Nanotechnology, the science of very small materials, is poised to have a big impact in food and beverage packaging. Due to very large aspect ratios, a relatively low level of nanoparticle is sufficient to change the properties of packaging materials without significant changes in density, transparency and processing characteristics. The addition of certain nanoparticles into shaped objects and films has been shown to render them light, fire-resistant and stronger in terms of mechanical and thermal performance, as well as less permeable to gases. New packaging solutions will focus more on food safety by controlling microbial growth, delaying oxidation, improving tamper visibility, and convenience. Three basic categories of nanotechnology applications and functionalities appear to be in development for food packaging: enhancement of plastic materials' barriers; incorporation of active components that can deliver functional attributes beyond those of conventional active packaging; and sensing and signaling of relevant information. The applications of nanotechnology in the food and beverage sector are only now emerging, but these are predicted to grow rapidly in the coming years. Applications in this area already support development of improved tastes, color, flavor, texture and consistency of foodstuffs, increased absorption and bioavailability of nutrients and health supplements, new food packaging materials with improved mechanical, barrier and antimicrobial properties, and nano-sensors for traceability and monitoring the condition of food during transport and storage. The rapid use of nano-based packaging in a wide range of consumer products has also raised a number of safety, environmental, ethical, policy and regulatory issues. The main concerns stem from the lack of knowledge with regard to the interactions of nano-sized materials at the molecular or physiological levels and their potential effects and impacts on consumer health and the environment. Research and development in the field of active and intelligent packaging materials is very dynamic and develops in step with the search for environmentally friendly packaging solutions. In this context, the design of tailor-made packaging is a real challenge, and it implies the use of reverse engineering approaches based on food requirements and not just on the availability of packaging materials any longer.
Nanotechnologies are expected to play a major role, taking into account all additional safety considerations and filling present packaging needs. The global nano enabled packaging market for food and beverages industry was worth US$6.5 bln in 2013 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 12.7% from 2014 to 2020, to reach an estimated value of US$15 bln in 2020, as per a report by Persistence Market Research. The global progress in technologies is making lives simpler and safer. Nanotechnology is one such field which is dynamically progressing and is contributing to the development of several industries, including food and beverage packaging. Nano-enabled packaging gives longer shelf life to food and beverages as compared to traditional plastic packaging. Food and beverages packaging is done through two different technologies under nano-enabled packaging-active and intelligent packaging. Active packaging has a comparatively larger market than intelligent packaging. Intelligent packaging is growing at a faster rate as compared to the active packaging. Customers prefer traceable food and beverage packaging, since it offers information such as expiry date and best use period, present state of the consumables. The radio frequency identification (RFID) tags keep customers informed about the state of the food within the packaging. Intelligent packaging is mostly used for fruits and vegetables, meat products, and beverages. Stricter regulations associated with active packaging have been stimulating the use of intelligent packaging in Europe and North America. Intelligent packaging in USA is growing mainly due to the increasing demand for fresh fruits and vegetables. Americans are shifting their breakfast preference from junk foods to fresh alternatives. USA is one of the largest producers and exporters of cherries globally. With the ease in trade regulations, fruit exports of the U.S. have increased. In September 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that after ten years of negotiations, US cherries can be exported to Western Australia, one of the most important markets for cherries. The increasing demand for intelligent packaging in international trade (especially in fruits) is laying out opportunities for this technology in food packaging. The Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) proposed by FDA in 2011 is another growth indicator for intelligent packaging wherein the fresh produce, including fruits and vegetables, are required to be scientifically grown, harvested, packaged, and stored. The farm products that come in the act’s domain are lettuce, spinach, cantaloupe, tomatoes, sprouts, mushrooms, onions, peppers, cabbage, citrus produce, strawberries, and walnuts. Nano-enabled packaging finds its application in several industries, including bakery, meat, beverages, fruit and vegetables, prepared foods, and others. The increasing demand for meat products, beverages, vegetables, and prepared foods is expected to drive their respective nano-enabled packaging markets, while the market share of bakery products is expected to decline on account of the rapid growth of other application segments. Nanotechnology is at a nascent stage and, therefore, usage of nano-enabled packaging is low in the food and beverages industry. Limited numbers of buyers have more leverage to negotiate with nanotechnology companies. On the other hand, there is a plethora of companies providing nano-enabled packaging solutions to the food and beverages industry. Nano-enabled packaging market for food and beverage is very competitive with a large number of players offering an array of patented products. The major players in this industry include Amcor Limited, Bemis Company, Inc., Chevron Phillips Chemical Company, L.L.C., Klöckner Pentaplast, Sealed Air, and Tetra Pak International S.A.
According to a study from iRAP, Inc, the total nano-enabled food and beverage packaging market in the year 2008 was US$4.13 bln, which is expected to grow in 2009 to US$4.21 bln and forecasted to grow to US$7.3 bln by 2014, at a CAGR of 11.65%. Active technology represents the largest share of the market, and will continue to do so in 2014, with US$4.35 bln in sales, and the intelligent segment will grow to US$2.47 bln sales. Other highlights of the study are as follows: