Alter Eco announced earlier this spring, in partnership with the Climate Collaborative and OSC2, a commitment to all recyclable or compostable packaging for its entire product line by December 2020. The company has already been using some compostable pouches and wrappers, but taking on all packaging for the full product line meant tackling a wider range of needs.
There’s the outer package that holds the truffles, which needs more structure and durability, for example, while the coconut clusters have different moisture sensitivity.
“Our goal has always been to create products that are as good for the planet and the people that make them as they are for the people who enjoy them,” said CEO Mike Forbes. “It’s really been in our DNA to think about the packaging.”
Alter Eco’s main focus now is a package for the coconut clusters. The company transitioned its 10-count truffle package from plastic-laminated paper to recyclable cardboard just after Natural Products Expo West. “We worked with a packaging company to come up with a solution that has the gloss and beauty, but doesn’t have the negative impact,” said Forbes. The individual truffle wrappers inside are already compostable, and the compostable pouches that the brand uses for quinoa won a NEXTY award for packaging when they were introduced.
The clusters have made for a tougher hill to climb. For Forbes, the three major criteria when considering compostable packaging are: It needs to work with the copacking machines; it needs to protect the product over time; and it can’t disintegrate on the store shelf.
The second one has been the most difficult, he said. “Right now, this is what we’re focusing on for the clusters—finding a solution to protect them, because they’re sensitive to moisture.”
If moisture gets in, he explains, it reduces the crunch factor. They’re currently evaluating a recyclable and a compostable option, testing mainly for longevity, to see how the product does over time. “That’s one of those things, there’s no substitute for time. We need to see how the product performs over two, three, four months,” said Forbes, estimating they’ll be able to identify the winning package by the end of the year and start rolling it out in early 2020.
For Forbes, the real key to finding sustainable packaging options has been collaboration with other food brands and packaging companies—both to innovate and identify solutions together, more efficiently, and also to achieve the scale that will be necessary to make any new packaging option feasible.
Alter Eco has worked with Elk Designs, for example, which was able to take on the technical challenges like what materials perform best, and in what combinations—evaluating, for instance, how eucalyptus and birch perform, and determining that using the two together was the winning strategy for the compostable pouch.
Having partners can help when it comes to placing orders, too. “Companies like to do minimum runs of millions. We’ve partnered in the past with Numi Tea. That helps us to bring more volume to the table,” said Forbes. “Other companies are involved and want to use the same package, which helps us build scale,” he said.
“It’s definitely a team approach,” he said, recommending other brands adopt collaborative strategies when pursuing similar efforts. “For entrepreneurs, it’s really important to have a group of people to share learnings and share ideas with, and to bounce things off each other in a safe setting.”
The OSC2 consortium has been a strong resource, he added, bringing like-minded companies together for knowledge-sharing and generally building momentum on the packaging front.
“These things can be worked through, it just requires a little elbow grease and attention,” said Forbes.