Shoppers really care about the environment. According to a recent study on sustainability drivers of dairy shopper purchase decisions, more than 86 percent of Americans said that concern about the earth influences their purchases, which means, logically, that packaging should reflect that finding.
“Clearly, eco-conscious consumers want companies to be committed to environmental responsibility,” says Derric Brown, director of sustainability at Memphis, Tennessee-based Evergreen Packaging, a leader in fiber-based packaging solutions, which presented insights from the study, along with St. Petersburg, Florida-based EcoFocus Worldwide, at the recent International Dairy Show in Chicago. “Consumers today want responsible packaging options for dairy products, such as cartons, that can deliver on freshness while also offering sustainability benefits. One of the benefits is that more than 75 percent of the carton is made from paper, which comes from a renewable resource — trees. Another benefit is that cartons are recyclable for millions of households.”
To capture more of these eco-friendly shoppers’ dollars, Evergreen recommends that dairy manufacturers’ packaging should understand and align with consumers’ concerns regarding recycling, their desire to reduce household waste, and their interest in using renewable resources; feature on-package labels and directions about recycling and disposal options, thereby making it easier for purchasers to make green choices; tell a brand’s environmental story to enhance its reputation, emphasise its eco-priorities and convey important messages; and show how packaging safeguards contents and can aid consumer efforts to live a greener lifestyle.
Of course, consumers’ environmental awareness doesn’t apply only to the dairy aisle, but to all types of food and beverage packaging.
One intriguing example of this trend in the beverage aisle is the development of the first paper wine bottle in the United States, from Healdsburg, California-based super-premium wine company Truett Hurst Inc. Dubbed PaperBoy, the container is a molded outer shell in the shape of a wine bottle, made from recycled cardboard, with a plastic liner. The whole package is 85 percent lighter than a glass bottle, and is recyclable as well. Pleasanton, California-based Safeway is teaming with Truett-Hurst on the initial rollout of PaperBoy nationally.
Designed by Truett-Hurst’s designer, Kevin Shaw, of Stranger & Stranger, which has offices in London and New York, in collaboration with the company’s team and U.K.-based paper bottle manufacturer Green Bottle, PaperBoy insulates better, recycles more readily, and is lighter and more transportable than a traditional glass bottle, while still looking and acting like one. The bottle’s cardboard outer shell can go into mainstream recycling streams, which are then used to make other cardboard products.
The cap and neck assembly pieces are also recyclable, and the plastic liner is suitable for “waste to energy” programmes. According to Truett-Hurst, PaperBoy’s overall carbon footprint, from production to shipping to recycling, is significantly lower than glass, with even the 12-pack cartons produced from recycled paper. Additionally, each PaperBoy bottle comes with instructions on how to break down the packaging for disposal.
In the fresh arena, Elk Grove Village, Illinois-based Clear Lam Packaging won the Produce Marketing Association’s (PMA) Impact Award in November for its new Ready Pac lettuce trays featuring the Peel and ReSeal lidding film system. “The new technology replaced a rigid lid and shrink band with a resealable lidding film,” explains James Foster, Clear Lam’s marketing manager. “It made the package 30 percent lighter and eliminated a lot of plastic from the supply chain. It also gave consumers a simple and easy-to-use experience. Out of all of the sustainability initiatives, consumers understand and appreciate ‘less plastic.’”
Foster envisions that going forward, “more and more plastic packaging will be made from renewable, bio-based materials like the Coke Plant Bottle. In addition, the packaging will be easier to dispose, sort and recycle.”
Salinas, California-based Mann Packing Co. decided to make a change to its black-lidded vegetable platter packaging after focus group surveys found that 92 percent of consumers agreed that the lid should be dispensed with when they were informed of the environmental benefits resulting from the reduced amount of plastic. The new packaging solution not only lessened the amount of plastic used in Mann’s small platters by 38 percent and in large platters by 43 percent, it also allowed for greater visibility of the vegetables, as the new packaging has a clear plastic bottom. Since this change, “customers can be more confident in the quality and freshness of the products,” according to Mann.
Based on 2012 sales figures, Mann estimates that the elimination of the black tray will save the company 136,000 pounds of plastic from landfills annually, or 1.4 million pounds of plastic in the next decade.
Sustainable packaging is also gaining traction in the foodservice arena.
Octal’s new freezer-grade direct PET (DPET) sheet for thermoformed packaging “has tremendous clarity and, when recycled, provides a superior foodstock for reuse in food packaging applications,” notes William J. Barenberg Jr, COO of Dallas-based Octal, whose global headquarters is in the Middle Eastern country of Oman. “Coming up with a successful freezer grade enables retailers to provide a superior package that also meets ambitious sustainability goals.”
Boulder, Colorado-based Eco-Products, which received the 2013 Foodservice Package of the Year from FPI and QSR magazine for its stackable Folia takeout containers made with 100 percent renewable and reclaimed resources, including sugarcane, also worked with Evol Foods Inc. to create better compostable bowls for its retail line of frozen meals. The resulting product, fashioned from a blend of bamboo and wheat straw, was “a thicker bowl that holds up a lot better as the consumer heats it,” says Phil Anson, CEO of Boulder-based Evol, in a YouTube case study video posted by Eco-Products last June.
Consumer health concerns have led manufacturers to remove bisphenol A (BPA) from cans and other types of packaging (despite assurances from the FDA that the synthetic compound is safe), as well as to adapt containers in other ways. For instance, shoppers watching their weight are increasingly embracing portion control, as Clear Lam’s Foster notes. To that end, the company has introduced snap-apart portion control packaging for cut fruits and vegetables, to help consumers stick to their resolve to eat just the right amount.
In a similar vein, St. Louis-based Anchor Packaging Inc. has brought out a series of 6-inch-square post-consumer recycled RPET Crystal Classics containers and lids to satisfy the market demand for small salads, sides and reduced portions.
As to what the future holds for packaging solutions, expect a lot more of the same, only better.