6 packaging and education strategies to reduce food waste

For manufacturers, reducing food waste is not only profitable. It is also a demonstration of transparency and commitment to sustainability, which today’s consumers value.

"We as food manufacturers have a responsibility to reduce as many waste issues as possible and lead by example," Jody Levy, cofounder and creative director of WTRMLN WTR, a startup that transforms "ugly" watermelons into cold-pressed juices, told Food Dive. "Consumers, especially younger millennials, are supporting companies and brands that are doing more in our shared world."

Last month, Food Dive took a look at both why reducing food waste is a win-win for manufacturers, and how manufacturers are already working to reduce food waste throughout their supply chains.

But those aren’t the only ways to cut back on food waste. There are many other innovative strategies and technologies that could also pose compelling solutions to the country’s food waste problem and aren’t yet in wide use.

Today, we talk about some of the innovations in packaging and education. Later this week, we will look at ingredients-related initiatives.

Consumer education

About 44% of food waste occurs at the consumer level, according to testimony that Grocery Manufacturers Association’s senior director of sustainability Meghan Stasz gave to the House Agriculture Committee in May.

How can that be changed? Consumer education could make the most impact. ReFED data estimates that this could bring a benefit worth about $2.66 billion.

Governing bodies and environmental groups have several education programs for reducing food waste. But food and beverage manufacturers have the opportunity to also play a critical role here.They can:

  • Fund educational initiatives about best practices for food storage, donations, composting and meal planning.

  • Run marketing or promotional campaigns to encourage food waste reduction.

  • Print food waste-related tips and educational messages directly on product packaging.

While these efforts may not impact a manufacturer’s supply chain directly, they could promote its reputation for transparency and sustainability. Also, coordinating efforts across different parts of the supply chain could make consumer education initiatives -- such as a marketing team working with a company’s shelf-life scientists -- happen more quickly.

Packaging innovations: Portion size

Manufacturers can offer their products in a variety of portion sizes, including ones that are better suited for smaller families, which are becoming increasingly common today. Pinnacle’s Duncan Hines brand released the Perfect Size line of baking mixes to satisfy smaller households and for occasions where a full-size cake might go to waste.

Packaging innovations: Functionality

Resealable packages and those with multiple portions in individually-sealed compartments are becoming more popular, especially among confections and snacks brands. These packages help preserve the quality and freshness of the product, while still letting consumers buy a larger package and have fewer grocery store trips.

But manufacturers have to strike a balance between using enough packaging to reduce food waste while not creating unnecessary packaging waste, in addition to added costs — both financial and environmental. #AvocadoGate was a social-media-fanned fiasco surrounding a perceived over-packaging of prepackaged, pre-peeled avocados. The packaging significantly increased the shelf life of the avocado, but consumers were outraged by the amount of packaging it required.

Packaging technologies

Modern packaging technologies also offer food waste solutions. Ron Cotterman, VP of sustainability at Sealed Air, named three types of packaging that could potentially reduce food waste by 20% at a food waste reduction webinar in March, including:

  • Modified atmosphere packaging.

  • Active barriers that use oxygen scavengers or other technologies integrated into the packaging.

  • Odor scavengers for meats, poultry and other protein products that can reduce or eliminate odor complaints and returns.

Other technologies could include intelligent packaging with sensors that detect freshness and spoilage, including packaging linked to the Internet of Things. This could provide ongoing real-time data to manufacturers and retailers regarding product freshness, including temperature, atmospheric and pH changes that could impact quality. In 2015, engineers wrote about their new smart cap that used 3-D-printed electrical sensors to detect milk spoilage.

Smarter retail promotions

It can be appealing for manufacturers to get rid of inventory backlogs by selling a larger amount of food at a lower cost. But in the end, that could lead to a larger amount of wasted food because consumers will throw out what they don’t use.

Manufacturers can instead offer smarter retail promotions that don’t promote potential food waste. They can offer multitiered promotional strategies that let the consumer choose their savings based on the amount of product they’ll actually use.

Extend shelf life of products

Extending the shelf life of products, whether through packaging, ingredients, processing or supply chain improvements, offers consumers more time to buy and consume a product before it hits its “best by” date. However, consumers are increasingly turning away from products with chemical or artificial preservatives, so manufacturers are finding new ways to extend shelf life.

Levy said high-pressure processing offers manufacturers a way to keep their products on shelves a longer amount of time without spoilage. At the same time, using HPP enables manufacturers to retain the ingredients’ nutritional benefits without using chemical additives.

Brazilian researchers discovered a way to extend the shelf life of milk by embedding silver antimicrobial nanoparticles, which eliminate the need for other additives, in plastic bottles. Other researchers found that using the silk protein fibroin could inhibit fruit respiration, which extends the shelf life of fresh produce.

Filed Under: Manufacturing Sustainability
Top image credit: Han Cheung via Vimeo