Responsible disposables packaging made of a renewable waste material is the future of food packaging, Folia is really a mix of good design and smart thinking.
With several design patents Folia™ was developed to completely redefine the take-out and leftover food experience. Innovative features include tear-away flaps for easier access to food, leak resistant side flaps that prevent spills and hold condiments and cutlery, and a full array of shapes and sizes that satisfy a broad scope of foodservice needs. Folia™ maintains a clean, soft design with rounded corners to give it an organic feel. Containers are made from sugarcane or bagasse, a rapidly renewable and reclaimed resource. The natural beauty of sugarcane not only makes the package sustainable but also provides exceptional food presentation.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
The brief began as a basic concept; in essence, design a sustainable food service package to compete in the folded paperboard market segment. The challenge was utilizing the company’s existing manufacturing supply chain to create a breakthrough product that further established the brand as the market leader in sustainable food service packaging.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
From the onset of the project it was clear to me that the food packaging market was in dire need of a user centered design approach. The market often operates in a B2B2B2C system, meaning the product is sold from manufacturer to distributer to operating restaurant and finally “gifted” to the end user without a visible financial transaction. This dynamic has created a market that operates with extreme cost sensitivity and values only the most basic performance requirements. With that said, I believe there is no reason for a disposable to lack in performance or enjoyable use during its life span. With Folia, the design intent was to address the function and cost requirements driven by the distribution system, while in tandem incorporating a new approach to the usability and experience of a disposable food service container. Additional criteria was to incorporate features to assist the sales team in not only selling the product family, but also creating incentive for the buyer to purchase a larger bundle of complimentary products from the company catalogue. Historically selling products from off-the-shelf molds, the company built its market presence based on brand differentiation; the brand was established by the marketing team and exists solely through print material and the website. With Folia, the goal was to further strengthen the brand connection by building the personality of the branding into the product line and the product experience.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
The team conducted market research to determine existing product line sizing and ounce capacity standards. Utilizing an established sales network of local restaurants and caterers, we conducted face-to-face interviews in order to verify sizing and explore other needs and opportunities. As the designer on the project I conducted my own ethnographic observations as well as interviews in order to explore unseen and unarticulated needs/opportunities. Early in the development the team chose a design direction utilizing sugarcane bagasse as the primary substrate thus necessitating commercial composting certification. After corporate level buy-in of the proof of concept prototype, the team submitted the container to the Biodegradable Products Institute in order to prove commercial compostability and receive their BPI certificate of approval. The process involves a nine-month compost cycle following municipal composting processes and subsequent analyses.
Several rounds of concept development led to an intensive prototype process lasting 12 months. The containers were an initial challenge for our manufacture partner and numerous back-and-forth communications were required to navigate manufacturing constraints while still implementing the design intent. It took 7 or so rounds of prototyping to fine-tune all functional aspects and properly line up with the manufacturing realities within reasonable cost. At each prototype stage the team conducted internal testing and evaluation in addition to seeking external feedback. We again engaged the aforementioned local foodservice network to evaluate real life use. An integral component to user evaluation was support from the company’s national sales team. Their individual feedback and ability to gather information from prospective clients outside the local area was pivotal. Independent of utilizing the sales network, the development team held a much more formalized focus group at an annual catering trade show to get more in-depth feedback from that constituency.
The final product family incorporates feedback from a diverse network of stakeholders. The family features traditional sizes in order to properly meet existing market needs while simultaneously offering unique size options where new opportunities were identified. The development process on the project resulted in an overall manufacturing maturation and advancement as bagasse manufacture is relatively young and without much internal motivation to innovate. Folia is the flagship product for the company’s new user-centered design strategy.
Folia’ value is in being a disruptive product both in the disposable foodservice market and thereby culture at large. By prioritizing user experience, the container has potential to make a stronger emotional connection with the consumer and inspire them to consider the disposable nature of modern society. Made of a renewable waste material that would otherwise be burned off, the commercially compostable end-of-life aspires for a cradle-to-cradle society. If more people find value in responsible disposables we may have the momentum to move away from virgin plastic being the dominant disposable substrate.