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…

A cup is a cup is a cup… Not really!

It’s a bit more complicated. Last year we used 264 billion paper cups according to Imarc. This translates to a number of trees, an amount of water, a quantity of energy and a number for the miles transport needed. No doubt, it’s not for free from a climate point of view. This fact has gotten quite a lot of attention during the last few years, maybe with a peak two years ago, when consumers questioned the use of single-use cups.

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Another perspective on this comes from a recent, 2019, LCA study carried out by VTT or Technical Research Centre of Finland. The study shows that the paper-based coffee cup is performing quite well for carbon dioxide compared to the alternatives. The comparison was to reusable cups in different materials. But this footprint can be significantly improved by properly recycling the emptied latte cup.LINK TO MY WEBSITEAdd Button

The LCA consequences will of course depend on how the cup is made up, the amount and type of plastic used for lining and also what recycling facilities are available. We are using quite a few of these single use cups and recycling and reusing material is key to a circular economy. The average cup is not easily recycled, many plants have a challenge to separate the plastic from the paper.

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This recycling situation is improving. Last year Stora Enso announced that they could successfully recycle used paper cups at their plant in both Sweden and in Belgium. They declared that used paper cups could be used as valuable raw material and be recycled into white-lined chipboard (WLC).

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Recycling facilities can be expanded in many ways. This is proved by the London based charity organisation Hubbub. Together with Starbucks they launched ‘The Cup Fund’ to support paper cup recycling in the UK.  Enough money has been raised, by the voluntary 5p charge added to single use coffee cups, to build recycling facilities to handle 4 million cups yearly. Every little helps.

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There are other solutions available. Ball, the leading supplier of beverage cans, is testing aluminium cups as an infinitely recyclable alternative to the single use cup. They started last year and now they will be used for serving beverages at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami during Superbowl. A stiff drink, or at least a sturdy cup.

Finally, it is important to remember that of that cup of latte only 4% of the climate impact comes from the single use cup. 96% still comes from what’s in the cup, the coffee and the milk. So, enjoy the latte and don’t forget to recycle the cup. And do finish it to minimise food waste and the climate effect of your brew.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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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.


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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.