„A Kind of Wikipedia for Foodies“

Packaging designer Andreas Milk and his team have developed a glossary that lists and explains new and sustainable materials for packaging: the „Material Lab“ is a free online platform.

Edible protective sprays for avocados, plastic-eating mushrooms, bottles made from pumpkin plants: the list of materials and products that can be used for sustainable packaging is getting longer all over the world. Numerous patented material inventions are unknown to the trade and even more so to consumers. Many abbreviations for packaging materials are only known to experts. Those who deal with food packaging, whether industry or trade, increasingly need orientation. „Until now, there has been a lack of a kind of Wikipedia for foodies,“ says Andreas Milk, packaging designer and managing director of the MILK agency in Frankfurt. Milk wanted to close this gap. He and his team developed a glossary, the „Material Lab,“ that lists and briefly explains „forward-looking materials“ for primary and secondary packaging. The glossary is a public platform that can be accessed free of charge – hence the comparison with Wikipedia. „There was no database like this before,“ says Milk, whose agency counts numerous brand-name companies in the food industry as clients, such as Ritter Sport or Eckes-Granini, and advises them on packaging issues and develops designs for them.

There is no claim to completeness for the „Material Lab“ – because new materials are constantly being added. Online users can select various filters, such as a category or food types, to refine their search. There is also a „Status“ filter that indicates whether the material is in the concept phase, a prototype, ready for the market or even ready for serial production. Some excerpts from the glossary: Lactips, for example, is an edible packaging film made from milk and is already ready for serial production; Ponto Biodesign is a bacterial cellulose film and has market-ready status; Scoby is the name of a packaging made from woven biowaste and is ready for the market.

New materials offer added value

Katharina Hölz, art director at MILK, has collected materials and products from around the world, checked with developers and documented them. In addition to the product name, there is also information about the product, the manufacturer, and the source of the information. „Sustainability is also becoming a decision criterion in packaging. New materials are constantly being developed around the globe. These are not only ecologically convincing, but also offer added value to the product they package. For us and our customers, the challenge in the coming years is to rethink the packaging and marketing of food products in a neo-ecological way,“ says Milk on the background of the platform.

„Treasure trove for producers and retailers“

Since December 2020 to date, some 250 materials have been posted online. „This is a treasure trove for all manufacturers and retailers who want to repackage food in the future,“ says Andreas Milk. There would be many search queries, not only from the immediate industry, but also from students or printers, for example. During the Corona pandemic, many restaurateurs looking for take-away packaging would have sought out and contacted the platform. Neither for the mention of the product nor for the use of the platform does the Frankfurt agency charge money, he says. „It’s an open-source platform,“ Milk emphasizes. In the U.S., he says, there are comparable systems, but they are based on a subscriber model. Because Milk, as a designer, also focuses on visuals, he has published the „Material Lab“ as a booklet as well, but only about half of the actual glossary can be found there. The cleanly designed book with product illustrations serves as a door opener for the online database. The second edition is already being planned.