Demand for To-Go Meals Causes Packaging Problems

They are expensive, sometimes inadequate and in short supply.

October 13, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Foodservice operators were quick to adapt to takeout service during the pandemic, but they’ve been battling packaging problems ever since, according to the Wall Street Journal. They’ve struggled to keep hot food hot and prevent fried foods from getting soggy, while juggling issues like additional expenses and limited supplies. 

Foodservice operators expect the shift away from eating out to last beyond the pandemic, and they are investing in better containers that keep food looking and tasting good as they travel to their destination. “With how much we’ve invested, we are going to keep doing this long term,” Garry Kanfer, a New York City restaurant owner, told the Journal.

The pandemic also has caused shortages of basic items, such as paper bags, according to Scott Barthelmes, president of Mrtakeoutbags.com, which sells foodservice packaging. “We are looking at import partners to fill in the gaps,” he said. For years, packaging sales were spotty, especially for packages featuring tamper-proof seals or that were biodegradable. But with the pandemic, those are in great demand.

Brian Ahern, executive chef of the Chicago steakhouse Boeufhaus, said one of his biggest frustrations is that he can’t sell steak fries with his takeout. “If someone ever figures out a to-go box that would help them stay crispy and fresh and not steamed and soggy, they’ll be a millionaire,” he said.

Even big chain restaurants accustomed to takeout orders have issues with packaging. Manufacturers said drink totes are scarce since many cities began allowing restaurants to sell take-out cocktails. Starbucks customers in some areas are reportedly bringing back the carriers for reuse because of the shortage.

Golden Chick, a fast-casual chain with nearly 200 locations, has struggled to find the right sizes and types of to-go boxes. “It’s just one more thing we have to worry about,” said Jim Stevens, president, Golden Chick.

Of course, extra packaging adds costs. Shake Shack now uses sealed bags with additional internal packaging for security, and the company expects that those additional expenses will weigh on their profits for as long as the pandemic continues.

Plus, the increase in to-go packaging and delivery orders has some restaurants worried about added waste. “What we have works for now, but we want to find something that’s more environmentally conscious,” said Ahern of Boeufhaus. “The amount of packaging for each meal is just wild.”

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.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement