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Sonoco Packaging Meets Demand for Sustainable At-Home Meals

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Eat out less. Cook more.

It’s a common goal, but one that adds more steps to an already busy life. Select recipes, consider all household members’ dietary preferences, compile a grocery list, adhere to a food budget, choose the best grocery store for this week’s list, pick a time that accommodates a busy schedule, choose storage space for groceries – definitely doable but worth considering efficient alternatives. 

Buying one package containing most or all ingredients simplifies dinnertime prep. Meal kits and prepared meals can cut down on the decision fatigue and time commitment brought about by traditional grocery store trips. And, there’s a market for these meals. Consumers have a heightened desire to eat at home due to effects of COVID-19. Sales speak – just look at the 30-35% increase in frozen food sales in 2020 when compared to 2019.1  

While there is an increase in frozen meal sales, some consumers enjoy the actual experience of cooking. Meal kits allow these consumers to still make the convenient one-package purchase and get their craved culinary experience.

But, despite all the pros, some consumers perceive a drawback for meal kits – packaging waste. While there is a lot of packaging in those clever ready-to-prepare meal boxes, the sustainable consumer shouldn’t rush to cancel a meal kit subscription.

Researchers from The University of Michigan found that when considering the overall environmental impact of meals from a specific meal kit company, the meal kits fared better in many areas than grocery store meals. Their peer-reviewed article highlights sustainability pros for meal kits such as:

  • Lower greenhouse gas emissions
  • Reduced food waste
  • Streamlined direct-to-consumer supply chains
  • Lower last-mile transportation emissions

Researchers concluded that advantages of meal kits “offset observed increases in packaging.2

As illustrated above, perceptions aren’t always reality. Be sure to consider multiple environmental impacts when making packaging choices.

At Sonoco, we’re doing just that – analyzing multiple environmental impacts – and going a step beyond to provide sustainable solutions, including packaging that might go in meal kits and packaging for prepared dinners. Below are some of our products that could pair well with meal kits and prepared dinners.


Plastic Trays
Sonoco has versatile tray options, supporting both frozen and refrigerated foods. CPET trays perform well for those frozen foods in meal kits that will be heated up by the consumer in the microwave or oven. CPET trays can withstand -40 to 400 degrees F. But their versatility isn’t limited to temperature. CPET trays can be used for frozen foods, prepared meals, meats, bakery products, and more. Our tray options also include the white and green recyclable PP trays and our rPET trays which use 20% to 40% recycled content, depending on packaging size.

Lidding Films
Through Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP), our lidding films are capable of keeping food fresh3 during the meal kit shipment trip. These flexible lidding films can also extend the shelf-life of prepared meals and provide tamper-evident packaging while also being an easy-open lid for the consumer. As noted previously in the University of Michigan research study, meal kits have the potential to reduce food waste. Keeping food fresh and protected – an area our lidding films can assist with – is part of the food waste solution here.

Pre-made Bags
Sonoco offers multiple pre-made flexible pouch options, a portfolio ready to help you customize food preservation needs to packaging design. Since the pouches are pre-made, this allows you to test different sizes, technologies, and closures before choosing the packaging best for your product. Bag options can offer steam-in-bag technology, ability to withstand freezing temperatures, and high preservation of product quality. Like other flexible packaging types, these bag options offer customized innovations to make the cooking experience easy and enjoyable.

EcoTect® Paperboard
Made from 100% recycled fibers and recyclable itself,  EcoTect® Paperboard  has some strong sustainability pros. The distinctive natural color and texture connects with consumers, as data from a Sonoco and Clemson University study4 suggests. The study reports stats such as 83.1% of participants selecting the EcoTect rice package over two competing organic rice brands. For the meal kit and prepared meals market, EcoTect’s versatility is another stand-out feature. EcoTect can be made into boxes, sleeves, trays, and more.

These products are simply a snapshot of offerings we think would pair well with the meal kit and prepared meal market. If you have a current need, please contact us here or for more information, explore more of Sonoco’s Flexible Packaging Offerings,  Rigid Plastic Packaging Offerings, and EcoTect PaperBoard Offerings.

Frozen tray



1 Costa, M., Refrigerated & Frozen Foods.  “Frozen Food Sales Projected to Remain 30% Higher than 2019 Due to COVID-19 Spending.” 2020.

2  Heard, B., Bandekar, M., Vassar, B., & Miller, S. “Comparison of Life Cycle Environmental Impacts from Meal Kits and Grocery Store Meals.” Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 147, 2019.

3 Gorris, L. M. & Peppelenbos, H.W. “Modified Atmosphere and Vacuum Packaging to Extend the Shelf Life of Respiring Food Products.” HortTechnology, 2, 1992.

4 Download the White Paper at