Unwrapped: Packaging You Can Eat
Are you a foodie who will try anything at least once? If so, try wrapping your head around this: edible cupcake wrappers. Or imagine drinking your favorite soft drink and then munching on the bottle it came in? Do these ideas gross you out or are they environmentally friendly?
While this may sound unthinkable, manufacturers and the food processing industry are steps away from marketing this as a consumer reality. Part of a growing trend called “edible wrapping,” it could be the future of food packaging. We’d consume our favorite foods and snacks, wrappers and all, limiting the need for traditional packaging. This technology does present environmental benefits, significantly reducing paper and plastic waste, but packaging as food? Is it just me or is there an ‘ick’ factor?
On the front lines of this trend is IFANCA halal certified MonoSol, a manufacturing company known for its water-soluble packets that currently encase many dish and laundry detergent products. Think single-serve washing machine detergent pods. Not only has MonoSol mastered water-soluble packaging, they are popularizing the concept by applying the same methodology to food and, soon, drinks. MonoSol’s edible film products cover an impressive range; from single servings of instant coffees and teas, oatmeal, pasta and rice, to a unique liquid-filled “drink stick.”
Their product line, Vivos™ Edible Delivery Systems, uses tasty, edible, water-soluble “film” made from FDA approved ingredients. This film—also halal-certified—mimics the transparent appearance and strength of plastic, but the big difference is its ability to dissolve in water, void of any odors.
Although consumers may not find these products in stores just yet, they are not shy to chime in on the possible drawbacks of edible packaging.
“Edible wrapping sounds environmentally friendly, but simply not realistic,” says Genevieve Kermani, New York, NY. “We can’t eat something that is sitting on a shelf, touched by others, and then safely eat it.”
“I wash all my veggies and fruits carefully as it is,” says Cindy Ji Czapla, Lake Zurich, IL. “Who knows where that drink or any food products have been or how they were handled or what scurried around it? If I have to wash it carefully to eat the packaging, it’s wasting water and waste is still waste.”
Sumeet Kumar, Senior Manager of Technical Marketing at MonoSol, understands the issue of food safety and storage concerns. He stresses a more realistic goal, one that eliminates individual or primary packaging but without discarding traditional, secondary packaging all together. Imagine ice-cream bars in a box. The wrapper around individual ice-cream bars would be edible, the outer box they all were in packaged in would still be traditional packaging.
“Even though our film will dissolve, you can’t package it by itself,” says Kumar. “There are handling and dust concerns so secondary (traditional) packaging is how we would overcome the concern of handling.”
Jon Gallagher, product development manager at MonoSol, and his team strongly believe there is a market for edible wrapping and packaging, and that it is simply a matter of time before they considered applying their water-soluble film to food products.
“We’ve been in the water-soluble film business for over 50 years,” says Gallagher. “We’ve been growing rapidly, and the food market has been kind of a natural extension for us.”
Their advocacy for this technology stems from the same principle as fruit such as an apple and its natural protective skin layer. In much the same vein, MonoSol uses an edible film that they contend is a safe, dissolvable layer and should not be mistaken for actual plastic.
“You’re not consuming plastic, it’s invisible skin,” says Kumar.
Another company driving the edible packaging phenomenon is Harvard University Professor David Edwards and his team at Wyss Institute with their development of “WikiCells.” These WikiCells are edible wrappings made from biodegradable compounds and small food particles such as chocolate, dried fruit, nuts and seeds, which are used to create a membrane-like shell that encloses food and drinks much the same way as the skin of a grape contains juice. Self-described as natural and nutritional, Edwards maintains that WikiCells will soon be commercially sold in specialty stores and restaurants. Currently, Wiki Ice Cream is their first commercial product.
Other products set for launch include a tomato membrane containing gazpacho soup, an orange membrane that’s filled with orange juice and sipped through a straw and a chocolate membrane holding hot chocolate.
Edwards and his team believe the opportunities for edible packaging are endless and that any flavor is possible. Foodies would agree.
“I think it’s interesting. (It) could be a way to add another flavor level to a dish/food,” says Deb Winson, New York, NY.
“Many of us are doing little things here and there to help the environment,” says Aïché Sissoko, New York, NY. “I think (edible packaging) will take off once we get the hang of what it includes and its benefits.”
“I wouldn’t mind trying an edible wrapped item as long as it was made from a vegetable/healthy substance,” said Sarah Marie Bashir, New York, NY. “I think presentation is a big thing as well and where it’s being sold.”
Whether consumers will latch onto the idea of consuming edible wrappings has yet to be seen given the expected psychological hump. In the meantime, there is no denying that such innovation and its overall uniqueness will spark conversations from both ends of the spectrum.
Meet the Writer: Aysha Hussain is a New York-based writer and producer. She has worked at NBC, CBS and has written for newspapers and magazines including Newsday, Diversity Inc and Muslim Girl Magazine. Check out Aysha’s video on this story online at http://read.uberflip.com/t/13438