Solutions across the store are revolutionizing food and beverage packaging and consumers’ connection to it.
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, Tenn.-based Evergreen Packaging, a leader in fiber-based packaging solutions, which presented insights from the study, along with St. Petersburg, Fla.-based EcoFocus Worldwide, at the recent International Dairy Show, held last month 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.” (For more on consumers’ attitudes toward carton recycling, see the sidebar on page 33.)
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, emphasize 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, Calif.-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, Calif.-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” programs. 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.
According to Truett-Hurst President and CEO Phil Hurst, the “earth-friendly, high-quality, innovative package … could create an entirely new category in wine.”
Less is More
In the fresh arena, Elk Grove Village, Ill.-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, Calif.-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.
To promote the change, Mann posted an educational yet amusing YouTube video in May 2013 to show consumers why the tray was eliminated, the many advantages of the new tray and even some creative ways to make use of the old black trays. “Looks like we’re saving our Earth one big piece of black plastic at a time,” noted Gina Nucci, the company’s director of healthy culinary innovation.
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. “With advances in research and development, new technologies, price fluctuations, environmental pressures and the increased supply of recycled materials, more material options exist in foodservice packaging than ever before,” notes the “Trends Report” from the Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI), in Falls Church, Va. “Increasing interest in composting and recycling of food service packaging is driving some material selections as well.”
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, Colo.-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.
Evol’s quest to improve its compostable bowls points to an important aspect of packaging innovation: Sustainability is a worthy and desirable goal, but superior performance is key.
Along with their environmental cred, cartons’ barrier technology helps to enhance freshness and protect dairy product quality by controlling dairy products’ interaction with the environment, according to Evergreen. Cartons also help to preserve flavors, minimize odor infiltration and maximize the retention of nutrients, particularly vitamin A and riboflavin (vitamin B2), the company notes.
Clear Lam’s PrimaPak package, produced from a flexible roll of film with a built-in Peel and ReSeal lid and a framework that provides rigidity, “is designed to replace rigid plastic jars, tubs, composite cans and trays,” says Foster. “It is made on a special bagging machine, [on which the] film is formed into a ‘pop-up box’ design that is filled and hermetically sealed. The package is lightweight but durable. The lid is easy for the consumer to use, and, for added convenience, it will stay in an upright position when opened.”
Further advantages are greater cost-effectiveness and — you guessed it — sustainability. “The PrimaPak packages improve cube utilization by up to 40 percent and reduce plastic usage by up to 70 percent, compared to large plastic jars and cans,” observes Foster. “These benefits translate into tangible cost savings and help greenhouse gas reductions by removing trucks throughout the system.”
The first PrimaPak commercial application came just in time for the winter holidays, in the form of Flavor Tree Branded Dark Chocolate Pretzels, from Elgin, Ill.-based John B. Sanfilippo & Sons, featuring a customized gift-wrapped presentation design. “The package is made from a single roll of film on a PrimaPak bagging machine, and it’s really easy for consumers to use and then throw away,” says Clear Lam CEO James Sanfilippo. The item launched on the East Coast in November, with additional PrimaPak applications and more product expansions slated for 2014, according to the company.
Also new on shelves as of November is new packaging for Domino Sugar and C&H Sugar, whose renamed Quick Dissolve Sugar and Pourable Brown Sugar/Pourable Golden Brown Sugar now come in easy-to-use flip-top dispensers. The container was designed to be aesthetically appealing as well as to fit comfortably into a consumer’s hand for tabletop usage, thereby eliminating the need to refill a sugar bowl from a larger package.
“As we continue to focus on the needs of our consumers, we are certain that these well-designed bottles are a convenient and attractive sweetener solution,” explains Brian O’Malley, president and CEO of Iselin, NJ.-based Domino Foods, manufacturer of both sugar brands, adding that “the patent-pending flip-top lid snaps shut, preserving the freshness of this trusted product.”
The International Dispensing Corp./Cryovac SpeedFlex Bag-in-Box solution, rolled out last September during Pack Expo 2013 in Las Vegas, is billed by Duncan, S.C.-based Sealed Air, manufacturer of Cryovac products, as “a superior alternative to existing bag-in-box packaging, offering operational efficiency advantages, including bag-filling speeds of three times that of standard aseptic bag-in-box fillers.” The solution, FDA-accepted for the aseptic packaging of low-acid food and beverage products, is optimized for high-volume processors of liquids such as dairy, flavorings, fruit purées, juices, sauces, smoothies and ice cream mixes, tea, and coffee.
“Speed of filling is a critical operational factor for beverage manufacturers, particularly for those who must deliver the high volumes demanded by customers in the foodservice industry, but package performance is equally important,” says Myra Foster, executive director, global fluids sector, at Sealed Air’s Food Care division.
Products currently under development are also striving to meet exacting performance demands at retail. “Octal has been working on a package that is impact-resistant at flash-freezing temperatures,” says Barenberg. “Food safety is key here. We need to be part of the solution to avoid sharding of plastic that is subjected to impact at -20-, -30-degree Celsius temperatures. There are few PET options [in this segment], so to get the benefits of PET (clarity, recyclability), the cold-temperature performance must be enhanced. Octal is in the late stages of testing just such a solution with major retailers in the U.S.”
Smaller Portions, Please
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. “This new patent-pending format is well suited for both children and adults,” he says. “It protects the product inside and provides an easy way for people to control calorie intake.”
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. “Consumers are looking for healthy, low-calorie and diet-friendly alternatives in a convenient, easy-to-use package,” the company points outs. “Snacking on the go has replaced traditional sit-down mealtimes for many busy consumers, and these little squares fit perfectly into these emerging trends.” The leak-resistant containers’ clear flat-lid option also facilitates portion control, according to Anchor.
More to Come
As to what the future holds for packaging solutions, expect a lot more of the same, only better.
“We will continue to see packaging innovations that improve cube and supply chain efficiencies while enhancing the consumer experience,” predicts Clear Lam’s Foster. “Over the next decade, the market will see package designs that reduce the use of packaging materials and maximize space. Real estate is expensive.”
“Consumers today want responsible packaging options, such as cartons, that can deliver on freshness while also offering sustainability benefits.”
—Derric Brown, Evergreen Packaging
“Out of all of the sustainability initiatives, consumers understand and appreciate ‘less plastic.’”
—James Foster, Clear Lam Packaging