Back in 2019, we realized that despite living and breathing all things foodservice packaging, we still were curious to know if we truly understood how consumers thought about their foodservice packaging — the cup holding their coffee on the way to work in the morning, the take-out containers, or the utensils they use at a catered office lunch. So, we conducted our first consumer perception survey focusing on adults in the U.S. and Canada, and learned quite a bit.

Now, it’s 2021. We’ve been wading through the COVID-19 pandemic, which completely upended the foodservice industry and leading us to question its impact on consumers. Do they still feel the same way about foodservice packaging after months of restaurants being closed to dine-in patrons and people working from home without the same need to grab meals and drinks on the go? To get an inside look at how consumers view foodservice packaging, we once again worked with a third party to conduct the survey. The majority of questions remained the same and we added a few new questions to address the impact of the pandemic.

As with the previous survey, some of the results validated things we knew and some of the results were surprising. We were not surprised to see that more than 50% of adults in the U.S. and Canada continue to use single-use packaging at least once a week, and it wasn’t a shock to see that this represents a slight decrease from 2019 results.

Another unsurprising result was the fact that when asked about seven different performance attributes, both the U.S. and Canadian respondents said that being leak- or spill-proof and stopping stains remain the most important performance attributes of single-use foodservice packaging. Respondents also indicated that they see the cleanliness and sanitary nature of single-use foodservice packaging as the most important benefit, followed closely by the convenience of being able to take food on the go.  This is a flip-flop of the top two benefits from the 2019 survey, when convenience held the top spot.

As with our previous survey, we wanted to gain a holistic view, so we once again asked questions about reusables, along with single-use items. When it comes to reusables, the environmental attributes along with their sturdy nature were seen as the top benefits by respondents in the U.S. and Canada. But, here’s where the two countries split a bit — sturdiness was rated as the most important benefit in the U.S. A big change this time is that the top concern for reusables is that they’re not clean and sanitary, while in 2019, respondents had limited concerns about the cleanliness of reusables.

And now, the big question everyone wants to know… Just how much did COVID-19 impact consumer perceptions on foodservice packaging? Well, we asked them if the COVID-19 pandemic influenced their perception of potential benefits, concerns or attributes of single-use packaging. In both countries, the clean and sanitary nature of single-use foodservice packaging items increased in importance for the highest percentage of respondents, followed by the protective or tamper-proof properties. Of those respondents, less than 40% said this would continue after the pandemic.

Surprising? Not surprising? Only time will tell what perceptions will remain once we’re fully through the COVID-19 pandemic. In the meantime, many of the survey findings are in the executive summary.  If you want the complete picture, including additional opinions on consumer behavior and purchasing decisions you’ll have to check out the full survey results, available only to FPI members.  Members may log into the conferences section of the website to view the slide deck from the spring 2021 virtual conference to view.