Frozen foods account for a significant portion of the total grocery market — somewhere between 6 and 10% by some estimates. It’s no surprise, as freezing food has many benefits, from reduced food waste in the supply chain to extended shelf life and increased convenience for retailers and shoppers.
This corner of the market has continued to grow over the last few years, and along with it, we’ve seen a rise in the demand for improved packaging solutions.
Frozen foods are not only exposed to freezing temperatures; they are also often cooked in the container in which they are packaged. This means that packaging needs to be resilient enough to withstand these environments to keep its contents safe and intact.
Here is everything you need to know about properly packaging food for freezing temperatures.
What Food Products Are Typically Frozen?
Stroll down your local grocery store’s frozen aisle, and you’ll see how prevalent frozen foods are. The range of available products expanded rapidly since the late 1920s when fast-frozen peas ignited the frozen food industry.
Here are a few of the most significant categories of frozen foods today.
When it comes to frozen dairy products, the most common is ice cream and other dairy-based desserts such as gelato, sherbet, ice cream cakes, and frozen yogurt. Ice cream products are unique because they are consumed in their frozen state.
But other dairy products intended to be defrosted are also commonly sold frozen, including:
- Milk (especially non-cow milk, such as goat milk)
- Lactose-free dairy products
- Frozen foods containing dairy (pizzas, mozzarella sticks)
Before commercial freezing was invented, there was a need to preserve proteins. In cold climates, freezing was the original preservation method to keep animal proteins safely edible.
The Inuit technique of freezing fish was one of the inspirations that spurred the commercial frozen food industry.
With technological advancements, a wide range of frozen proteins are readily available, including:
- Beef, veal, and pork (steaks, ground, larger cuts, or bones)
- Fish (whole or filets)
- Chicken (whole or smaller cuts)
- Other seafood (octopus, shrimp, crab, oysters, and clams)
Although there is debate about whether frozen or fresh produce is better, frozen produce is readily available for many reasons.
In the case of some fruits and vegetables with short seasons, freezing has allowed them to be available year-round, including:
- Berries (such as strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries)
- Fruits (such as mangoes, cherries, and acai berries)
Others have been favored because they take out some of the labor of preparation:
- Blanched brussels sprouts and broccoli
- Peeled and cubed butternut squash
Some people even argue certain produce is even better frozen:
One of the most prominent corners of the frozen food market is prepared foods. These foods come packaged in portions, ready to heat and eat, often in the container they are packaged in.
Some of the most popular are:
- Ready-made meals, also known as TV dinners
- Prepared appetizers and snacks
- Frozen pizzas
- Frozen desserts
What Are Some Essential Factors When Packaging Frozen Foods?
Since frozen foods face unique environments, brands must consider different factors than fresh foods regarding packaging decisions.
Here are just a few of the critical factors.
Barriers to Oxygen and Moisture
Regarding food products, safety is always the number one concern. Oxygen and moisture can wreak havoc on a product. Moisture can encourage the growth of bacteria, causing spoilage and loss of product, while oxygen can cause dehydration and freezer burn.
Because of their exposure to these extreme environments, frozen foods need reliable barrier properties to protect them against the elements. This means packaging must be resistant to leakage, tears, punctures, and moisture.
Resistance to Heat
Some frozen foods are intended to cook in their packaging. This means the materials must be resistant to various heat sources.
Some frozen vegetables are sold in bags that can be steamed in the microwave until fully cooked. Prepared meals are often microwaved until cooked. Others still may be of the boil-in-bag variety, which means they need to keep their integrity under the pressure of boiling water.
As the frozen food industry has evolved, convenience has taken a top place among consumer concerns alongside increased shelf life. With people’s busy lives, taking something out of the freezer and getting a meal together in minutes is a crucial selling point.
Besides having visual appeal to stand out against the competition and protecting the product in transit to the end customer, the packaging needs microwavable convenience. This type of packaging must withstand cooking in a microwave while also serving the secondary purpose of a tray to eat from.
Clear Labeling and Instructions
Cooking instructions vary greatly depending on product type.
Aluminum containers may need to be cooked in an oven. Bags may be steamed in the microwave or boiled on the stovetop. Some may be able to cook with multiple techniques, which means a different set of instructions for each method.
Since improper cooking can lead to potential foodborne illness, frozen foods must have clearly defined instructions and labeling.
Some examples of label differences for consumer safety include:
- Partially cooked
- Contains raw poultry
What Are the Best Packaging Options for Frozen Goods?
With the wide variety of frozen goods currently offered, the best packaging will vary from product to product. It is far from one-size-fits-all.
Here are some of the most commonly used packaging types and the products they are best suited for.
Flexible resealable pouches are an excellent option for many frozen foods, including fruits, smoothie packs, french fries, and mixed vegetables.
Many frozen foods come packaged with multiple servings. Resealable pouches allow the customer to cook what they need and reseal the food to protect it from freezer burn, oxygen, and moisture.
Resealable pouches are most often made of variations of polyethylene, which are food grade and resistant to freezing temperatures. This type of packaging is highly customizable, allowing brands to incorporate eye-catching designs and images to make the food appetizing and stand out amongst competitors.
Paperboard boxes are ubiquitous in frozen food packaging. These are the boxes that frozen pizzas, popsicles, ready-made meals, and frozen burgers come in, to name just a few.
Wax-coated paperboard is a durable paperboard variation intended to cook directly from the freezer in the microwave. If you’ve ever eaten from foldable takeout food containers, you are already familiar with this type of packaging.
Because of its heat-resistant properties, wax-coated paperboard is one of the most commonly used packaging types for ready-made meal trays.
Shrink Wrap Films
Shrink wrap films are used in many aspects of frozen food packaging. These films are most frequently made from highly durable food-grade polyethylene and polyolefin.
One common application is to seal the cooking trays of ready-made meals. Often, the box that holds these cooking trays are wrapped in another layer of shrink wrap. This gives these frozen products multiple layers of barrier protection from freezing temperatures.
But shrink wrap can withstand the test of the freezer by itself. Shrink wrap films are most commonly used to protect proteins. These include individual portions of fish filets, steaks, and other seafood.
They offer a desirable packaging-to-product ratio, making them less wasteful than other packaging types.
Microwavable bags check many boxes when it comes to frozen food packaging. They can withstand both ends of the temperature spectrum, are resistant to oxygen and moisture, and provide the customer with the convenience of cooking in their packaging.
Although frozen peas, corn, and vegetable mixes are the most common products that use microwavable bags, some companies sell pasta and rice portions in this type of packaging. They take the hassle and time spent to make a meal from scratch out of the equation.
Not all frozen foods are suitable to be microwaved for optimal textures and final products. Products like chicken pot pies, lasagna, certain desserts, and Salisbury steaks require a traditional oven for ideal cooking.
Frozen foods of these types are commonly packaged in aluminum trays, topped with a wax-coated cardboard topper, inside a paperboard box, and finished with a layer of shrink wrap. Once removed from all of its packaging, you can bake them directly in an oven.
Earn Your Place in the Freezer With Dymapak
When bringing your frozen foods to the market, it is essential to work with a packaging supplier that can check all the boxes — safety, durability, visual appeal, compliance, and convenience.
Dymapak can help you earn your place in the freezer with packaging solutions that go the distance.
Our flexible pouches are not only durable, food grade, resealable, and temperature resistant, but they are also highly customizable. We can print in various colors, create bags with gloss, matte, and combination finishes, and apply graphics to make your products stand out against the rest.
Food Freezing Basics: Freezing Dairy Products, Eggs, and Other Foods | NDSU
Frozen Food Packaging Heats Up | IFT