Fresh from the forest – biocomposite

Making biocomposite materials entirely from renewable sources is great. Using waste material in the process is fantastic.

Last week Finnish UPM introduced a new fibre based biocomposite material, all made from forestry and renewable resources and even including using waste from existing pulp production. The material is called EcoAce and meets the desired sustainability requirements and can be widely used, including uses in food contact, personal care and consumer goods, made by injection moulding or extrusion. This is great and will save tonnes of GHG and I really like concept of finding practical use of stuff that would otherwise be waste! Splendid!

StoraEnso is at present busy with a trial of lids made from DuraSense, another biocomposite, together with Finnish dairy Valio. The lids are reusable and will be used on dairy product cups to test the wood-based biocomposite in food packaging.
Valio sees it as a step not only towards a more sustainable packaging solution but also to less food-waste. With re-sealable packaging the content is protected, and an opened product lasts longer. Brilliant!

Power from the forest!
Swedish Ligna Energy came up with another use for wood from the forest. They have developed a fibre based battery for storing of energy made from forestry waste material. Ligna Energy plan to convert ordinary paper machines to manufacture batteries based on organic electronic polymers and biopolymers from the forest.
It wood be nice if this could make a difference for storing energy!

What has packaging got to do with Food Waste?

Food waste is a major challenge involving the entire value chain. The main culprit is however and without doubt found at consumer level.
This is a complex problem but part of the solution lies in using better and more suitable packaging.

We simply can’t afford the current level of food wasted. Exactly how much is wasted is impossible to say, but a global estimate is more than 1 billion tons of food that is somehow lost or wasted on a yearly basis. That is about one staggering third of the global food production! Better adapted packaging is part of the solution.


The problem
This loss and wastage occur on all steps in the food supply chain but if we stay in the developed world a whole lot of food is wasted in the end of the road from the famous farm to the fork. The main culprit seems to be found at the final consumption stage, in our homes. But also, the other steps along the chain are involved in this.

A very recent report from Swedish Naturvårdsverket is mapping out the current Food Waste situation in the country. And it is not pretty. In 2018 about 1.3 million tons of food waste was generated in Sweden. This is an average of 133 kilos of food waste per person. As the graph clearly illustrates the main problem lies in the hands of the end-consumers in the households.

The problem isn’t easily pin pointed and solved as it involves all engaged in the consumption, production and distribution chain. But packaging is part of the problem and therefore also part of the solution.


The packaging link
This is a waste we can’t afford when we are going from 7 billion people to become 10 billion of us, not in Sweden but on the planet, in 2050. If we instead of increasing food production and cultivate vast new areas could save a third of what we today produce, we would in theory solve the problem to feed the growing world population.

The massive waste of food in the households has many reasons. Too little shopping planning and lack of pantry and fridge management to start with and perhaps food is too cheap and available. But as much as 20-25% of consumer food waste could be related to packaging.

The packaging is a part of the problem when ineffective packaging is used.

  • This could be about size, too big or a multi-pack, simply too much product and more than you can or want to consume.
  • It could be the lack of possibilities to re-seal the opened packaging and the content gets exposed and destroyed.
  • It could be packaging that can’t be shut tight enough and oxygen, light or something spoils the product.
  • Not clear enough instructions about storage, with the result that a product is kept too warm too cold, is part of the story.
  • Packaging that is hard to empty or confusion around the date labelling of a product.

Or it could be too ambitious light weighting that can lead to packaging that simply isn’t good enough to withstand a bumpy ride to the destination.
To mention a few. Much of the above comes to structural design of packaging but a lot of food is wasted because of the confusion about “best before” and” use by” date labels. One day we will have dynamic best before dates with built in sensors showing the actual best before date rather than a fixed one. But we are not quite there yet.


The solution
Apart from consumers improving their fridge management and doing more organized shopping the packaging industry can offer better packaging solutions. And food producers can use it…!

So, what is more effective packaging then? What I mean is packaging that is

  • Re-sealable. That is a screw cap, a zip-lock or something that enables the consumer to save product for later.
  • Easy emptying. Think of how to make it easier to empty the pack. It can be instructions on how to or a packaging feature like a collapsible container.
  • Modified or Controlled Atmosphere (MAP/CAP) these are technologies used to keep fresh food fresh for longer and adds real value by extending shelf-life.
  • Barrier materials. Use packaging with good enough barriers to oxygen, light or whatever is breaking down the content. The result is again extended shelf-life and less food waste.
  • Portion packages. This is a low hanging but effective fruit. By using smaller portion packs, the small household gets a better control of usage.
  • Smart packaging solutions of various kinds are helpful. Smart labels indicating time or temperature, ripeness for fruit, freshness for meat, fish, etc.

Technology is developing enabling new and better packaging solutions. Sensors are coming down in price and new creative concepts are brought forward by entrepreneurs.
But it hasn’t all have to be hi-tech, a cucumber has a “best before” life of 3 days and by wrapping it in plastic it increases by almost 5 times, to 14 days. Portion packs may require more packaging material but will probably save food from being wasted.

And the greenhouse gas emissions or GHGE related to food packaging is typically small, typically around 5%, relative to the emissions associated with producing and processing the food itself.

Why is blockchain important to the packaging industry?

From volatile crypto currency to a solid system adding value for the supply chain. Blockchain technology can be the key to value chain transparency and a solution to the ever-growing problem with counterfeits.

What is it?

A Blockchain is a database of records, here called blocks. What makes the database special is that these records are interlinked, or chained, using a hidden code. This is useful in a supply chain involving transport and transactions that can be recorded as blocks. Each block contains a cryptographic link to the previous block plus information on when a transaction occurred, who was involved and much more.

This may sound slightly abstract, but it makes the Blockchain concept decentralised and transparent. A key element is that the process is spread out across multiple computers with the consequence that no one has ownership of the information on the “ledger”. A non-corruptible database!

Using a Blockchain you bypass the concept of a centralised organisation by giving everyone involved a complete and unalterable copy of the register of all transactions.

Why is it important for packaging?

Blockchain technology relates to packaging as it can be used to:

  • Provide consumers information regarding a product’s authenticity and origin. The identity of a product can be verified as the packaging is read and recorded to the “ledger” when handled along the transport, all the way to the destination. As the records can’t be altered retroactively, it means that all information on the ledger is by default authenticated, but without the paperwork of today.
  • Track and trace products along the value chain. When the value chain (packaging converters, printers, raw material producers, fillers, brand owners, retailers, etc.) join up in a Blockchain and makes the process transparent they will all share the same picture of origin and handling of products. If a batch is contaminated it can then easily be traced. Traceability is a key aspect and an opportunity, in particular for the food and pharma industries.
  • Ensure brand protection and serve as anti-counterfeit technology. Consumers will be able to tell a fake product simply pointing their phone at the packaging and read the QR code. Blockchain will prove to be a useful tool for building brand trust as a neutral and immutable system.

The demand for transparency and traceability is increasing, driven by counterfeits troubling the pharma industry and recent food scandals that shook the industry. Using Blockchain technology the consumer with a smartphone can simply scan a QR code on the packaging to follow the product journey, from farm to plate.

Who are using it already today?

It might not be mainstream, yet, but the technology is already in use for mundane items such as milk and coffee. In the lead we find major food suppliers like Arla who are running a pilot project in Finland using Blockchain to provide transparency for milk products. Nestlé recently started up their pilot but in a larger, or even global scale involving milk and oil. Barilla is using the technology in Italy to certify fresh basil.

Also the retailers are also into this. Carrefour is leading in Europe using the technology on a number of categories like poultry, eggs, cheese, milk, oranges, etc. On the other side of the pond Walmart is demanding Blockchain traceability for selected vegetables.

Where is this going?

This is only the beginning. Driven by the main advantages’ security, decentralisation and transparency Blockchain as a tool will gain momentum and develop fast.

The technology might seem complicated to use, but the tools are available and new entrepreneurs are coming in with easy to use solutions. With a straightforward access we can expect to see a rapid adoption rate, with a variety of applications. The packaging industry needs to be ready to handle their part of the chain of blocks. Printing and packaging are keys for success.

Illegal, immoral… and not a bit fun

Counterfeiting is a growing problem, no doubt, and it’s not only about expensive bags, perfume and alcohol. This is also very much a concern for the pharmaceutical industry where dodgy imitations slip into the system. Today the situation is the same or worse for all the above categories, and it’s getting nastier…

fakefoodThe forging and faking is breaking new grounds and is sliding down the price curve. Nothing is sacred and there are fake soft drinks to be found, as there is fake olive oil, not to mention fake milk and wine. The other day a production site for fake alcohol was found in the UK. A plant making fake brand-name vodka was raided in Derbyshire. We are especially grateful these imitators were stopped as they were fortifying their product with anti-freeze…

Europol has during the last couple of months been busy coordinating efforts to curb counterfeiters and have as a result seized a staggering 2500 tonnes of fake food products. The damage is not only to the brand name but forged products can be harmful in other ways as well. Obvious when the product is topped up with anti-freeze or similar.

It not easy to spot the real McCoy as the crooks are rather sophisticated. Not all are though,fakeschampoo some of the taken vodka bottles were giving it away with obvious spelling mistakes on the label. What to do then if you want to take the risk and go further than to your micro brewed beer and locally produced produce?

The problem needs a good solution and that as fast as possible. A fake can seldom be spotted just by looking at the product. There are many suggested ideas for how we can distinguish the bad apple. It seems to be hard to agree on a standard so it better to find a solution that fits your product category. If it is printed electronics, holographic prints, RFID technology, security ink, product numbering, watermarks or invisible printing. It’s not cheap but the alternative is worse.

You will have to add something to the packaging that is hard to copy to make it more antifaketagdifficult or even impossible to copy. Last week Diageo and Thin Film Electronics presented a “smart bottle” with a printed sensor tag. The tag can be read using a smart phone and will convey any information the producer adds to the tag. The read tag will confirm the origin and of course give other interesting information to the consumer. Brilliant.

This is all new and the tag will be properly introduced next week at the electronics conference in Barcelona. This is good news as we need many solutions to this growing problem spreading across food categories. It doesn’t mean that I will stop supporting my local micro brewer but it will make life easier and safer for the consumers of the world. More ideas to make faking brands harder, please.

I need to go down to the store for some bread and milk. But I can’t find my Google glasses…

Or, are we finally technology mature enough?

Interpreting the results from a new IGD study the answer to the question is probably to be understood as “we are getting there”. We are not quite there but I am really impressed to hear the 43% of the respondents could see themselves using wearable technology when shopping for food and groceries. The respondents are in this case representing the UK but I would like to think of this as an indication.

This is good news for the digital technology industry. But it’s great news for all interested in smart and intelligent packaging. There are many interesting solutions available to get food packaging to communicate with the consumer. But the obstacle and main requirement for this to actually start happen is to have a receiver. That is somebody who is willing to listen to the communicating milk bottle on the shelf.

We can imagine that the shopper today has a smart phone which can be used for communication with smart packaging. The downside is that it involves an active and engaged operator. You cannot expect the average consumer to scrutinize every item using their phone in the supermarket aisles. This is a completely different thing when you have devices like smart glasses, smart watches or similar.

The interviewed consumers say that they are interested in finding better deals using the Google glasses. But printed electronics on packaging will also inform them about best before dates, product content, suggested usage and much more.

Consumers better informed at point of sale will also be good for the food waste problem.

smart glasses

Can packaging persuade you to eat more insects, bugs and creepy-crawlers?

Now that’s an interesting question. I would say yes it can and if you throw in a better word for these creatures you will increase your chances to build a market.

In a FAO report from last year it’s made clear that we need to get used to the idea of getting protein and nutrition from insects. As a matter of fact crickets have more vitamins and minerals and as much protein as chicken. And that with a much smaller carbon footprint. Not bad.

This sounds great but is still in most consumers eyes, appalling. It is however estimated that as many as 2 billion people are already into the habit of eating insects. The challenge is to get a foothold with insect based food on the markets in the developed world.  There are a few brave suppliers but without a general distribution it’s hard. To build up the demand I think you need to leave the packaging design often used today. That is with illustrations of what’s inside. A picture is worth a thousand words… so be careful with the message.

creepies

 

I think that the best example I have seen so far, from a packaging point of view, is what they are doing at SexyFood i Paris. They are using the good old food can but smarting it up with a label that communicates luxury and gourmet food. Black is the colour and some gold added for effect. No illustrations of the worms, crickets and bugs you will find inside. They are even playing down the content by naming their products with numbers rather than names. Stewed worms with added cockroach or number 9. Which sounds better?

I don’t think their products yet has made a big difference but they do show the way when it comes to packaging design. Use the power of packaging, but aim before firing.

creepies2

 

 

Making stupid packaging smart…?

A bar code reader is not quite breaking news but it can still be used in interesting ways. I think that already in the early 90-ies that Electrolux had a concept fridge where bar codes were scanned and the fridge content was updated and made available. The result could be used for inventory (first in, still here?), cooking or shopping lists.

HikuHiku wants to support your supermarket experience by making the tedious preparing of the shopping list a bit more swift. Now this is an app that reads the bar codes of your empties at home and translates to product names to add to your list. This doesn’t make the packaging smarter but it makes smart use of packaging. This must be second best and is not a bad idea when you think of it. There are so many brilliant concepts and ideas for smart and intelligent packaging out there. Very few of them actually happen. There are many obstacles, cost is one. Then this could prove to be an example of a way to smarten up packaging by introducing and using parallel tools that adds functionality to products. It could even be that you empty the content from a pack into a jar or similar with a built in function. It can be an actual best-before-use time/temperature indicator or anything really. You would avoid the unit cost aspect as you can use my imaginary jar over and over again.

Another app using the barcode in an interesting way is recently introduced by EWG under Ewgthe name Food Scores. This is a bit more controversial as they have rated 80,000 food and beverage products according to what’s inside the stuff. You can with the app scan a product and get, via a very neat interface, a rather detailed analysis of the content and a number between 1 and 10. This might sound all good but is in my view a highly debatable approach. I think you risk over simplifying and worrying people for no reason. There are many ingredients that might sound more harmful than they actually are and then there are several ingredients that are uncertain and hard to classify.

Always remember that in an apple you will naturally find 9 E-numbers, all “added” by nature…