Sustainability and Food Safety

Steven Maxwell

The key trends shaping deli packaging.

For shoppers in a rush, from office workers to time-poor parents, the deli section of a supermarket can be a real blessing. In the best delis, a range of ambient and hot meals, snacks and side options can make deciding what to prepare for any eating occasion simpler and more straightforward.

While the contents of what’s sold at a deli counter are undoubtedly the most important factor in any purchasing decision, consumers are increasingly aware of how that food is packaged and whether the materials used are responsible and sustainable.

At the same time, food safety also retains huge importance for consumers when it comes to deli packaging. According to a 2023 McKinsey & Company U.S. consumer survey, 43% of consumers said environmental impact was an extremely or very important packaging characteristic when making purchasing decisions. However, 75% of respondents also placed food safety and hygiene as extremely or very important.


One company heavily involved in the business of making deli products look good is St. Louis, MO-based Anchor Packaging.

“We make packaging for pretty much every part of the deli and, for that matter, bakery as well,” says Anchor’s director of market development and sustainability, Kurt Richars. “We also do quite a bit in restaurants because it’s all about prepared food whether it’s hot or cold.”

New from Anchor Packaging is its Crisp Food Technologies line. “The idea with Crisp Food containers is that we keep food hot and crispy, including delicate, textured food like fries or fried chicken,” says Richars.


“The reason that’s important for deli is it’s going to hold food at fresh-made quality for hours in a hot case and then 30 minutes on-the-go,” he says.

The reason, according to Richars, is improved heat retention, thanks to enhanced ventilation. “We call it cross-flow convection because it actually moves heat around inside the container and expels all the excess moisture.”

The key, he says, is how to maintain food quality and how to do it in a way that protects flavor. “That’s a big piece of what this is, and it’s also microwave-safe, and ideal for storing leftovers,” Richars continues. “So, the consumer gets home, and if they don’t finish everything, they can just drop it right in the fridge and reheat it in the container.”

Anchor has also introduced Tamper Safe, which brings a tamper-evident security tab to hot and cold food. The aim, Richars says, is untouched food, “from deli to door.” “When customers see the tamper-evident tab, they know it’s safe and that allows for a quick grab-and-go.”

Safe Pinch is another of Anchor’s product ranges that builds on the concept of tamper-evident security, particularly for cold ambient foods. “The goal was to get away from tear-strips,” Richars explains. “If you have a tamper-evident or tamper-secure container, you usually have to tear that strip off and you’re left with a sharp edge and the waste. This is designed so you can simply pinch it to open.”

The Safe Pinch line was expanded in early 2024 with the addition of a new, three-compartment insert, developed to keep toppings or dips separate from fresh ingredients within a container.

“There’s a lot of consumer interest in fresh prepared salads, açaí and poke, and this allows operators to produce on-site or in a commissary because it separates the fixings from the balance of the material,” says Richars.

“It keeps the açaí ingredients out of the açaí and the salad toppings out of the salad, so this insert lets operators get things done ahead of time and it also lets them reduce labor because they can produce it onsite or in a commissary.”

Located in Corte Madera, CA, EcoTensil specializes in the utensils that go inside deli containers, but its line of disposable cutlery is focused on helping companies achieve zero-waste goals.

Currently, we are the industry leader — since 2010 — in offering a verified compostable and plastic-free sampling utensil that has a pleasing taste experience, unlike wood utensils,” says EcoTensil Founder and Chief Executive Peggy Cross. “Customers love how compact, clean and easy to use the EcoTasters are.”
Made of sturdy, moisture-resistant paperboard from sustainably managed forests, but with up to 85% less material than plastic or wooden cutlery, EcoTensil’s range of products have been approved by a third-party sensory lab for delivering a pleasing consumer experience.

Used for sampling products at the deli counter and for food demo stations in store, EcoTensil offers what Cross describes as a breakthrough new food box that comes with a detachable EcoTensil, meaning retailers do not need to supply utensils separately.

“The food box is made from this amazing material, which is plastic-free but has the same moisture barrier as a coffee cup,” says Cross. “It’s certified as compostable and recyclable everywhere in the U.S. and Europe, and is taste-free, which is important for any kind of utensil.”

Also strong on the sustainable packaging front is Rohnert Park, CA-based World Centric, a company that specializes in manufacturing compostable and reusable foodservice and packaging products.

World Centric recently reintroduced plant-based PLA (Polylactic Acid) round deli containers to its line of commercially compostable foodware. According to the company’s vice president of sales, Deven Young, World Centric’s compostable packaging is often used in the deli section for grab-and-go and quick-serve departments.

“Our NoTree folded paper takeout containers and wide bowls are made from FSC certified bamboo and are used in the deli aisle for takeout and grab-and-go,” he says. “Their PLA viewing window allows customers to see the items inside and they are heat lamp and warming oven safe.”

Another leading manufacturer of food packaging solutions, Sayreville, NJ-based Sabert Corporation announced the launch of new Pulp Hinged Containers and Pulp Portion Cups in January 2024, further expanding its line of sustainable and compostable products designed to meet the needs of foodservice operators.

The company says the new options combine versatility, durability and sustainability to help operators elevate their overall takeout and delivery experience while reducing environmental impact.

“As demand grows for sustainable food packaging, we engineered our Pulp Hinged Containers and Portion Cups to provide the ideal blend of convenience and quality while also being better for the environment,” says Sabert’s vice president of marketing and new product development, Stephny Halstead.

“Sabert’s Pulp Hinged Containers are an optimal packaging solution for today’s dynamic menus and are suitable for a variety of food options, including chicken wings, sandwiches, quesadillas and more.”


According to Young, World Centric is focused on using the most sustainable materials for its packaging and is constantly looking at sourcing sustainable options such as bamboo paper or cutlery, as well as aiming to reduce emissions, energy and water use during manufacturing.

“Our intention and focus is not only to source the most sustainable materials (e.g upcycling agriculture discards), but also how to innovate on manufacturing processes that use these new materials and reduce energy consumption,” he says.

World Centric backed its commitment with a recent survey of 1,000 U.S. grocery shoppers, showing that sustainability continues to be an emerging trend of importance in the aisles for grocery shoppers.

“Fifty-three percent of consumers say it’s important or very important that the single-use packaging used in grocery stores and in foodservice be made from plant-based, compostable materials, and 55% of consumers have changed what they buy at the store to prioritize brands committed to using sustainable packaging,” says Young.

For EcoTensil, sustainability is at the very core of its business, says Cross. “Cutlery made from plastic is used for 2 seconds, then persists in our ecosystem for over 2,000 years,” she says. “That just makes no sense when there is an alternative.”

Over the years, Cross says one of EcoTensil’s biggest challenges has been to find a long-lasting material, similar to coffee cup stock, that was plastic-free yet could hold up beautifully to a full dish of lentil salad, or a cup of yogurt or hot oats.

“Thanks to the big push in Europe to find alternative plastic-free materials, we were at last able to find our current Holy Grail ‘AquaDot’ Paperboard. This board is also PFAS-free, certified plastic-free, compostable and recyclable,” she reveals.

Cross believes wider adoption of alternatives to plastic is likely, given increasing sustainability trends across the retail, CPG and supply industries.

“Repeatedly, we are hearing people discuss the inevitably of reduction in plastic use,” she says. “The European Union, the U.K. and Canada have all banned single-use plastic utensils.”

In terms of sustainability, a key focus for Anchor is reusability, which is the theme of a line it introduced in 2023, Anchorware Reusables. “We see a lot of opportunity in reuse, and we think consumers are interested in it as well — they get it,” says Richars.

“Three out of four consumers keep containers to reuse, so the idea was how to provide a ‘keeper’ type of container where consumers see value in it, and the operator gets the chance to provide something that really breaks through with the consumer because it’s a different kind of sustainability message.”

Underlining its importance to sustainability, Sabert’s Monmouth Junction, NJ, Nuvida Plastics recycling facility was named a finalist for the Sustainable Packaging Coalition Innovator Awards in March 2024.

“Our long-standing commitment to sustainability ensures we continue to move the needle on cutting-edge research, innovation and capabilities to help reduce food waste and ensure food is delivered to consumers safely and sustainably,” adds Halstead.


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