The art and science of packaging design can really be most appreciated in the food supply chain. Not only does stand-out packaging catch the consumer’s eye and differentiate a brand from its competitors, but ideally it protects food during transportation and handling, enhances food safety and shelf life, and is also very sustainable.
Global packaging firm Tetra Pak has been at the forefront of alternative food and beverage packaging for decades, starting with its iconic Tetra Brik package and aseptic packaging technology that truly transformed food and beverage packaging.
Recently, the company released its Environmental Research 2013 study, which polled consumers and industry stakeholders for their views about the environment and packaging. The findings show that people in both developed and developing countries are highly motivated to do something helpful for the environment/reduce environmental impact. While sorting and setting aside packaging for recycling ranked highest as the action most often performed in mature markets (France, Germany, Japan, UK and USA), it scored lower in developing countries (Brazil, China, India, Russia, South Africa and Turkey) presumably due to limited access to recycling infrastructure.
At the same time, the higher cost of ‘green’ products was the biggest barrier to buying environmentally sound products in mature markets, while in developing countries a lack of awareness, information and access contributed to not buying eco-friendly products. Not surprisingly, companies cited the production cost of lower impact products as the leading barrier to making their own environmental improvements.
When it comes to labeling, Tetra Pak’s study found that 37 percent of consumers regularly look for environmental logos on products, slightly lower than the 39 percent from the company’s 2011 environmental study. However, the latest study shows that 54 percent of those polled trust environmental labels today, versus 37 percent two years ago.
As for how consumers perceive the environmental impact of different kinds of packaging, the majority (38 percent), ranked the carton highest, followed by glass (34 percent), can (17 percent), and plastic (12 percent).
Indeed, Tetra Pak’s executives see a bright future for cartons over cans and they expect more food companies to make the migration.
During Pack Expo in September, Tetra Pak’s vice president of marketing and product management for USA and Canada told FoodProductionDaily that retailer efficiencies were helping drive the trend. Consumers want fresher products, like soup, he said, while manufacturers want to appeal to consumers by presenting a different image or packaging.
Despite the overall positive developments in alternative packaging and sustainability, Tetra Pak’s CEO Dennis Jonsson believes there’s more work to be done in the area of recycling and the company aims to do its part by tripling the amount of recycled packages sold by 2020 compared to 2010 to meet its 40 percent target.
“We have no illusions about the challenges we face,” admitted Jonsson. “But we believe that by finding new ways to process, package and distribute food and to deal with waste, and by working with partners throughout the value chain, we will make a difference for the futures of the company, the industry and the society.”
The latest figures show that roughly 23 percent of all Tetra Pak cartons sold last year were recycled, compared to 21 percent in 2011, so about half of the 40 percent the company is hoping to achieve by 2020.
Meanwhile, Tetra Pak increased the delivered number of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-stamped cartons by 43 percent to 26 billion in 2012, and extended its sourcing of bio-based polymers used for the closures and caps on its packages.
Smarter packages and labels
Contributing to improved food packaging is also a primary business focus at DuPont. The company participated in a collaborative project with the Mexican state of Chihuahua and Alvaro Novarro Garate, the owner of MixPack, to provide infant formula to a community of Tarahumara Indians.