Editor’s Note: Green at the Center

Sustainability has emerged as a top priority for many consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies whose products line grocery shelves in stores across the United States. One important way manufacturers are greening their business practices is in the realm of packaging.

But as I discovered while working on the article about the work the Sustainable Packaging Coalition is doing with many CPG companies, among them such household names as ConAgra, Kellogg and Kraft, the concept of sustainable packaging involves much more than just developing an eco-friendly container. “One can design an incredibly materially efficient packaging, but if it ends up in a landfill, by definition, that is not a sustainable use of resources,” points out coalition director Anne Johnson. “A package in and of itself cannot be ‘sustainable’; only systems can be sustainable.”

The group has been spreading its message through education outreach, which it caps with an irresistible takeaway for money-conscious goods manufacturers and retailers alike: “Sustainable packaging is also cost management,” as Johnson says.

Grocers have also been busy coming up with greener packaging solutions for their private label products, as in the case of Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Spartan Stores, which earlier this year bowed recyclable and biodegradable molded fiber containers for its Spartan brand eggs sold at the company’s 100 retail locations. As a bonus, the new packaging cushions the eggs and provides impact protection in transit and in storage, as well as absorbing moisture.

Beyond packaging, CPG companies are intrepidly exploring other ways to help the environment and their bottom lines. Unilever, for example, last month rolled out one of its first U.S. “One Unilever” distribution centers consolidating food and personal care products at a single location, thus enabling more efficient distribution of items to several of the company’s largest customers, which are conveniently located near the Wilmer, Texas, facility.

The grocery industry can expect further innovations in this vein as trusted manufacturers and the retailers that stock them grapple with the issue on most people’s minds these days: What can we do to reverse or at least slow down the damage to the earth? Many consumers will be looking eagerly to supermarket operators and CPG companies to provide inventive — and correct — answers.
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