If you’re in the business of growing, producing, processing, packaging or shipping food, one thing is certain: your packaging represents your brand and affects consumers’ perception of your company. According to NYU Stern’s Center for Sustainable Business, 50% of consumer packaged goods’ growth from 2013 to 2018 came from sustainability-marketed products. Product manufacturers and packaging suppliers must think like a consumer, and today’s consumers are more likely to stand behind your product if you offer environmentally friendly packaging.
These days, sustainability matters. According to ENGIE Impact’s analysis of 2019 CDP Data, 26% of manufacturers see reputation as a driver for their sustainability program. But while 95% of manufacturers are incorporating sustainability into their business strategy, only 25% are on track to meet their sustainability goals.
The food industry is poised to innovate on more sustainable food packaging options, owning a share of a burgeoning market sized at $224.92 billion USD and growing. Manufacturers and packagers can elevate their brands, save money and make progress toward sustainability goals by taking action to innovate on better packaging options and reduce waste in the process. Here are a few helpful insights to get started.
Examine Processes Throughout the Supply Chain
Companies that oversee the production, packaging, and shipping of their products have greater control of the entire process, while packaging suppliers fulfill the wishes of their customers. Wherever you come in, research and communication is key to developing sustainable processes and products for the end user. Consider the process from start to finish, remembering the adage, “less is best” – and you will probably save money too.
ENGIE Impact recommends manufacturers conduct waste analysis in a variety of ways, including characterization audits, container monitoring sensors and examining plant processes from start to finish.
In working with one packaging supplier, ENGIE Impact observed the entire process, from receiving the product, to packaging process on the line and shipment to market. In this case, the supplier packaged tea bags for several different brand manufacturers. There were countless variables depending on what the manufacturers wanted – the tea bag material, strings, how strings were attached, etc. We helped the packaging supplier zero in on a standardized option that would make the tea bags completely compostable, with the recommendation that they share the option upstream to the manufacturers. This highlights how open communication with your suppliers and partners is imperative. While delivering on partner preferences is important to the success of relationships, creating a dialogue around improving sustainability can be mutually beneficial.
Consider Circular Packaging for Products
The take-make-waste model has served the manufacturing industry for decades because it is inexpensive, but more and more companies are recognizing the benefits of incorporating a circular model to use fewer resources and satisfy growing demands of end-user customers. There are countless circular solutions to consider for packaging products, such as selling in bulk, packaging in reusable containers like glass or metal cans, or selling product with a container and then offering refill packaging. Products sold in a “deconstructable” fashion that includes instructions for proper disposal and diversion may motivate consumers to recycle more.
Involve Your End User
Research over the last few years has shown that not only are consumers demanding more sustainable action from their favorite brands, they are willing to pay more for more sustainable products. According to a packaging report, Sustainable Packaging Unwrapped, approximately 58% of consumers say they would pay more for eco-friendly products, while 61% say they are likely to switch to a brand that is more environmentally friendly than their current brand.
With more receptive end-users, companies should design packaging from that consumer viewpoint. Is it obvious what they should do with the packaging when they are finished with the product? Can a chip or cereal bag be recycled or composted? The recycling options should be clear on the packaging or provide a company phone number or website to use for assistance.
The How2Recycle label is a standardized label that clearly communicates recycling instructions and one that more manufacturers are incorporating onto their products. According to the How2Recycle program, food and beverage is its strongest product segment featuring the label. When Target started adding the label to more of its owned brand packaging, it saw increased sales of these products (both food and non-food items) as revenue grew from $69.5 billion in 2017 to $75.36 billion in 2019. In the future, Target will be extending the expectation to include the label to its supply chain.
Don’t Count on the Recycling Market
Today’s recycling market is in flux. The United States has historically sent about 40% of its paper, plastics and other recyclables to China, but since early 2018, the country has enacted its “Green Sword” policy, which bans materials that do not meet a strict contamination rate of less than 0.5%. As low recycling rates decline even further, between 4 and 12 million metric tons of plastic are now entering our oceans each year, a fact that consumers are becoming increasingly educated about thanks to high-profile campaigns and social media. So, it’s more important than ever for food producers and packagers to open lines of communication with nationwide waste haulers to ensure packaging is optimized for recycling, composting or reuse. Look for ways to make your packaging a more viable commodity, such as cardboard shipping boxes that can be used both for products coming in and products going out.
Sustainability is a Business Imperative
Being sustainable is no longer a “nice to have” piece of your operational strategy, it’s expected by stakeholders and consumers. Whether you have applied several or just a few sustainability strategies already, with ever-evolving technology there’s always room for improvement to better your company in a way that provides economic benefit while improving brand image. Never stop looking at your strategy across operations and your extended supply chain to implement sustainable solutions that create economic value. Learn more about waste diversion strategies by visiting engieimpact.com.