Food

Edible packaging offers food for thought

Posted: March 6, 2012 by

In our rush to modernize, not all “good-old ideas” are getting chucked by the wayside. Around the world, people enjoy foods in smart packaging that’s been handed down through generations. These quick, portable meals include tamales, lotus packets, and steamed foods wrapped in banana leaves. When the leaf (or husk) wrapper is discarded, it readily breaks down.
Clever package designs have been explored by a range of cultures for years. The books How to Wrap Five Eggs and How to Wrap Five More Eggs look at Japanese design in traditional packaging. They’re fabulous starting points for any exploration of truly natural packaging solutions often made from cast-offs and agricultural waste.
What if we take the idea of natural packaging and extend it? What if we look at more than packaging made from food production leftovers, including stalks, husks, and leaves? What if we could eat the wrapper, too?
Botan Rice Candy has been doing this for decades. The soft confection, which is imported from Japan by JFC International (San Francisco), has an inner wrapper of edible rice paper that offers a convenient way to keep the sticky stuff off your fingers.
Confectioners in Asia aren’t the only candy makers using this principle. U.S. gourmet ice cream sandwich company Coolhaus prides itself on its creative approach to its food and business, and it’s been using edible packaging for its ice cream sandwiches since its founding three years ago. “It was an integral part of creating a market niche and being sustainable,” co-founder and CEO Natasha Case says.
Coolhaus uses potato starch to make the wrappers and vegetable ink to print its logo on them. The starch-based paper not only satisfies Coolhaus’ desire for sustainable packaging, it also overcomes a convenience challenge for the product’s distribution. Coolhaus got its start with one ice cream truck in Los Angeles, and the company’s grown its fleet to four trucks in Los Angeles, one cart in New York City, two trucks in Austin, TX, and two trucks in Miami, FL.
The mobile fleet helps more ice cream fans enjoy their sandwiches, but it doesn’t exactly provide convenient places for treat consumption and disposal of traditional sandwich wrappers. Coolhaus’ edible packaging makes this disposal problem disappear with just a few bites—proving that functional packaging can be sustainable, too.
As we navigate the ever-increasing intricacies of packaging products in a more sustainable way, designers can gauge ideas with one of the simplest metrics: If we eat it (or if something else eats it), the package won’t be an environmental nightmare to clean up later.

Wendy Jedlicka, CPP, is principal of Jedlicka Design Ltd. (www.jedlicka.com), a founding faculty member of Minneapolis College of Art and Design’s Sustainable Design Program (www.mcad.edu/sustainable), and contributing editor of the book Packaging Sustainability (PackagingSustainability.info).
 

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