The Irish Grocery Insights from Shopper Intelligence over the last number of years has revealed that Irish grocery shoppers are becoming much more concerned about the impact of their food choices on the environment. And while concern about the environment is increasing, satisfaction with the sustainability credentials of the goods on offer in has decreased. It appears that the dress rehearsal for sustainability is over and any business looking to future-proof would be wise to make sustainability a fundamental tenet of their business plan. It can be tricky to know where to start when it comes to sustainability but it’s hard to go wrong with the key areas that shoppers are interested in according to the research; waste, manufacturing processes, food miles and carbon footprint. Here we will look at the area of most concern to the Irish shopper - packaging.
Packaging isn’t just about how to contain a product. When thinking about packaging, we need to consider the whole lifecycle of that product; from how the materials are sourced, to how it is manufactured, distributed, sold in retail and finally, how it is disposed of. In this article, we will look at the origins of packaging including the impact of plastics and how packaging materials are sourced. We will then explore the afterlife of packaging including any recyclable and compostable options. Finally, we will chat to some zero waste pioneers, who are eschewing packaging altogether and opting for zero waste solutions for their customers.
Origins of Packaging
Consumers are paying more attention to where things come from and increasingly businesses have to able to stand up to scrutiny when it comes to sourcing their packaging materials. This includes the energy used to source the materials, transport them and convert them into usable packaging. Also of concern are the materials themselves; whether they are recyclable, bio-derived or petrochemical (derived from oil). Businesses sourcing material for packaging or buying ‘off the shelf’ need to consider the entire supply chain and its impact on the environment. Plastic, in particular, has come into sharp focus in recent years.
Most of the plastic that has ever been made still exists
Plastics, particularly single-use plastics, are currently one of the most talked-about aspects of environmental concern. But what exactly is the problem with plastic? Plastic takes more than 400 years to degrade, so most of the plastic that has ever been made still exists (Geyer, Jambeckand, & Law, 2017). Some solutions to the problem of plastics that have been proposed are using alternative materials, developing bio-based plastics, reducing the amount of plastic in packaging as well as improving the recycling of plastic waste (Smithers, 2020).
Change is already in motion with large retail chains making big strides when it comes to plastic packaging. British retailer, Iceland, has committed to eliminating plastics from its own-brand products by 2023. Plastics will be replaced by paper and pulp trays and compostable alternatives. In the Netherlands, supermarket chain, Ekoplaza, has opened entirely plastic-free aisles, with products packaged in metal, glass or compostable plastic alternatives. Big changes are already in motion when it comes to sustainable product packaging and FMCG businesses would be wise to consider sustainable options when it comes to their packaging choices.
Afterlife of Packaging
One such business already ahead of the game is GS1 Ireland member, Chocolatey Clare. She is embracing compostable packaging as an alternative to plastic for her vegan chocolate range. Following a long period of research, she decided on a product called Nature-Flex, which consists of a compostable inner and outer packaging, printed with vegetable-based inks. The product is perfect for food products as it can be heat-sealed for freshness.
There was no point in creating a vegan and ethically sourced food product and then wrapping it in something that was going to damage the environment
Clare Tait of Chocolatey Clare
Claire believes that environmental awareness is growing but ‘there is a learning curve for consumers as well as those that manage waste’. The challenges for businesses wanting to adopt this type of packaging for their product ‘turnaround times can be longer than with traditional printing and costs can be prohibitive for short runs’ but for Clare, and her customers, the benefits outweigh the costs, “there was no point in creating a vegan and ethically sourced food product and then wrapping it in something that was going to damage the environment”.
Carbon Neutral Packaging
Another GS1 Ireland member leading the pack when it comes to sustainable packaging is Lee Strand Milk who switched to Tetra Rex Plant-based packaging which is the first packaging in Ireland to be labelled as carbon neutral. It is FSC-certified and made entirely of paperboard, from responsibly managed forests. The plastic is plant-based, made from Bonsucro-certified sugarcane and moves beyond just recyclable; it is fully renewable and sustainable and has won many prestigious international awards for sustainability innovation.
There is a huge opportunity for Irish businesses to start supplying in bulk
Jennie Jacques de Cisneros of Minimum Waste Grocery
While some food businesses are opting for compostable packaging, other producers and retailers are eschewing packaging altogether and developing zero packaging solutions for their customers. One such person filling this gap in the market is Jennie Jacques de Cisneros who set up Minimum Waste Grocery in 2017. She delivers packaging-free groceries to her customers around the country. She stocks everything from nuts and seeds to tea and coffee to toiletries and household cleaning products. People can use their own containers, or the bio or brown paper bags supplied by Jen. She stocks two GS1 Ireland members’ products; Bowl-a-granola and Second Nature Oils. Jen says that she is always on the lookout for great Irish products from local companies.
Back in 2017 when she set up Minimum Waste Grocery, people didn’t understand the concept and now in 2020, most customers instantly recognise the system. Jen has watched the demand for zero or minimum waste groceries grow hugely over the last three years and believes that ‘there is a huge opportunity for Irish businesses to start supplying in bulk’.
The Circular Economy
Designers are now striving towards developing packaging solutions that fall within the boundaries of what has come to be known as the circular economy. It is a system of continuously cycling old materials back into high-value products. Material goods cycle in one of two loops; one recovers metals, minerals and polymers for reuse and the other loop returns biological materials to nature through composting or converts them to carbon-neutral energy.
MIWA, a Czech packaging and delivery system that won the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Circular Design Challenge fulfils this mandate. When you order from the MIWA app, food producers put their wares into durable, reusable containers and deliver them directly to nearby stores or directly to the customer’s home. When the containers are empty, MIWA collects, sanitises and returns them to the food producers who can then refill them for the next customer order.
The Bottom Line
With consumers more concerned about the impact of their purchasing decisions on the environment than ever before and growing dissatisfaction among consumers with the green credentials of the goods on offer, any business looking to future-proof would be wise to make sustainability a central tenet of their business strategy. With packaging at the top of the list of concerns for Irish grocery shoppers, there is no better place to start enacting change than with your product packaging solutions.
Geyer, R., Jambeckand, J. R., & Law, K. L. (2017, July 19). Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made. Science Advances, 3(7).
Smithers. (2020). The Future of Single-use Plastic Packaging in a Sustainable World. Smithers.