Avoiding over-packaging – and plastic

Since the pandemic, consumers have paid significantly more attention to how their food is packaged, focusing on hygiene and food safety on the one hand, and freshness and the environment on the other – creating a tension that was explored in detail in last year’s Tetra Pak Index. As the pandemic unfolded, many consumers were willing (or even forced) to make a trade off; more packaging and waste for the benefit of increased safety and hygiene. Some countries and regions paused their bans on plastic bags or single-use plastics, prompting consumer concern that recent progress in reducing virgin plastics and recycling would be undermined.

Such consumer concerns emerge again this year. More than half of global respondents now say that they “really care” about how food and beverages are packaged. More than a third say they are choosing sustainable packaging (38%) and avoiding over-packaged products (36%). When asked about what changes they are likely to make in order to combat climate change specifically over the next year, avoiding excess packaging heads the bill, cited by 59% of respondents (versus 57% in 2020). This is particularly high in South Korea (79%) and China (70%).

Plastic in particular continues to be an issue for consumers, with 42% saying they are consciously using less since the pandemic – that’s more than the amount saying they have increased their shopping for online groceries.

Opportunity – Packaging innovation

Consumers clearly care about the environment and waste, and 61% of respondents in our environment research expect food and beverage companies to lead the way in finding solutions – ahead of the government (on 60%) and packaging companies (on 57%). There is an opportunity for those that do: 84% of respondents say the usage of environmentally sound packaging would make them more likely to consider the brand.

Opportunity – Education and information

As consumers strive to take more action, a clear knowledge gap is emerging, with more than a third of respondents saying they are searching for information on how to sort and recycle properly, as well as advice on how to limit food and packaging waste. There is an opportunity for brands to demonstrate sustainability leadership by helping to provide such information.

Opportunity – Carton wins online

According to our e-commerce study, consumers rate carton as the ideal packaging material overall for online purchases of the categories researched.32 It is appreciated for a variety of reasons, but the top three perceived advantages all relate to the environment: it is recyclable (40%); it is environmentally sound (35%); and it is easy to flatten when sorting into the recycling bin (34%). This suggests that the properties of the package can boost a product’s sustainability credentials, especially online.

Case study – Valio, Russia

Valio milk package

In November 2020, Valio became the first company in Russia to offer its locally produced milk range in renewable carton packages. By choosing Tetra Brik® Aseptic Edge – a renewable carton package, made mainly of paperboard and sugarcane-based plastic – Valio is expecting to reduce fossil-based plastic in its packaging by 52 tonnes per year and significantly cut its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by up to 98.5 tonnes of CO2-eq. a year. Put another way, that’s approximately equivalent to the amount produced by a car driving 1,894 times around the equator.

To coincide with the introduction of the new package, Valio also launched Russia’s first capsule collection of designer clothing made entirely from recycled materials and recycled fabrics. The Valio Plant & Milk Design collection features T-shirts fashioned from a fabric dubbed “milk silk”, which is made from milk that is unfit for human consumption and discarded on the farm. The range also includes items crafted from Pure Waste fabric, which is made from residues from the tailoring of Tiruppur, the epicentre of the knitwear industry in India. The decorative details on the products are made from granules, derived from polymers and aluminium components that are separated when recycling carton packages.

Case study – Yew Tree Dairy, UK

Package line-up

Yew Tree Dairy is one of the UK’s largest family-owned milk processing companies. It supplies milk, cream and skimmed milk powder mainly to the foodservice sector throughout the UK and Europe. Having entered UK supermarkets last year, the dairy player recently made the decision to add cartons to the packaging portfolio associated with its white milk range. To answer consumers’ growing sustainability requirements, Yew Tree Dairy went for Tetra Rex® Plant-based, the world’s first fully renewable package. Launched in 2014 and manufactured solely with paperboard and sugar cane-based plastic, the solution has collected multiple awards and generated a solid sales success, with more than 3.5 billion units distributed across the globe to date.

A key deciding factor for Yew Tree Dairy to initiate their partnership with Tetra Pak was the availability of end-to-end traceability of all packaging materials, including the plant-based plastics, plus detailed operational data on the Tetra Pak® TR/27 and Tetra Pak® TR/28 filling machines to demonstrate their performance. The move is also expected to help the dairy player to differentiate its offering, in a market currently dominated by large size HDPE and PET bottles.

Yew Tree Dairy started to supply chilled white milk in the new packages into foodservice in November and is planning to enter one of the main UK retailers with this renewable package – from early 2022.

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