Category Archives: packaging

Edible burger wrappers get it wrong

Paper? Mmm... paper.

Paper? Mmm… paper.

Brazilian burger chain Bob’s recently got a lot of press for introducing edible wrappers made of rice paper. With the tagline of “there’s no need to control yourself” emblazoned on the wrappers, the chain said it was testing them for environmental reasons.

Bob’s proclaimed the test a success, with less packaging waste as a result. Here’s a video of customers chowing down on the wrapper/burgers:

If there was a bigger food gimmick in 2012 - and there were many, from bacon sundaes to burgers with black buns - I certainly didn’t see it. What Bob’s and pretty much all the reports on the stunt failed to mention is just how important human senses are when it comes to eating food. The edible wrapper counters several of them.

The brain and senses are hardwired to enjoy certain foods, with our eyes and noses generally acting as the first line of defense. If something looks or smells off, we won’t eat it, which is why there are so few black-coloured foods (black usually means rotten to the brain). It’s how early humans were able to survive long enough for all of us to get here.

It’s also why some of the people in Bob’s video - who were doubtlessly given free burgers if they promised to eat them with wrapper on camera - looked confused before taking a bite. Humans have to consciously trick their brains into eating something sight (or scent) unseen.

One last problem is the texture of the packaging - there’s just no way to track the human brain into thinking that eating paper is fun or desirable.

Harvard professor David Edwards might be on the better track, with his invention last year of WikiCells, a sort of see-through edible packaging made from natural materials. This type of packaging allows consumers to see what they’re eating and it can also be naturally scented, so it can actually add to the desirability. It also doesn’t have a weird texture.


Posted by on January 16, 2013 in burgers, food, packaging


Self-heating cans have arrived

With the rapid pace of technological innovation, more and more of the things we’re used to are becoming obsolete. We can add the microwave oven to that growing list.

The future lies in self-heating food, a new technology that has been under development by the military for some time. Over the weekend, packaging giant Crown Holdings announced that it had signed a deal with Austin, Tex.-based startup HeatGenie to incorporate flameless heaters into its products.

Philadelphia-based Crown is one of those companies that are invisible - but extremely important - to the every-day consumer as it makes many of the cans that beverages and food come in. Crown, a Fortune 500 company, says it manufactures about 20% of the world’s beverage cans and about a third of all the food cans used in North America and Europe.

HeatGenie’s technology, which has been funded by several startup investors and purchased for testing by the U.S Army, is the size of a small tea candle, weighs 1.3 ounces and can be recycled. It sits in the bottom of the can and can be activated by pushing a button, whereupon it heats itself to 145 degrees Fahrenheit within two minutes. Here’s a video explaining how it works.

I remember some Army folks telling me about this technology a few years ago while I was working on Sex, Bombs and Burgers - they said it was safe, inexpensive and compact but not quite fast enough for prime time. Evidently that has changed; Crown said that in tests, consumers didn’t like anything that took more than two minutes, which HeatGenie was able to achieve.

What are the possible uses? As HeatGenie founder Brendan Coffey (very appropriately named) puts it: “Imagine driving to work with a six-pack of coffee in your car that can be heated while you’re driving. Or having self-heating soup or pasta for your child’s lunch box.”


Posted by on May 9, 2011 in army, food, packaging


The humble can: 200 years of awesomeness

I received an email the other day from Tom Megginson, a creative director with Ottawa-based marketing firm Acart Communications who wanted to let me know that he had mentioned me on his blog. After giving it a read, I simply had to point to it here - not because I’m in it, but because his posting is hilarious.

In what can only be described as an “ode to a can,” Tom pays homage to the humble tin can. Yup - that piece of metal that over the past two centuries has housed everything from soup to Spam to beer. We rarely think about the can, but as Tom humorously sums up in his post, it’s been an incredibly important piece of hardware.

As I delve into in Sex, Bombs and Burgers, the can was the first and most important step in food processing - it was the first technological breakthrough that made long-term storage and transportation of food possible. Not only did that enable further exploration and study of the world, it also aided military forces by providing durable food for troops far away from home.

But, as Tom observes, the trusty and reliable can is now under threat from something called the retort pouch, or lighter and better packaging developed - ironically - by the military. I won’t spoil the rest of his post, but I recommend you give it a read.

One thing I’m left wondering, though, is whether the beer pictured at the bottom of his post will ever come in a retort pouch. That would be weird.


Posted by on August 30, 2010 in food, packaging, war


Two all-beef patties, special sauce… and ink

Ah China, land of melamine (a plastic) in milk and clenbuterol (an asthma drug) in pork. Now we can “ink in French fries” to that list.

The Standard in Hong Kong reports that people who spread their fries on paper place mats at fast-food establishments may be risking ink leeching into the food. Apparently, random inspections of KFC outlets on Hong Kong’s mainland found written warnings telling customers not to put their food on mats.

Hong Kong’s Centre for Food Safety says the allegation is without merit. What’s less reassuring, however, is the centre’s statement that there is no scientific evidence that ink on food is hazardous to your health.

Mmm… ink. Just think of it as a new kind of special sauce.

While it’s easy to believe food horror stories coming out of China, the source of this news - The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong - should raise some eyebrows. The group is a pro-communist, pro-Beijing party operating in the territory. This sort of thing sounds like pretty clear agitation for more government oversight of the food industry in Hong Kong.

Even still, I’m going to think twice about spreading my fries onto anything now. I’m also reconsidering those claims that it’s okay to use newspaper as a substitute for toilet paper!

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Posted by on September 18, 2009 in burgers, china, food, kfc, packaging


Why we need Frankenfoods

One of the goals of my book is to try and counter the widespread idea that food processing in general is a bad thing. Sure, processing foods so that they last longer wipes out many of their nutrients, and adding chemicals, salt and fat contributes to obesity and other health problems.

There is a bright side, though - while products such as Cheese Whiz or Spam may be cringe-worthy, without them we may not have been able to feed the 20th century’s population explosion. That need is only going to increase, as University of Regina professor Sylvain Charlebois recently argued in an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail, because of growing demand from the developing world. While there has been a general resistance to genetically modified foods, it’s now time to rethink that attitude, he argued:

A new deal is slowly emerging, one that expands our notion of “us” to include the entire human race. As a result, genetically engineered foods must be allowed to develop so our globalized economy can flourish.

Some of the new food technologies are actually good for us. I recently interviewed Dr. Patrick Dunne at Natick Labs in Massachusetts, where all of the U.S. Army’s food is designed, and he told me about a nifty new high-pressure water process that’s being used by food companies, including Spam maker Hormel. The food is packed into vacuum pouches and then quickly cooked in a high-pressure water drum, which has a two-fold advantage over older methods such as steam cooking: a) The cooking process only takes a few minutes as opposed to more than an hour, which means the food is cooked less and thus retains more of its natural taste, and b) it consequently requires fewer additives to make it stable. Hormel calls it Truetaste technology, and it’s behind the company’s Natural Choice no-preservatives line.

Who knew food technology would eventually go full circle, from making crappy, chemical-laden foods to stuff that lasts longer naturally?

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Posted by on April 1, 2009 in army, food, packaging, u.s., war


Food innovation or failure piles?

I was browsing around YouTube the other day and found this hilarious video. It’s an extraordinary invention from a South Korean fast-food chicken chain that combines food and drink packaging into one. The “Col-Pop” is basically a large soft drink cup with a plastic basket on top that holds a bunch of chicken “pops.” Assuming the contraption’s two compartments are insulated from each other, so that one stays cold while the other stays hot, this thing probably has tons of potential. It wouldn’t surprise me to see North American food processors and fast-food chains jump all over this. After all, KFC did give us those great bowls a.k.a. “failure piles” (warning: bad language).

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Posted by on March 5, 2009 in chicken, food, packaging


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