Sustainable packaging is the next hot food industry trend

Sustainable packaging is the next hot food industry trend

Pouches and squeeze packs are trending up in conventional food packaging, but is this good for the environment? Here's why natural and organic manufacturers that develop sustainable packaging will be ahead of the curve.

The future of food products is looking less boxy, as more packaged-food makers opt for pouches and squeeze packs to deliver their products. A recent Los Angeles Times article reported that the Campbell Soup Co. and H.J. Heinz Co. are introducing pouched products this year to save on packaging and shipping costs.

While pouches may save some pennies and help companies appeal to millennials, the dirty secret is that pouches sacrifice sustainability. Here's why: To give pouched products a longer shelf life, the packaging film is layered with structures that cannot be separated or recycled. Campbell's soup cans and Heinz ketchup bottles could be recycled; the new pouched products will now end up in a landfill.

This unfortunate side effect can have big implications for waste management. According to market research firm Mintel, overall pouch use in consumer products, including shampoo and pet food, has increased 37 percent since 2007. And pouches have been more prominent in Europe, Central and South America for the last five years, compared with the United States.

Why pouches, why now?

Why are Heinz and Campbell's exploring pouches now? The “less is more” mantra of many packaging initiatives is driving pouches and squeeze packs into new product categories, said Jennifer Jones, design strategy director, partner, for the Sterling-Rice Group. Plus, millennials, those ages 18 to 34, are hip to the package—and old brands need new customers.

Natural companies have long been in the game with squeezable liquid vitamins from brands such as Natural Vitality, Myceuticals and Coromega, and Justin's Nut Butter's squeezable packs, which have been a boon for business. But while consumer packaged goods companies may be turning to packaging to save money, natural companies have another, more altruistic value, in mind: saving the environment.

"I see it as being the next frontier for the spotlight," said Justin Gold, CEO and founder of Justin's Nut Butter. "Every few years it's gluten-free, non-GMO, fair trade… and I think that packaging has been overlooked for a long time."

Natural companies pioneer 'new age' of sustainable packaging

For the past year and a half, Justin's Nut Butter has been testing more sustainable films for its squeeze packs, following a group-think packaging summit to which CEO and Founder Justin Gold invited the likes of General Mills, Nestle and PowerBar. "I was really frustrated that we make these natural, organic products and then we put them in a wasteful package," said Gold.

The company has reached out to Heinz, but Heinz declined to get involved. "I see all natural, organic companies being the pioneers of a new age of sustainable packaging that can easily be adopted by larger brands," he said. "If a Heinz or a Campbell's were to adopt this, it would be a game changer for industry."

Justin's is pursuing a sustainable film that isn't corn-based, but instead is from a non-GMO source. Gold says they've had success with eucalyptus so far, but he is discovering that there isn't a 100 percent renewable film source right now.

For now, Gold said his company will pay more for packaging—which costs 50 to 100 percent more than non-sustainable packaging—because "it's the right thing to do." As more companies band together to use more sustainable films, and as consumers drive demand, the cost will decrease.

More sustainable packaging stand outs

Echoing the sentiment of "doing the right thing" are two more natural companies that have made headlines for their new packages.Method Laundry Pouch

At Natural Products Expo West 2012, Castor & Pollux Pet Works debuted the first #2 recyclable dog food package. The company has been selling organic dog food for seven years, and just introduced its first small breed formula with the innovative package. This type of pouch doesn't save money—it's more expensive, said CEO Robb Caseria, which is why they're launching it with the small breed formula first, before expanding the package across their dog food line.

Method, makers of natural household cleaners and personal care products, who have made a name for themselves in part due to clever packaging, launched a laundry pouch last spring. Doing so, the company had an 80 percent packaging savings in plastic, water and energy use. This year, they're focusing on creating bottles using plastic pollution recovered from the world's oceans.

See 2 more new ideas in eco-friendly packaging

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