During the New Normal, Consumers Demand Hygienic Packaging

By Edson Perin

More than 60 percent of delivery buyers want facilities to clean packages and thereby avoid contamination and diseases like COVID-19. IoP Journal's Edson Perin interviews Simone Galante, Galunion's founder and CEO, about a pioneering study on this topic.

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We’re living in Paradise, right? Hmmm… I don’t think so. Indeed, we are in a time of great uncertainty in the face of the current coronavirus pandemic. The high risk of contamination—and of death—that COVID-19 offers has changed the behavior of people around the world, trapping them inside their own homes and leaving them afraid to go out for even the simplest daily shopping. This phenomenon is being defined as the “new normal”—that is, the way in which humans from all over the planet have started to behave due to the virus and its consequences.

Along with this newly installed scenario and the inherent habit changes it brings, there will necessarily be changes in the way services are rendered and products are sold—and, in general, regarding customer expectations. If it was normal, only a few weeks ago, to go to a restaurant and be served by a waiter who was talking to a customer very close by, or to serve yourself at a buffet, from now on these things will no longer be seen as good ideas or hygienic. Welcome to the new normal.

The solutions to this crisis are innovation, intelligence (including artificial) and the use of advanced technologies such as radio frequency identification (RFID), digital printing, QR codes, augmented reality (AR) and many others that underlie the Internet of Packaging (IoP). The challenge goes beyond identifying, tracking or guaranteeing the authenticity of products. At the moment, understanding and satisfying consumers in this new normal is on the rise. How can we do this?

In search of answers about what is going on in the minds of consumers, Galunion, a consultancy specializing in food service, with the support of the Qualibest Institute, conducted a survey which shows that the most routine habits of people have already changed radically within only a few weeks. The survey focuses on the food market,but  it can inspire parallels with several other branches of activity.

According to the study, titled “Food in Pandemic – How COVID-19 impacts consumers and business in food,” 61 percent of respondents said they want delivery packages to be cleaned as soon as they arrive at their homes, while another 21 percent want economical packaging, family-size and ready-to-serve. The third group, representing 18 percent of respondents, prefers individual packages with several portions for each type of dish. In short, during the coronavirus pandemic, sanitizable packaging is preferred.

We are living in an unprecedented moment in history, with a major transformation taking place in terms of people’s habits and their impact on business. Galunion’s study sought answers to the first wave of changes in eating habits during the coronavirus pandemic, and to bring inspiration to the food business. Among the interviewees, 45 percent were men and 55 percent were women, with the following proportions by age group: 18 to 23 years old, 22 percent; 24 to 38 years old, 42 percent; 39 to 53 years old, 26 percent; 54 to 65 years, 9 percent; and 66 years or older, 1 percent. For more information, read the study in its entirety.

To clarify the conclusions, the scenario and the way forward, I interviewed Simone Galante, Galunion’s founder and CEO. The food engineering company has more than 25 years’ experience in food service and has undertaken more than 270 consulting projects, including for such companies as Subway, Ráscal, Ofner and Bob’s. Galante offered her opinion in the face of uncertainty and brought light to several dark areas, based on the research carried out under the tuning fork of her company.

Edson Perin: Simone, from what you have been following, what is the extent of this crisis and what is the main recommendation for companies to start protecting themselves from its impact?

Simone Galante: We believe the crisis generated by the quarantine, which has caused many businesses to become paralyzed, will last between two and four more months, and the extent of its consequences will generate a new normal, with business returning gradually and with economic, political and social changes. Our main recommendation for companies is to reflect on how to best take advantage of their time during the crisis, avoiding paralysis or focusing only on the financial management of the consequences generated. This is an opportunity to reflect and to act—to redesign operations and test the new. In our opinion, that starts with listening to people: your team, your customers and your community.

Simone Galante, Galunion’s CEO

Perin: You cite the current focus for COVID-19 as being on health, safety and solidarity. Do you have a vision for the next steps?

Galante: Yes, health, safety and solidarity are the top concerns in consumers’ minds. Everything you and your company can do on these axes is welcome now. I believe that for the next steps, we will see reflection about which brands most helped to positively impact the market with solutions in these areas, and the recognition of consumers and customers will be to offer greater loyalty and partnership. We also understand that we need to be permanently connected with the evolution of the scenario: what everyone is missing, for example, can be a good tip of what behavior they want to affect as soon as possible. In our survey, 71 percent of interviewees said they very much missed seeing and interacting with other people, while 69 percent said they missed family meals outside the home. We are social beings and we are impacted by social isolation. We will soon release a second wave of research in which we will explore further the behavioral indications during the new normal.

Perin: The food-service sector is in crisis. Do you see any companies taking concrete and well-founded actions to escape bankruptcy? Can you exemplify, even if it is not possible to name those companies?

Galante: Yes, many businesses are taking consistent steps to keep the flame burning. They brought their teams together; established actions to maintain some revenue via delivery or pickup; and adapted protocols, team size and skills, service models, communication and offers in terms of what to sell and how to promote, always with their audience in mind. The brands that already had a good digital presence came out ahead, as they were the ones able to communicate directly with customers. Spoleto started selling its pasta and frozen sauces, for example, bringing extra revenue to franchisees. Companies already engaged in their community have an even greater chance. An example is the Padaria Brasileira chain, which immediately adjusted its sales mix.

Perin: I’m positive there is only one way to overcome this delicate challenge: together. Would cooperatives be a way out?

Galante: All forms of cooperation are welcome—associations, informal groups and, eventually, cooperatives or social cooperative platforms. I say this because we know that some companies in the food sector have managed to stay alive in this way to pay their employees, or are part of movements like #ApoieSeuRestaurante, #EntregaDoBem or #GentilezaGeraGentileza, or use a collective financing plan that generates a prepaid card, among other numerous initiatives.

Perin: There’s a need for packaging that is different from current forms and can be cleaned easily upon delivery. How would such packaging look?

Galante: The ideal would be packages offering specific features, in addition to the possibility of cleaning, which can be from sustainable sources. It would be a setback to have to give up sustainability to meet hygiene. In the food sector, important features are maintaining temperature levels, ensuring crispness and providing impeccable seals for different types of products, such as sauces and liquids.

Perin: How can companies facilitate payment without having contact with a courier?

Galante: Here, the solution can come from how an order and payment can already be made, either on an app or via e-commerce, or using alternatives like QR codes. It’s important to reach the largest number of people possible. For change and cash payments, we have seen simple solutions such as delivering change in plastic envelopes via gloves, which facilitates cleaning.

Perin: Is e-commerce with online delivery and payment the best alternative?

Galante: Yes, this is a great alternative, though there must be integration with the entire food and meal voucher system.

Perin: How can your company assist in the development of solutions to avoid more serious impacts from the crisis?

Galante: Galunion specializes in food and is a catalyst for knowledge, networking and innovation focused on generating progress for business and market professionals. We can help make personalized content anchored by research, facts and data, as well as workshops for reflection on the new normal for strategic planning and innovation, mentoring in the food business, implementing new offers and communication for delivery, and helping industries and distributors offer the connected, networked services and products that operating establishments need. We also have a platform for courses and events that catalyze these activities. We are consistently improving our products and pivoting new activities for the new normal.

Edson Perin is the editor of IoP Journal Brasil and the founder of Netpress Editora.