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.

Can we learn a marketing lesson from craft brewers? Marketing by packaging.

The craft brewing scene is booming also in Sweden with a big number of small brewers and glass bottles are the dominating pack type. Glass bottles represents tradition and premium, two of the impressions that you as a craft brewer work really hard to convey to your consumers.
When you are selling a product at a price three times above your industrial brewing competitors, you have to work hard on your image. But something is happening…

What is it with craft beer and cans? I have noticed an increased interest in beverage cans from the local craft brewers, or microbeweries, here in Sweden.
One after the other launch new products in beer cans, not in glass bottles. Glass bottles used to be the standard for this premium beer segment.

The craft brewing scene is booming also in Sweden with a big number of small brewers and glass bottles are the dominating pack type. Glass bottles represents tradition and premium, two of the impressions that you as a craft brewer work really hard to convey to your consumers.
When you are selling a product at a price three times above your industrial brewing competitors, you have to work hard on your image. But something is happening…

The power of glass
The beverage can is in many consumer’s eyes a packaging used for mass production that does not necessary contain very sophisticated brews.
The craft brewers have mostly been true to glass bottles for their precious drops, and that for a few sound reasons.

  1. A craft brewer with self-respect have a large number of creative varieties of beer available and need flexibility in production. To use only one container and vary the label is efficient in a low volume production of several product varieties.
  2. It is also cost effective as you can get away with rather basic equipment when filling bottles on a small scale. And it is often also simply impossible for a small brewer to purchase the amounts of decorated cans needed to reach the lowest order level.
  3. Last but not least, the positioning of the product. Glass stands for quality, premium and tradition. These are images you very much want to reflect on your craft brew.

Incredible growth
Most of the above is still valid but the trend is clearly towards using more cans for the most premium products and for very small product batches.
The numbers speak for themselves, in 2019 the volume craft beer in cans increased by 2.5 times, for the second year in a row!
An increase from 8% of the craft beer volume to 17% in three years. In 2017, 12 brewers made 35 beer products available in cans. In 2019 70 brewers offered more than 400 products in cans. That’s an improvement!

Why is this?
The trend is clear and seems unstoppable. The movement is founded on a few obvious facts and some a bit more hazy.

* Some of the craft brewers have simply expanded their markets and volumes and are ready to invest in cans and a can filling line.
* Others have managed to get one single and specific product on a national distribution and can take the leap with that one product.
* Some who not yet have those volumes use blank cans and attach a unique label to maintain the flexibility.

Then it helps that the suppliers of cans have spotted the opportunity in craft beer and are lowering the bar for the smallest order.
Finally, but not least, consumers appreciate the product.

Environment and quality
All brewers I have heard comment on this argue the environmental benefits and the improved quality of the product. A sealed can is an airtight space and it is completely dark inside which maintains the quality. A can is easily recycled in this country with an efficient deposit scheme in place. As a matter of fact, 85% of the distributed cans are returned and recycled.

Marketing by packaging
They just do it! And they do it within the very narrow space that is left due to the current and very strict regulations around all alcohol promotion.
They build their brand using the means that are available, except from the product itself what is left is basically, the website, the shop and the bar.
At the point of sales there is nothing else you can use than the packaging itself. This is a clean case of marketing by packaging. The pack type, size, design and decoration are key to positioning and sales of a beer product in this market.

They utilize the packaging very well with brilliant graphic design, creative fonts and inspirational product names. And of course, a great product with a high and stable quality is very helpful when you want to convince consumers. 

An inspiring industry
This is a small scale industry with very limited resources that is constrained by square and rigid laws. They have still managed to turn the opinion and make something considered as a very basic packaging into a premium container. And successfully claiming a price three times the “normal”.
This is quite an achievement and well worth to celebrate. Why not with an unfiltered, hoppy and hazy beer? From a can, plenty to choose from…

Online growth and packaging reconsidered

A new and purpose-made design can involve minimising size and weight, leading to concentrates and container reuse.

2019 looks like another big step forward for e-commerce, across categories. The final statistics might not quite in yet and the growth rates might not be as huge as a few years ago but the share of all retail is definitely growing, with consequences for the entire value chain.

One estimation is that, globally, the total growth of e-commerce in 2019 was 21% taking the online share of total retail sales up to a staggering 14%. The numbers vary strongly between categories and we are looking forward for the dust to settle and to get the final numbers for 2019.

As brand owner you respond to this shift in purchase patterns and adjust the offer, products and packaging to online shopping. One main consequence from a packaging/logistics point of view is that products are no longer shipped neatly stacked on pallets protected by secondary packaging.

Online shopping means the opposite for a shipped product. It could be sent alone to be delivered at a doorstep or be dispatched together with random products to a pick-up point, probably both. In any case the product will need more protection than the standard primary packaging can provide.

The situation is improved either by adding more and protective packaging, changing material from glass to plastic or why not design the packaging and product for e-commerce, or omnichannel, from the beginning.

A new and purpose-made design can involve minimising size and weight, leading to concentrates and container reuse.

Unilever has decided to make all their plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. To get there they are, among other things, offering shoppers refillable containers. This also works well for online shopping where the smaller sized refill units are saving weight and cost.
Cif household cleaning products are offered as concentrated refill capsules for the original spray bottle. Just add water and hey presto the product is ready for use. Unilever is also part of the Loop initiative where a whole range of products are offered online in refillable containers.


Another similar product concept from a leading brand owner is Pepsico’s Drinkfinity, also an example of a concentrated product sold in shipping friendly containers. The concept consists of juice-based pods and a reusable water bottle. Just add some H2O. This is probably also a move to meet a shift in consumer demand for more healthy products. Nevertheless Drinkfinity was launched online where the product has an e-commerce site of its own, just like any other direct-to-consumer brand.


Perso is a L’Oreal concept that takes this a step further. Perso is a device that actually makes personalised skincare products for you, in your home, and is powered by Artificial Intelligence. From the three cartridges contained in the machine it makes unique skincare, lipstick and foundation products, just for you. All personalised as you have fed the thing with pictures of yourself, location and your preferences. This is what you can call reusable and smart packaging.

The concept of concentrated, space saving, light weight products has many positive sides. It saves cost, it is a great way to streamline online sales logistics and maybe it even gives the consumer the satisfaction of a “homemade” product.

The power of packaging

Packaging Design

CigI am thinking of the idea of using legislation to control consumer packaging decoration. The power of packaging design has to be restrained to make a product less attractive and hold the consumers back. I am of course referring to tobacco and the ongoing discussions about neutralising the design of the entire category. This says a lot about the power of packaging and of and how graphical design communicates. Australia was first out and this is at present also discussed in Europe.

Packaging PatentsPod

Tread carefully when making packaging design decisions. Nestlé is in court meeting a producer of coffee capsules made to work with Nespresso machines. The argument is about the design of the capsules and the functionality of the machines. Without going into details, it’s again about the inherent power of packaging to make or break. This time a little bit of diplomacy probably would have smoothed things a bit. Playing with packaging is playing with fire.

Packaging Changes

GladPeople apparently care and react to what they think is not quite right, also when it comes to packaging. Glad Wrap has been forced to rework their new packaging design after an uproar of public backlash from unhappy customers. Their mistake was to move the cutter from the base of the box to inside the lid. Shock horror. The consumers didn’t like the change and let Glad know, they got the message and changed things back to “normal”.

Packaging matters and design is over again proving to be a powerful tool.

Innovative brand extensions

There are loads of textbook examples describing successful brand extensions. I would say that the Virgin enterprises of today will serve as a good example of a successful branching out from the original Virgin branded vinyl recordings. Coca-Cola famously extended the brand to include also Diet Coke in 1982 and IKEA is also the number one Swedish exporter of food products.Peddy2

Artist and designer Peddy Mergui takes the concept of brand extension further than this and to a new level. In an amazing, challenging and also made up series of cleverly designed packaging solutions for famous brands. Famous brands that today are active far away from the here suggested categories.Peddy1

In a design museum in San Francisco the entire line of exciting and thought provoking packaging was displayed. Peddy gives us his view of what milk from Apple would look like, or a salami from Louis Vuitton and how yogurt from Tiffany could be packed. If you ever wondered what pickles by Gucci would look like, go to the exhibition web site.

A brand is expressed through its packaging and this artist will support us thinking out of the box and straight into the container.

Small is great

Small scale production seems to always face the same challenge. What to do for packaging? The alternatives are expensive with inflexible conditions and hard to find. That is for starters.

anitas balm

Is 3D printing technology one of the answers? Yes, says Anita Redd who chose to 3D print a unique packaging solution for her product Anita’s Balm. She was having trouble finding a suitable jar and came up with the idea of making one herself. Using 3D technology and a biodegradable material she came up with a unique jar for her product. This gives her product an edge at POS and solves her problem to find a supplier of suitable packaging. As a small scale producer you simply don’t need as many units as the full scale producer.

It might not be for everyone but it will sure be helpful for some.There are no shortcuts for the small scale producer that only needs limited quantities of packaging material. 3D printing is a solution and digital printing is another useful technology for the scale challenged producer. It opens up for personalized packaging or at least unique labels at a reasonable cost.

Packaging isn’t just for Christmas…

Packaging should of course deliver value to all involved.  But there is obviously packaging with room for improvement. We are so used to rely on corkscrews, can openers and bottle openers that we hardly consider it to be a problem to get in to that kind of bottles and cans. There are “easy-open” solutions to all the above but not all producers use them. Consumers know how to handle the challenge.

orbitThen there are packaging that many find easy to handle but prove to be quite a job for someone with limited strength in hands and arms. Among people over 65 years of age apparently more than 50% have arthritis in some stage. This is definitely hampering a pensioner trying to open, close and pour in an orderly way. As we all know this is a growing cohort, and also one that we all are speeding towards… This fact is a strong driver for new packaging features and solutions to support daily life for OAP’s and others as well.

I think an inspiring example of a simple but great solution is the two-piece screw cap that enables almost anyone to open a glass jar of pickles. The zip-lock is another one that made packaging easy to open and close. And we should not forget to mention the milk carton with a screw cap. Packaging should be for everyone and you should really not need to use a tool to get in to the product.wishlist

UK based packaging supplier Essentra conducted last year a survey asking 500 consumers about their packaging experiences. The aim was to identify and understand consumers’ concerns with packaging. To make a long story short, you could say that this is the “Christmas wish list” that came out from the study. The list contains the top 10 packaging solutions that frustrated consumers the most. Or the top 10 packaging issues and opportunities for the industry to address to satisfy consumers and get a commercial edge. Something for Santa?

Is packaging less important for e-retailers?

E-commerce is showing double digit growth year out and year in. We are now on our way into the holiday seasons which will give the trade yet another boost. Clothing and electronics are still the two dominating categories. Food is not quite there, but coming strongly.plain-corrugated-box_10709490_250x250

Sealed Air recently made the results from an e-commerce study available, obviously with a packaging angle. The study was made in the US but there as here or anywhere the first physical encounter with the buyer/consumer is the packaging.

A staggering 66% of the interviewed also hold the view that “the packaging of their shipment shows them how much the retailer cares about them and their order”. I’m not surprised at all, you position your brand with packaging also in this business.

What is then irritating people the most when it comes to packaging and e-commerce? The top two items coming out of this study are concerning recycling and disposal of packaging. Here is room for improvement and a challenge for the innovative packaging industry.

My opinion is that packaging is just as important for the e-retailers. But today it seems forgotten and an opportunity missed by the e-commerce industry. I was at an e-commerce conference and trade show a few weeks ago. There was only one exhibitor who addressed the packaging issue. It was RePack who are offering a great reusable solution but this is a big and fast growing market and there must be space for more alternatives.

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

 

 

Innovation shortcut

I see that 60% of the people in the UK only drink one glass of water a day and only 20% drink more than two. Source: Kantar Worldpanel. As a rule of thumb we need to get 2 litres of fluid a day to stay happy and in balance. It has then rather to be two proper jugs to meet the required amount. I don’t think the British, in this aspect, are very much different than the rest of at least north Europe.

Life is luckily not all water but water drinking could be made more interesting. For Green Sheepinstance by using more exciting packaging that gets your attention and also makes sense. I think that Chicago based Green Sheep Water are making an interesting move by launching an aluminium water bottle. Half a litre is the size and it quite stands out in the shelf, or wherever you find it.

Their point is that this is a more sustainable packaging solution as aluminium is indefinitely recyclable compared to PET and other materials. That is as long as people return the empties…  Besides that it catches the attention at POS and could maybe even prove practical to refill.

I very much like the idea of an innovation shortcut by using an existing idea from another category and apply it on your product. Voila! You have a new and innovative product. Just by being inspired from another field.