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Sustainable, Safe Packaging for CPG Brands

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Packaging experts discussed challenges and solutions to the nutrition industry’s reliance on plastic at SupplySide West 2019.

The supplement and functional food industry cannot survive without packaging. Packages put the “P” in CPG, and they ensure goods get to consumers fresh, efficacious and safely.

Yet, those packages—often made of plastic—can harm the environment and hang around in landfills long after those supplements and foods have been consumed. Responsible brands in the natural products industry struggle to adopt sustainable packaging solutions that keep their products safe, while keeping cost manageable for consumers.

At SupplySide West 2019, experts discussed available packaging solutions, and they explored how brands can take steps to run sustainable businesses.

Consumers demand brands to seek non-plastic packaging resolutions, noted Steve French, managing partner, Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) in his SupplySide West presentation. “Most consumers are looking for an easy solution to help them be eco-friendlier, so sustainable packaging is a good place for the health and nutrition industry to target,” he said. French presented NMI data that found:

  • 88% of consumers think we live in a wasteful society
  • 85% said they save and reuse things when possible
  • 62% said they purchase products that are manufactured in a sustainable manner (up from 48% in 2007 and 57% in 2013)
  • 77% feel something needs to be done immediately about the amount of plastic accumulating in the oceans

Brands must move away from plastic packaging, but developing a solution is difficult for one company to tackle alone. This is where collaboration comes in. Lara Dickinson, executive director and co-founder, OSC2, explained how the Packaging Collaborative, now with more than 25 companies, works to remove petroleum-based plastic from landfills, oceans and the planet by securing compostable and renewable flexible film structures with appropriate barriers.

The group has achieved heat- and shelf-stable, dry compostable pouches that can be used for products such as granola, nuts and salty snacks; and compostable overwraps that can be used for granola and tea bags. Alter Eco has used this technology to launch its Organic Black Heirloom Quinoa in a compostable stand-up pouch.

Currently, the Packaging Collective is working on a shelf-life study testing 30 food types, such as potato chips, hemp seeds, protein powder and more, in compostable pouches to understand how they hold up in these packaging.

Dickinson acknowledged that the process has been slow—the Packaging Collaborative is in its seventh year—because “We are trying to innovate on a petroleum-based system, but this system isn’t working for our planet. If the system isn’t working, we need to change the system.”

The SupplySide West session concluded with a roundtable of CPG brands who are trying to change that very system of packaging that relies on landfill waste.

Stacey Gillespie, director of product strategy, Gaia Herbs Inc., noted the R’s of packaging for the supplement brand are “research,” “recycle and reduce” and “R&D.” She said the brand is committed to using glass—which is recyclable—and 100% recycled paperboard. The next goal the company has is to replace the plastic caps on top of the supplement bottles, perhaps with metal or a bio-plastic.

Jeremiah McElwee, senior vice president of merchandising and product development, Thrive Market, said his brand’s goal is zero waste, and, “Everyone needs to be involved on the journey. It’s a whole-company mission.” The packaging portion of this goal includes efficient packing (“Tetris in your box,” as McElwee described it), and shipping boxes made of 100% post-consumer recycled (PCR) paper (including the tape) so all materials can be curbside recycled. The company doesn’t use Styrofoam in its shipping but does use upcycled denim used for insulation on frozen/perishable shipments. Non-food Thrive products have a minimum of 50% PCR content, and paper products use a mix of PCR and bamboo. The company uses soft recyclable film over rigid formats wherever possible to its reduce carbon footprint and shipping weights.

Derek McNamara, senior purchasing manager, Nutiva, spoke about the triple bottom line of “people, profit and planet” that focuses not just on the economic value of corporations, but also on the environmental and social value they add—and destroy. He spoke of navigating competing priorities and how workers can push company leadership to commit to sustainable packaging initiatives. His recommendation is to look at the total cost of ownership: the direct and indirect costs of packaging. He suggested asking the leadership to consider the consumer goodwill, potential government mandates and how competitors are implementing sustainability objectives.

Download the slides from this session here: Sustainable, Safe Packaging for CPG Brands

Learn more about packaging solutions in INSIDER’s digital magazine Packaging: More than meets the eye. And hear from the speakers of this SuppySide West education session in these podcasts:

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