Sustainable packaging matters

Consumers clearly believe attitudes to sustainability and packaging go hand in hand. As we saw in last year’s Index, their view of an environmentally sound person is one who recycles (63%), avoids plastic (58%) and buys products with no/minimum packaging (47%).

Such activities are particularly attractive because consumers believe they make a difference: addressing single-use plastic and dealing with packaging waste, as well as preventing food waste, are all key global concerns that consumers believe they can influence.

Consumers see using sustainable packaging as a top priority for companies, coming (a very close) second only to improving food safety (52% versus 53%). They believe even more strongly that manufacturers’ responsibility extends post-consumption.

Our social media research also points out the value of on-pack sustainability credentials, providing consumers a shortcut to decision-making as an assurance that they are making a better choice. This remains true; however, in an environment where consumers have unprecedented access to information, it is also necessary for brands to back up sustainability claims and clarify what their certification entails to maintain transparency and consumers’ trust.

Plastic waste remains a key concern, particularly in the ocean: this was cited as a worrying issue by a striking 80% of consumers in our Consumer Environmental Trends Report 2020, ahead of global warming, depletion of natural resources and deforestation (all on 77%) and exceeded only by air pollution (on 82%).

Consumers have different attitudes to different materials. They perceive paper-based cartons and glass to be the most sustainable packaging options, with plastic bottles rated the least environmentally sound. Nature-based environmental claims rate well, with 70% considering that a package being made from plant-based material is relevant to them. Even more (73%) consider that a carton “helping protect the world’s forests” is relevant.

Consumers dislike over-packaging: 57% of consumers globally state they are likely to avoid products which have a lot of packaging, with China (71%), India (60%) and the UK (59%) over-indexing. However, there is a “say/do” gap again, and intentions are not leading to actions. Data shows that, in reality, consumers are no more willing to avoid products with a lot of packaging than they were six years ago (the figure is 55% for both 2014 and 2020).

There is also a conflict between consumers’ stated desire to choose sustainable materials and what they’re willing to spend or able to afford. Tetra Pak research last year showed a trend for price to be declining as an issue for products with environmentally sound packaging specifically: down from 46% in 2017 to 42% in 2019.

The same research found that 43% of consumers think that a product in an environmentally sound package is worth more, conveying a sense of “premium-ness”. Nevertheless, we found in last year’s Index that cost was still cited by consumers as the biggest barrier to a more environmentally friendly lifestyle.

Case study: Agrilait, France 

For its new 100% organic, Breton milk, Agrilait chose the Tetra Brik® Edge Plant-based package – a first for the French market

For an excellent example of a brand underpinning its sustainable offering with appropriate packaging, look no further than Agrilait, a French regional cooperative producing high-quality, GMO-free UHT milk, butter and cream.

For its new 100% organic, Breton milk, Agrilait chose the Tetra Brik® Edge Plant-based package – a first for the French market. The package is made from 82% plant-based materials, including paperboard sourced from FSCTM-certified and protected forests, and a portion of plant-based plastic, made from Bonsucro-certified sugar cane.

Including this plant-based plastic alone reduces the package’s carbon footprint by 19%, compared with the fossil-based plastic alternative – a figure certified by the Carbon Trust. Moreover, the package is made from Tetra Pak® Craft packaging material, which not only gives the product an authentic look and feel, it also reduces the carton’s weight by 5%, further reducing carbon impact.

The new product reinforces the Agrilait brand’s historical values of respect for people, animals and the planet. The certified organic milk is collected directly from Breton farmers who champion the environment, preservation of biodiversity and natural resources, and the well-being of their animals. Marketed in the French regions of Brittany and Loire Atlantique, it is 100% local, improving the dynamism of the regional economy.

Read next insight: Convergence is increasing

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