A History of Food Packaging: Where it all Began

We regularly consume prepackaged, convenient meals, but we don’t really ever think about the history of food packaging…

So, let’s uncover where it all began. What was the first pre-packaged, “convenience” meal? What was the packaging made of? And when? We’ll go back in time to when the convenience movement really started to take off and food packaging became an industry.

1800s

Our history of food packaging could go back further, but we have to start somewhere. In the 1800s, food packaging was barely around due to locally-grown and produced goods, or communities living off their land. Luxury goods like sugar and tea however were imported in sacks and barrels on ships, introducing more of the world to bulk packaging.

1900s

Through the early 20th century, populations grew, and demand increased for food transport. The world surrendered to the industrial revolution, which introduced metal cans and cardboard boxes to the packaging ranks. Luxury goods suppliers made sure their packaging reflected the quality of their produce within and also doubled as multiple-use containers. For example, the colourful, intricately designed tobacco tins which could be reused as lunch/picnic containers. 

Post-World War 2, foils and plastics were introduced as single use items. And, the rise of supermarkets saw stocked shelves become the norm (unfortunately, absolutely filled with plastics).

1950-1990

The mid-century became the “age of convenience”. This was mostly true within the USA, which saw the 1950s headline the “TV Dinner” in aluminium compartmentalised trays. This era also introduced polyethylene for food bags and film covers. Aluminium cans received an overhaul for cost effectiveness and user-friendliness.

1990 – today

The emergence of the digital age has seen global businesses take off and packaging came along for the ride. No longer restricted to the super brands like Coca-Cola, McDonalds and the likes, food packaging became a competitive industry and to this day plays an important role in the daily lives of people the world over.

From the introduction of QR codes on packaging in 2008, to mass food delivery giants like Uber Eats and MenuLog shortly after, the humble food box has grown into a highly sought after, in-demand product for caterers, restaurants, food manufacturers and supermarkets alike.

Thankfully, as times have evolved, many are seeing the importance of not only reusable and recyclable food packaging products, but also eco-friendly and compostable products to lessen our environmental footprint.

For a comprehensive range of reusable, recyclable and eco-friendly food packaging products as well as a selection of biodegradable packaging, browse our website and feel free to contact us with any enquiries.

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