Food packaging was initially developed as a response to the need to save food. The first prehistoric ‘packaging’ was all natural: leaves or a gourd for example. Just like the silos and granaries that have existed since Antiquity, their role was to protect food being stored for later consumption. With the emergence of the commercial society came the need to transport products from one climate to another, in addition to the need to preserve them. The ceramic pot and the amphora, which both appeared circa 5000 years BCE, became an essential extension to the silo.
Over the centuries, various materials have been used to protect precious contents, such as wood for the barrel invented by the Gauls and glass in various forms, with its trade flourishing in Venice from the 16th century onwards. The latter was to become Nicolas Appert’s preferred material. In 1796, this French ‘confectioner’ developed a new procedure called appertisation which, for the first time ever, preserved not only the food but its flavour too. He thus invented modern preserves.
The tin can was invented in 1810 by the Englishman Peter Durand. In the 19th century, England had a monopoly on the tinplate industry. As imports of the material were heavily taxed there from the 17th century onwards, it developed its own industry to limit custom duties and redefined quality standards. Tin cans had many advantages. They proved not only mechanically and chemically resistant, but also preserved the quality of the contents and made transportation easier, thus contributing to the ‘migration’ of tastes and flavours around the world. From cans of infant milk powder to military rations, the ‘tin’ remains commonplace to this day.
During the 20th century, new materials emerged influencing the composition of packaging, such as aluminium in 1926 with drinks cans, card and polyethylene with Tetra Pak by Ruben Rausing in 1951 and plastic with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) cling film from the mid-1950s onward. Since PVC is gas permeable, it is unsuitable for carbonated drinks, which continued to be packed in glass bottles until the invention of polyethylene terephthalate (PET). After initially being used to transport blood plasma during the Korean War, PET was introduced to the food industry in 1974 by Pepsi.