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In the early days of the pandemic, there were fears across the food and drink industry that a growing concern over health and hygiene would eclipse consumers’ desires to cut down on single-use plastics.
But despite the changes in consumer behaviour caused by Covid-19, fewer than one in three consumers de-prioritised sustainable packaging due to Covid, according to Trivium Packaging’s 2021 Global Buying Green Report.
Two-thirds of consumers still believe it is important to buy products in recyclable packaging, Trivium found. Meanwhile, 83% of consumers among younger generations showed a willingness to pay more for sustainable packaging. At the same time, products marketed as sustainable were found to grow more than seven times faster than products that were not.
This data paints a clear picture: consumers want packaging that’s good for the earth, and brands and retailers that help them reach these goals will succeed.
“There is a huge demand for sustainable food and drink packaging,” said Danny Leach of packaging firm Dpack. “When 89% of shoppers stay loyal to brands that share their values, it makes sense the companies would want to meet this demand with packaging that is better for the environment. We will likely see this trend increasing too, with a plastic tax due to begin in 2022, sustainable packaging might not just become the sensible option, but the cost-effective option, too,” he told Speciality Food.
A number of fine food brands have found success with more sustainable forms of packaging. Many are utilising compostable materials. For instance, PLAYin CHOC’s zero waste chocolates are wrapped in compostable film, while Lost Sheep Coffee ensures your morning brew won’t harm the planet with compostable Nespresso pods. Elsewhere, Two Farmers became the UK’s first crisp brand to use a 100% plastic-free and compostable crisp packet.
“There is a clear shift in shopping priorities of today’s consumer,” said Sean Mason, co-founder of Two Farmers. “Shoppers are now acutely aware of the negative impact caused by unsustainable packaging and are consciously taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint. They are actively seeking out independent brands and supporting local products as part of their shopping experience, and would gladly pay a little extra to ensure their purchases are sustainably packaged. This demand will only continue to rise as people look for new ways to move towards a sustainable future,” he said.
Other businesses are focusing on revamping materials with a bad track record for recyclability. For instance, premium baby and toddler food brand Piccolo has just launched what it claims is the UK’s first ever mono-material, fully recyclable pouch, made from 80% plant-derived materials. Piccolo is hoping to combat waste from the whopping 60 million non-recyclable pouches that are purchased in the UK every year.
The Paper Bottle Company, meanwhile, is a joint venture between paper packaging material developer BillerudKorsnas and bottle manufacturing specialist ALPLA to create fully plant-based and recyclable bottles made from paper.
The Watercress Company has also taken a leap into sustainable packaging by taking inspiration from the Victorian era. It recently launched traditional handcrafted watercress bunches, wrapped in 100% biodegradable packaging.
“Consumer response for our bunches has been incredible since we launched, ultimately reflected in very strong sales growth,” said Tom Amery, MD of The Watercress Company. “The natural, biodegradable and British-made packaging really fits with the message of provenance and sustainability with our watercress production, and our customers have been really impressed by the innovation and design being radically different from most of the conventional plastic alternatives on the market.”
Tom says farm shops, delis and wholesalers have embraced the innovation. “The return to a traditional product delivered in modern and natural packaging has filled a niche and market demand out there. It’s been a long time in development and completely customer driven and focused, and we are really excited about what this summer will bring with new sales opportunities.”
Whether looking forward towards next-generation sustainable packaging, taking inspiration from materials that predate single-use plastics or doing away with packaging altogether, brands are making strides in sustainability. Fine food retailers have the opportunity to be at the forefront of this movement by stocking the products that are making a difference, educating customers and making sustainable swaps in their stores.