Takeout Packaging Is in Big Demand and Short Supply

Retailers get creative to provide customers with adequately boxed to-go foods.

July 14, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Good packaging is always in demand but even more so during the pandemic as more foodservice providers offer takeout and delivery. Acquiring adequate supplies of packaging at a reasonable price is challenging, reports Restaurant Hospitality.

“Packing has always been a tough thing for us,” said Chris Smith, owner of Zunzi’s, a South African-inspired, fast-casual concept in Georgia. To meet the demands of his two locations, Smith stocked a storage unit with a month’s supply of takeout packaging at the start of the pandemic, and he’s already dipped into that bank.  

When one of his suppliers, Babcor Packaging, ran out of the sealable plastic bags that Zunzi’s uses for to-go orders, Smith rushed to find another vendor.

“As quickly as things go out, [we’re] trying to monitor inventory levels,” said Jim Joyce, national sales director for Babcor Packaging. “Ultimately [we’re] limited by manufacturers’ capabilities.”

The family-owned packaging company has seen a 15% increase in stock orders during the past three months and a 90% increase in customized/branded orders over the same time last year. The company’s top seller right now is those same sealed to-go bags that Zunzi’s had trouble accessing.

“There’s a very high demand for the packaging that has tamper-resistant capabilities,” said Joyce. “Demand was just overwhelming. We ultimately ended up running out of them.”

Even when operators can find the right packaging products, they know they’ll have to pay more and wait longer to receive them. Fine-casual restaurant Angelina’s Pizzeria Napoletana in Irvine, California, recently teamed with a company in Italy that makes boxes to carry Neapolitan wood-fired Italian pizza.

“Because they are an imported box, we typically have to purchase large sums—anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 per order,” said Angelina’s owner Sho Fusco. “We had just placed an order pre-COVID, so we were OK on supplies.”

But the next time she orders, Fusco expects it to take longer and cost more. “We suspect freight charges will be more, as well,” she said.

When it comes to sourcing during the pandemic, it’s a take-what-you-can-get situation. Yet, some operators remain committed to sourcing sustainable packaging.

Last year Brooklyn Chop House, an Asian steakhouse in downtown Manhattan, responded to customer requests and switched to biodegradable products for its then-limited carryout business. When the pandemic hit, the takeout business increased exponentially. The restaurant was ready to deliver its offerings in biodegradable rice-paper boxes, with wood cutlery inside a logoed craft paper bag.

Coronavirus Resources

NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.

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