Sustainability has become a key area of focus for most, if not all, manufacturers and retailers, as companies look to make their businesses more environmentally-friendly. As a result, a growing number of companies within both the food, retail and packaging industries are now implementing strategies with the aim of addressing sustainability concerns from consumers, regulatory authorities and governments. Here, just-food gets the views of a number of global packaging companies to find out whether retailers and manufacturers are willing to make the change to more sustainable packaging, whether cost is playing a part in that decision and the challenges of producing ‘greener’ packaging.
TRM Packaging innovations manager Mark Lane
“There are retailers that will take [sustainability] into consideration and rely on their ethics, and you’ve got some that don’t because they’re looking after every category and they can’t be a master of all trades, so they rely on us for that information. Obviously with what has happened with the economy in the last two to three years, costs have had to be driven down, so the immediate effect is to go from [more expensive] virgin board to recycled. We’ve had to update and improve our technologies so as not to have an effect on the value or supply chain as a result.
“I don’t think retailers are necessarily trying to drive up or down the price of packaging. Their concern is more about the actual product and needing to make it fit for the packer fillers because the price has already been given to retailers. The packaging is always the last thing on the table. At the moment Tesco is actually, in certain categories, going from bog standard flexograph print to coated board, like in Lidl and Aldi, for a bit of an extra value-look, and just to separate themselves from the likes of Asda and Sainsbury’s.
“We’re not moving away from the recycling but the quality is improving. There is that willingness now to pay that little bit more for packaging in order to sell more products. With that you’ve got the constructional design, the supply chain where you can eke costs out but also make it sustainable and recyclable at the same time.”
Tetra Pak’s director for global environment and customer relations, Charlotta Lyon
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“The overall level [of company receptiveness to sustainability] is very high. It’s an expectation. If you look at our key customers, delivering sustainable packaging is part of their agenda and they set quite strict targets. Luckily for us, they’re very much aligned with our ambition so we’re very comfortable that we can deliver and deliver beyond their expectations on sustainable packaging but it’s definitely a must for packaging suppliers today to deliver on that.
“[Sustainability] is several different things. Above all a good package that is sustainable needs to protect the food correctly. Then it needs to focus on lightweighting to optimise the packaging material and the packaging needs to be recyclable. Most of our key customers are also driving renewability and it’s really about taking lightweighting to the next step, using resources that can be replenished over and over again. It’s becoming increasingly important and this is something we have been working on for a long time. In addition to being renewable, we are also driving certification of the paper board with the Forestry Stewardship Council stamp. All of these things are important for the consumer.
“The definition of sustainability is changing all the time because we are becoming more innovative, we are finding new solutions, we are testing new materials that push the envelope all the time on what can be done.
“There has been an increase in interest by customers in the certification of products. We have been working on certifications for many years and it’s only in the last four or five years that we’ve used it to not only drive our own sourcing but to ensure our customers put the label on pack. Now we see a big change in the interest of customers to pursue that. So if they are launching a new brand it’s part of their sustainability credentials linking the packaging to certification.
“Cost has always been an integral part of the formula for delivering environmental performance and of course when you talk about that, the key focus in on reducing waste and energy use, which has an impact on reducing costs. The goal is to always, no matter what innovation we come up with, one of the key ingredients is that it’s going to meet cost targets of the business for the customer.
“In terms of challenges its about getting people all over the world on board with recycling. We have to work with a variety of partners on that, that’s a big challenge. Materials that aren’t 100% available to us, that’s a challenge. There have also been instances in the past where lightweighting has been driven so hard that you don’t protect the food as you should. So keeping the integrity of the packaging, while delivering the best environmental and sustainable performance is critical. There are a lot of challenges but to meet the growing demand of being more environmentally efficient, we are working with partners all the time to do that.”
Chesapeake marketing manager Bob Houghton
“We’re finding there is a lot of interest in using FSC and Endangered Forests (EFs) approved board but it’s paying that extra premium to have it on their product. But the majority of customers are quite happy if it’s not FSC approved as long as their board is resourced responsibly, it’s renewable, recyclable and is a good all-round solution for them.
“As long as people see that packaging is recyclable, there is an awareness there. That hasn’t really translated into people saying, ‘I’ll buy that because its FSC certified’, it’s more about the fact it’s recyclable. It’s about knowing the brand owner is using a responsible source and not buying wood from a forest somewhere that shouldn’t have been cut down. Consumer knowledge of certification is limited.
“A lot of the larger manufacturing companies now, when they tender for business, they expect the supplier to meet their needs on a network of a pan-european and even global basis. Some packaging companies have joined alliance agreements to show they can match their customer’s needs. We’ve actually bought operations to be in step with the way our customers have developed. Quite often the customer will want a broader solution where they’ll want multiple products from one supplier and some of the bigger manufacturers will say, if you don’t sort this out and provide a multi-product service, we won’t deal with you. It’s cost-effective for both the supplier and the company.”
Managing director of Benson Group Mark Kerridge
“Packaging is often unfairly criticised for its environmental impact as consumers relate packaging to being thrown into the bin at the end of its use. In fact, it plays an invaluable role in reducing the environmental impact to the consumer throughout the whole product supply chain.
“FSC and PEFC are international associations that promote responsible forestry by providing proof that finished products contain wood that has been gathered from responsibly managed sources, as well as recycled fibre and controlled wood. Whilst these certification schemes have a place in the market, the fact remains that cartonboard provides the most environmentally friendly form of packaging available, with the vast majority of board stocks 100% recyclable and compostable.”
Linpac vice president of marketing and innovation, Joanna Stephenson
“Both manufacturers and retailers are spending a lot of time and effort in developing so-called greener packaging but it is important to understand that sustainability is fundamentally about a pack delivering functionality – it should protect, preserve and present the food contained within it.
“One of the biggest criticisms of retailers and manufacturers has been that certain products have been over-packaged. Certainly in the food industry, manufacturing and packaging sector this is being addressed. However, the media and consumer doesn’t always see the steps the industry has taken, nor the functional benefits of packaging so necessary in today’s high speed packaging food industry.”