Within a matter of months and weeks, the coronavirus has turned the way we live upside down and forced us to rethink many of the things we’ve previously taken for granted. At Stora Enso, our efforts are aimed at protecting people and making sure we can continue to provide vital packaging materials to our customers, many of whom serve the medical, hygiene and food industries.

The coronavirus outbreak puts hygiene, food safety and safety of packaging and materials into focus. Products which have usually not been packaged in supermarkets are now being packed to ensure safety and hygiene. Coffee shops have stopped serving drinks to reusable cups for the time being and favour paper cups for hygiene reasons. Many people stay home and order more food from restaurants, packed for deliveries.

Health concerns of today take us to the origin of food service packaging, which was created to improve hygiene. Paper cups were introduced in the United States in the beginning of the 20th century to prevent disease from spreading. Today, food service packaging is used to serve food and beverages on plates, bowls and cups at coffee shops and quick service restaurants, and to transport food for example in trays, clamshells, wraps and bags.

Paper and board are proven to be hygienic and convenient materials for food and beverage packaging since decades. They are food-safe and sustainably produced with fiber-based, renewable and recyclable materials. At Stora Enso, we have certified traceability systems to trace the origin of our raw materials as well as certified hygiene management systems at our production sites to secure product safety. To us, food safety of our materials is non-negotiable every day, not only in times of pandemics.

Our products must meet high technical and legal requirements, but the benefits of renewable materials are not only technical. Packaging reflects the values and sustainability ambitions of brands while providing a tangible surface to deliver their messages visibly to consumers. And this is where renewable materials have clear advantages, such as a lower carbon footprint than fossil-based materials, high recyclability rates and contributing to creating less waste.

The food service industry faces challenging times in the short-term, with temporary closures of coffee shops and restaurants to ensure social distancing. At the same time, delivery and on-the-go packaging has never been as critical as now for the continuity of restaurant businesses. But consumers will eventually emerge from quarantines and locked-down cities and return to eating out with friends and family, buying takeout lunch during work days, and getting coffee to go. Additionally, they will have learned to order more takeout, which is an opportunity for new businesses, service models and digitalization to happen faster.

There is no way to tell what permanent changes the pandemic will bring, but safety and hygiene will surely remain high on people’s agendas long afterwards. Packaging for food service will continue to play a big role in the future, and renewable materials are best suited to do that in a safe, hygienic and eco-friendly way.