Designing packaging for food delivery

Packaging that is as impressive as your food

Photo of home delivered food package

For many food producers, “delivery” has long meant getting products to retail shelves. And you probably had an infrastructure set up for that. Well, that’s all changed recently, which means that far more businesses have had to find a way to deliver your products directly to consumers.

In some cases, it wasn’t even an option. When stores were closed, the only way to make sales was through new channels. Now, you might again be able to have your product on shelves for in-person purchases, but there are some good reasons to consider the direct-to-consumer avenue, too. For one, it opens up a whole new potential revenue stream. Even better, it’s in line with customer preferences, which still indicate a rising preference to order food from home rather than visiting traditional brick-and-mortar retailers. If you can reach consumers in this channel, you can not only delight existing customers, but possibly reach new ones who are eager for direct delivery. With this chance to serve them, you’ll want to be sure that you meet their expectations and deliver (pardon the pun) a great experience. Delivering your products directly to consumers means a whole new model. Of course there’s the e-commerce side to it, but let’s look at some of the logistical challenges this brings up.

One big question: how do you package it?  

This isn’t a simple question. Packaging is full of unique challenges for the food industry. You have to think about your materials, making sure your cold chain supplier is reliable, packaging design for the end user, and even adaptations like pivoting from bulk packaging to individual shipments.  

Just as with a retail supply chain, safety should always come first. Food packaging is a crucial component of food safety. Your products need to arrive at their destination fresh, intact, appealing, and clearly trustworthy for consumption. Durability then, will always be a key consideration as you select the materials for the packaging that bring your products to customers.

In addition to the packaging, you need to be sure your cold chain preserves your product all the way to the customer’s doorstep. When delivering to retailers, the retailer has certain infrastructure and processes in place that keep your product in the proper conditions between arrival and sale. The last-mile delivery for direct-to-consumer shipping isn’t guaranteed to have those conditions, so you need to make sure your product is handled in the right way—which may have further implications for packaging design. You may need packaging that’s more durable and/or more insulated than for retail delivery. 

Beyond that, there are also regulatory considerations (does your product need to meet any higher standards when being shipped to residences?), dietary issues (are all ingredients clearly labeled?), and greater potential for spoilage (will it sit on a front porch for a few hours after delivery?). Since consumer delivery might not be as fastidiously stored or refrigerated, your packaging might need to do more work at extending shelf-life—especially if those shelves are in someone’s home.

You also have a brand. Generic packaging may be the most affordable way to go, but spending a little extra can give you a way to do several great things for your brand. For instance, using clear and transparent labeling can help literally show your customers what they’re getting and give them confidence in your product.

Going further than that, you could even get fully customized packaging that shows thoughtful consideration in several ways. 

  • One, it simply looks premium. This can make your brand seem especially exclusive and make your customers feel appreciated. You don’t merely put your product on shelves for them to select. You help them get it directly.
  • Two, it demonstrates your commitment to making sure your products arrive as intended, even through handling and transportation. 
  • Three, it can be a great experience in itself, especially as unboxing continues to be a popular trend in the consumer world. We see this especially with services like Blue Apron, which aren’t trying simply to deliver food, but also give people a way to make their own cooking more delightful.


Last but not least, you have to consider sustainability. Options like styrofoam and plastic may be both cheap and durable, but consumers are increasingly seeing them as irresponsible environmental choices. In an era where consumer choice is driven more and more by environmental considerations, it can actually be a benefit to do the right thing for the planet by committing to sustainability.

So how can you deliver both experience and sustainability? First, you obviously need products that ensure food safety and prevent cross-contamination. After that, you’ll ultimately need to consider what sort of food packaging will deliver the experience your customers want, on the budget that you have, in a more sustainable way.

This starts with materials, so let’s look at some particulars about how you can make beneficial adjustments to current packaging.

Styrofoam and plastic have long been popular for insulation and cost benefits. Now, with an increased emphasis on sustainability—and even legislation like the 2022 Canadian ban on single-use plastics—there are new ways to use current packaging more responsibly. 

For instance, down-gauging films and turning to lighter, stronger materials may ultimately reduce the overall amount of plastic used. Improved labeling on recyclable plastics can help increase recycling rates. Or, using more materials made from recycled content. Even without completely changing materials, you can make decisions that improve your ecological footprint.

Paper products are appealing for their costs and biodegradable nature, and corrugated paper products can help provide a level of insulation. They aren’t quite as strong as plastics, but they can be designed in a way that’s quite sturdy. Plus, recycled options can be even more environmentally responsible. That said, paper’s absorbability might not be ideal for certain foods, at least not without some kind of lining. Aluminum and other metals have strength and aren’t absorbable, and can also be sourced from recycled material. 

There are also new options you can consider, like sugar cane or other plant-based materials. Not only are these often biodegradable on their own, they often are sourced from material byproducts that would otherwise have been thrown out. There are also emerging plastics made from biologically responsible alternatives to petroleum. 

The challenge, however, is keeping up with these developments. Not only the latest materials themselves, but the associated regulations around approved usage, regulatory oversight, and suitability for different products. It’s a complicated landscape, and sometimes the only way to navigate it confidently is to partner with a food packaging expert to help figure out which material is right for your needs.


A food packaging expert can also help you figure out how to design that packaging. Beyond materials, here are some design factors that are crucial for delivering not just a fresh product, but also a fresh experience.

Brand identity. Make it memorable. The food may be the star, but you want your name to hitch a ride with it. With increasing options to customize your packaging, you can create a great experience for your customers, even during the unboxing. 

That said, don’t get so focused on form that you forget about function. Ultimately, the experience revolves around the food, so be sure that the packaging protects it and keeps it fresh. Beyond that, though, the packaging can be your canvas to show off your brand.

Obviously a logo is one key aspect, but you can go beyond that by using colors that stand out from other packaging, patterns or motifs that emulate your brand or your logo, and clever design that integrates with the packaging.

The package design can also be a way to save costs. Minimalistic features or limited printing can help ensure that you strike a balance between design that catches the eye and low expenses that catch the eye (in a good way).

When you’re delivering food, you’re delivering the packaging as well. That’s your consumers’ first impression of your brand. When you put as much thought and consideration into the vessel as you do into the contents, you’ll be delivering safety, quality, and a delightful experience on the outside and the inside.