Learn about basic types of packaging in the wholesale food industry.
- Pallet Boxes
- Metal Cans
- IBC Water Tanks
- Steel Drums
- Plastic Drum/Barrels
- Flexible Intermediate Bulk Container (FIBC)
- Multiwall Open Mouth Bag
- Tank Blanketing
The European Commission classifies all packaging as a so-called ‘Food Contact Material’ (FCM). FCMs must be manufactured in such a way that they do not negatively influence the quality of the food or have harmful effects on human health. Be it plastic, ceramic or metal, specific rules thus apply to each type of material. Within these categories, packaging manufacturers are witnessing the emergence of four trends that are expected to define how packaging evolves in B2C and B2B markets: recycling, downgauging, optimising pack shape and safety.
In a previous article, we explored 13 sustainable and eco-friendly food packaging solutions that are finding their way onto consumers’ shelves. The landscape for packaging wholesale foods, however, is slightly different. There is less focus on recycling and downgauging and more focus on optimising packaging for shipping and ensuring food safety when moving high volumes of foods across countries, continents and seas.
Which type of industrial food packaging material wholesalers use for packaging bulk products is dependent on several factors, including consistency (e.g. powder, solid masse, liquid), required or recommended storage conditions (e.g. heating/cooling/humidity), and size/weight/volume (e.g. 10 kg vs. 100 kg) of the goods themselves. Over the years, at foodcircle, we have come to see that the types of packaging used for packaging foods on an industrial scale differ vastly, not only between products but also between suppliers and orders. What they all share, however, is that all our products are delivered in bulk on pallets for easy handling.
Because generalisations about specific product categories cannot be made, below, we highlight the fundamental differences between various types of packaging alongside possible advantages and disadvantages.
Pallet boxes come in a wide range of materials, such as cardboard and plastic, and have an even wider range of applications. The material is selected based on the product itself, and while the former is better suited to dry goods the latter would be the more obvious choice for moving liquids. Specially manufactured rain-proof/weather-resistant pallet boxes are also available for shipping. In addition to their ease of stacking and handling, pallet boxes have a long lifespan and are reusable, making them a sturdy and sustainable choice.
Many dry foods, such as cocoa, are transported in cartons, which usually start at 25 kg and then increase in volume and weight depending on the size of the order. This is perhaps one of the most basic forms of industrial packaging. Alternative and slightly more complex forms of cartons include variations such as the bag in box, where the product is enclosed in a plastic bag before being packaged in the carton. The main disadvantage of cartons is that they are not waterproof, thus more susceptible to water damage from rains or humidity. There are, however, water-resistant forms of the material that add an extra layer of security.
These are stock-standard steel or tin cans that come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, usually starting from around 210 ml and working their way all the way up to 10,200 ml. While the smaller sizes are most suited for direct sales, the larger sizes can be used to transport large volumes of liquids efficiently before refilling them into smaller containers for consumers further along the supply chain. Some of the key benefits of metal cans in wholesale food packaging include their lightweight, reusability and durability.
Steel drums refer to food-grade metal barrels that are frequently implemented along various points of the supply chain in F&B. They come in various sizes, but a typical steel drum can hold around 200 kg. The highest quality containers are UN food-grade certified. These strong and highly durable barrels are especially suitable for transporting oils, beverages and other liquids, but are also used for moving high-value solids to the protection and stability they offer. Some steel drums are fitted with polyethylene liners for an added safety layer. In this construct, the drums serve as the protective shell for transport and storage while the liner protects the liquid. One such case is acidic liquids, which run the risk of eating away at the metal if they come in direct contact with one another.
These typically blue containers made from high-density polyethene present themselves as one of the most popular forms of storage for industrial goods. Starting from around 30 litres they are produced in innumerable sizes, the largest of which can hold up to 220 litres. In the food industry, they are used for transporting everything from liquids, such as oils and beverages, and semi-solids, such as condiments and sauces, to powdered ingredients, such as milk or spices. Their key benefits include their availability in a multitude of shapes and sizes (e.g. rounded sides, squared, security sealed, vented lids etc.) as well as their inherently durable and lightweight materials.
IBC (Water) Tanks
One of the most classic and safe storage containers for large quantities of liquids, IBC tanks are characterised by their square/rectangular shaped tanks, attached nozzle/valve and protective cages/pallets. They are most widely used for storing water but can actually hold a wide range of liquids. Smaller IBCs hold around 400 litres, while the largest IBCs have the capacity to hold up to 3,000 litres. IBC tanks can be reused, disinfected, cleaned, repaired and recycled, making them a sustainable and flexible packaging and transport solution. Because they can be easily forklifted and stacked on top of each other they provide optimal storage solutions. IBCs can also be fitted with dust covers, which protect from dirt and moisture, or UV resistant covers, which protect the contents from UV radiation during transport. In the food industry, IBCs have been accredited with helping producers maintain low shipping and storage costs which in turn allows them to reduce the overall cost and thus price of their ingredients.
Flexible Intermediate Bulk Container (FIBC)
Dry or powdered foods, such as sugar, salt, legumes and superfoods, are often packaged and stored in FIBCs. Because FIBCs are flexible, granulated goods move naturally into every corner of their packaging, creating a tightly packed interior. The result is a very dense cube-shaped package that can be easily stacked, manoeuvred and stored along the entire supply chain. FIBCs are thus considered to be very cost-effective, especially considering the amount of weight they can hold. They are available in a wide range of variants, including different sizes and features, such as loops or valves.
Multiwall bags are manufactured using several layers of materials and are typically implemented for transporting and packaging powdered foods. While the most basic form is made entirely of paper, some multiwall bags have a poly-coated interior that acts as a protective layer against moisture. The contents are typically filled into the bags from the top side of the bag, which is then sealed using heat, folding or sewing mechanisms. Variants of this form of industrial food packaging include the multiwall valve bags, multiwall open bags and multiwall dairy bags, each of which can be tailored specifically to their contents’ specific requirements.
Industrial jerricans are highly versatile and especially suited for transporting liquids and semi-solid foods. They can be sealed with different caps, such as blind plugs, vented caps, or tamper-evident caps, depending on their contents. They are a highly robust form of packaging that allow for cost-efficient transport and storage.
Tank blanketing is a mechanism applied within some storage tanks by which a layer of gas, such as nitrogen, is used to fill the unused space in a container. Some foods, such as edible oils, are more susceptible to spoilage when they come in contact with air. Hence, a nitrogen blanket ensures that the properties of the oils are maintained throughout transport and shipping.
For Further Reading
How to Read the Markings on Industrial: Packaging Guide by CL Smith