly. If they cannot do it, they might go into wrap rage and risk injury. While food needs protection from the elements, thieves, and curious toddlers, consumers must not find it too hard to open either. Other features that can add convenience are reclosability, heating and freezing tolerance, reusability, disposability, etc.

Food packaged in a microwavable container does not need to be transferred before heating


Attractiveness of the Food Packaging Design

Initially, your budget may limit you to using generic materials for your packaging. However, this does not mean that you can’t find ways to make it stand out. If you are drawing a blank, start by revisiting your unique selling proposition (USP), studying your target market and scouting the competition.

In How to Start Selling Food Online, we tackled the importance of defining your USP and doing so early. It is that “it factor” that distinguishes your product from those of your competition. Your ice cream may have a unique blend, but people won’t know it unless you tell them. What are the graphic elements that can reinforce that message? Let your USP help you figure out those details.

Have you specified your target market? Selling to many consumer groups all at once can muddle the messaging and bring disastrous results. Different visual cues attract each demographic, so you need to determine your niche and its buying triggers early. Do your research. Your food packaging has to be irresistible to this group.

Additionally, you can stroll inside a big retail store and survey your competitors’ packaging designs. Most food purchasing decisions are done based on appearance alone, so think of ways to stand out in this category.


The Food Product's Physical State

If your product is solid, it is crucial to keep it intact before consumption. Nobody likes solid food crumbling before they open the pack. Some, like cookies, may easily disintegrate, so rigid containers will suit them. Others, like bagels, are more resilient and can be wrapped in flexible plastic.

On the other hand, semisolids, liquids and solid-liquid mixtures have large amounts of water. Keeping that from leaking out is serious business. Use a well-sealed nonporous material, such as a metal can, glass jar, or plastic container, to package these foodstuffs.

A jar containing a salad with liquid and solid components


Package Size

Size affects buyers differently. Hungry people may go for big food packages, while health-conscious individuals may get small ones. Penny-pinchers may choose to buy large packs for perceived discounts, whereas others may not care if they intend to eat only a single serving.

Size also affects your packaging costs. For instance, you may need segmented trays or individual wrappers to keep food intact inside a large container. All these materials will raise your costs. However, bigger servings let you sell more, so it is easier for you to make a profit.


Potential Hazards of Direct Contact with Food

The FDA’s website has a long list of approved food packaging materials. US food businesses are strictly mandated to follow these guidelines. Substances excluded from that list may contain carcinogens, hormonal agents and other chemicals that can render food unsafe or unpalatable.

Avoid product recalls, negative publicity and expensive legal settlements by using only the materials on that list. Contact the FDA for inquiries about safe food packaging.


Security Features

Use tamper-evident seals to enhance consumer protection. Shrink wrap, colored stretch film and void stickers are some examples. Prematurely opened packages expose food to substances that can make it unsafe to eat. Food packs’ broken seals warn consumers that someone else has opened them. 

18″ Hand Stretch Film Wrap

: 1000 ft
: 18″
: 3 inch


Effect on Shelf-Life

Generally, porous and loosely sealed packaging does not affect shelf-life much. However, well-sealed, nonporous ones can extend food viability significantly. Additionally, you can use vacuum to extract oxygen from a tightly sealed container. Doing so eliminates oxygen-loving microbes that can cause food poisoning. You need to factor in a material’s effect on shelf-life because different products require different storage approaches.

Vacuum-sealing extends the shelf-life of these sausages



If you’re selling retail food online, one of the things that you need to plan for is shipping. Your product may look pretty when displayed in glass jars but think of the cost of mailing those containers to customers. Do you want to include it in the price, or will you allow a heavy parcel to eat into your profit? Lightweight packages are easier to secure and cheaper to ship. 



You can’t get much on a tight budget, but with a little creativity, you can do a lot, even with generic materials. Once you’ve finalized your design, shop around for the best rates so you can start putting together the best packaging for your food product.

Creative packaging design using inexpensive materials

So these are the most important considerations when packaging food. In the next section, we shall compare some inexpensive packaging options for your growing business.

What Materials Can I Use for Packaging Food for Retail?

Listed below are some low-cost, FDA-approved packaging materials that startups can use.



Glass with a Metal Cap or Lid

Glass is made of variable combinations of silica, soda ash and limestone. It has been used for packaging food since ancient times. Caps can be screwed or pressed on the container’s mouth. A capped 200-ml glass jar or bottle can cost 10-20ȼ when bought wholesale.

  • If properly sealed, glass is impenetrable to other substances. It provides excellent physical protection. Colored glass can shield the product from light.
  • It is see-through. Contents are amply exposed.
  • Capped glass containers are relatively easy to open and reclose. They are also environment-friendly. Intact containers are reusable, while broken glass can be pulverized, heated and re-blown to make new glass.
  • Glass is easy to customize. Color enhances its attractiveness.
  • It can contain both solids and liquids because it is rigid and impenetrable.
  • Sealing with shrink wrap improves physical protection and anti-tampering ability.
  • Glass conducts heat easily. It can break at extremes of temperature, so it cannot be used for heating or freezing food.
  • Due to its thermal sensitivity, it cannot keep unprocessed food fresh for a long time.
  • This material is heavy, so it increases shipping costs significantly. It also requires more cushion due to its breakability.


Styrofoam Plate with Plastic Cover

Styrofoam is an opaque insulating foam that is rigid and water-proof. In this kind of packaging, it serves as the sturdy bottom support, covered at the top by shrink or stretch wrap. Wholesalers price these packages at 3-15ȼ apiece. A heat gun costs about $30-70.

  • The top plastic cover provides great product visibility. Colored plastic can protect from harmful rays.
  • This type of packaging is easy to open. Styrofoam is also microwaveable.
  • It is customizable.
  • Shrink wrap and stretch film can be used for tamper-proofing.
  • Styrofoam and plastic wrap are air- and water-impermeable, so they can deter food spoilage. They can be safely frozen to extend food viability.
  • This kind of packaging is lightweight. 
  • Styrofoam and plastic wrap are water-proof, but this packaging only has a thin layer of both. The container is weak at the top, so it is used only on solid food.
  • This type of packaging has relatively limited recyclability.
Fruits packed in Styrofoam and stretch wrap


Cardboard Box

Cardboard boxes are made of paper pulp, and so are very porous. They may or may not have a see-through top window. They are very cheap, priced at 0.05-10ȼ when purchased from wholesalers.

  • Adding a see-through top window makes the product visible.
  • Without a plastic window, cardboard boxes are microwaveable and easy to open. They are also easy to recycle. Boxes can be refrigerated in moisture-free freezers to prolong food viability.
  • These containers are highly customizable.
  • Void stickers can serve as tamper-evident seals. Shrink or stretch-wrapping can increase security and shelf-life.
  • These boxes are inexpensive and lightweight.
  • Boxes get wet or deformed easily. They offer less physical protection compared to other containers.
  • On their own, cardboard boxes do little to extend food palatability.


Polyethylene Tub, Jar or Bottle

These PE containers are rigid and non-toxic. The plastic substance does not leach any harmful chemicals. Some have screw-on caps, but they may all be sealed by taping or shrink-wrapping. Wholesalers vend PE containers of sizes 500 ml or larger for 5-15ȼ.

  • These containers are impenetrable to air and fluids. They offer excellent physical protection.
  • See-through containers can be made from PE if desired. They are also customizable.
  • PE containers are easy to open and reclose. They can also be safely refrigerated and reused.
  • They can be used on solid and liquid products.
  • Plastic sealing provides tamper-proofing and extends shelf-life.
  • PE is lightweight.
  • Poorly fitting caps can cause leaks.
  • PE containers are non-microwaveable. They also have limited recyclability when torn.
  • Shrink wrap-sealing adds to costs.
Polyethylene ice cream containers


Polyethylene Pouch

These bags are made of softer PE and are thus more flexible. They come as open or resealable containers. Wholesalers may offer PE pouches with a minimum size of 4″ x 8″ for 1-15ȼ apiece.

  • PE pouches provide an excellent barrier against air and fluid leaks.
  • See-through, colored and opaque bags are available.
  • These wraps are customizable. They can be used on liquid and non-breakable solid foodstuffs.
  • Resealable PE pouches are easy to open and reclose. They are reusable and can tolerate very low temperatures.
  • Open PE bag sizes are adjustable. Heat-sealing machines are available for $10-40.
  • Heat-sealing provides tamper-proofing for either form. It likewise prolongs food viability.
  • PE pouches are lightweight.
  • They cannot ensure protection for breakable solids.
  • They cannot be heated.
  • PE bags have limited recyclability once torn.
  • Heat-sealing adds to costs.


Vacuum Bag

Vacuum bags are made of PE that may be combined with another plastic type, usually polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or polyamide (PA). Vacuum is used to remove oxygen from within. Heat-sealing is necessary to keep air and liquid out.

A brand new tabletop vacuum machine costs $200-400. Heat sealers are priced at $40. PET- and PA-containing pouches cost about the same as those purely made of PE.

These containers have similar pros and cons as PE pouches. The major differences are the packaging appearance and cost. Vacuuming tends to distort surface graphics and may result in poor product presentation. Meanwhile, the additional equipment and maintenance can substantially increase the initial costs. However, vacuuming can extend shelf-life for years. 



Tin Can

Canning tightly locks perishables inside a metal container, usually made of tin. Simple cans lack the plastic inner lining that giant food corporations use. A manual canning machine costs $400-600. One-liter tin cans cost 4-25ȼ on wholesale. 

  • Cans protect superbly from various elements. They do not deform easily under ordinary conditions, so they can secure both solid and liquid foodstuffs.
  • Cans may be chilled. Some people use them for heating food as well.
  • Cans are recyclable. They are also highly customizable.
  • Sealing makes cans hard to tamper with.
  • Canning can significantly extend food viability.
  • Cans hide food products completely from sight.
  • Easy-open tops increase canning costs.
  • Sharp edges can wound the skin.
  • Water expands when frozen, so lightweight fluid-containing cans may deform and tear. Surface dents can introduce microbes inside the container.
  • Corroded cans pose health risks.
  • Most cans are heavy.
  • Canning equipment raises initial operational costs.
Tuna in a can


Cellophane Bag with a Twist Tie or Plastic Bread Clip 

Bread bags closed with twist ties

Cellophane is plastic made from cellulose. It is slightly stiffer compared to PE and vacuum bags. Cellophane pouches can be heat-sealed, but these days, they are more often closed with twist ties or bread clips. Twist ties and bread clips reduce initial costs and produce loosely sealed reclosable wrappers. Cellophane bags are sold at 0.1-1ȼ apiece. Twist ties cost 0.7-1ȼ per meter. Bread clips are 0.1-0.25ȼ apiece.

Cellophane pouches have similar advantages and disadvantages as PE wraps. However, cellophane is cheaper and more environment-friendly.

If these wrappers are not heat-sealed, twist ties and bread clips do little to extend shelf-life. Sharp edges can also cut the skin.

Plastic bread clips


Polypropylene Box

Polypropylene (PP) boxes are your typical microwavable plastic food containers. Some seal them by sticky tape, but others do so by shrink-wrapping the lid. They are sold for as low as 1-10ȼ apiece.

  • These rigid containers are leak-proof when properly sealed, providing excellent physical protection.
  • They are usually transparent. Lids may be see-through or opaque and are available in different colors. Labels enhance their customizability.
  • PP boxes are easy to open, reclose and reseal. They can be microwaved, frozen and reused without any problems.
  • They can package solid and liquid foodstuffs.
  • Shrink wrap-sealing provides tamper-proofing and increases shelf-life.
  • The material is lightweight.
  • Ill-fitting lids can cause leaks.
  • PP boxes have limited recyclability when torn.
  • Shrink wrap-sealing raises costs.
Polypropylene Box


Lidded Metal Box or Canister

Metal boxes and canisters are made of tin or aluminum. They are not tightly sealed like ordinary cans, although they do have lids. They are thick, rigid and attractive even without embellishments. They are also the priciest, as a 7″ x 7″ x 2.5″ box costs 35-65ȼ apiece when bought in bulk.

  • These containers protect from air, moisture, compressive forces and other harsh environmental elements. Shrink wrap-sealing can enhance security and prolong viability. 
  • They are easy to open, reclose and reseal. They can withstand freezing temperatures.
  • They appeal to a wide population because of their appearance and recyclability. They are also easy to decorate.
  • They prevent solid food from crumbling.
  • Lids are usually quite loose and leaky. Unless employed as the secondary packaging, these metal containers cannot be used on liquids and solid-liquid mixtures.
  • Lids limit the products’ visibility.
  • They can endure high temperatures, but they are seldom used for heating food, which can ruin their design.
  • Metal containers are heavy and quite pricey. Unless chemically treated, they can also corrode.
Colored tin candy boxes and canisters

These are the inexpensive food packaging options that startups should consider. Examine their pros and cons to find out which ones suit your products and brand personality best.


Research and planning are vital in creating a safe, eye-catching and functionally sound food packaging. A slim budget may limit startups to using low-cost generic materials, but a little effort and ingenuity can make their products stand out. We have shown some inexpensive food packaging ideas here, and we hope you can use them to add tremendous value to your food business.

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