Committing to smart packaging

bruno-garnierBruno Garnier
Quality Packaging & Sustainable Development Expert

There is no such thing as good or bad materials but there are choices to be made as to packaging components in connection with consumers’ health/safety, marketing strategy, and essential packaging functions, while remaining price competitive.
Following market trends and implementing source reduction, assisting consumers when consuming, committing to reduce the environmental impact, all these amount to offering smarter packaging!

Today’s main trend is packaging source reduction. Our suppliers are working on this issue on an ongoing-basis. In order to remain competitive, it is in their interest to reduce the size, weight and thickness of their packages. Source reduction is motivated first by cost, second by the environment.

However we must bear in mind that packaging has a primary function of protection and storage, well known by consumers. In 1997, Carrefour was the first one to remove toothpaste cardboard packages.
We had to stop after 4 months because the sales had greatly decreased! If we were to start this source reduction again, it would be necessary to check that the thickness of the tube is sufficient to protect the product and add a tamper-proof device on the cap in order to guarantee the integrity of the product in the store.

This leads us to check that we do not shift environmental impacts: are we removing cardboard from one place to put plastic on another one? Do we need to reinforce secondary packaging cardboard (Ready-to-sell)?

Drive-through has no incidence on primary packaging

Purchasing methods are also evolving. Drive-through outlets are increasingly popular. 15% of French households went shopping at least once in a drive-through in 2012 (Source: Carrefour Annual Report 2012 – Kantar Worldpanel Data – November 2011 – November 2012). But drive-through shopping does not have any influence on primary packaging. The fact that consumers are shopping differently does not mean that we will ask our suppliers to change their production chains. This is not what consumers are asking for.

Drive-through is a new way to shop. It is another purchasing system, not another consumption system. We could possibly remove the secondary packaging and imagine, for example, bottled water sold only per unit for drive-throughs. However, consumers still want to buy packs of six (in most cases) which offer a volume matching their compsumtion levels with an easy-to-carry handle. Moreover, it would affect competitiveness to start creating special packaging since manufacturing volumes are insufficient and additional storage areas would be required.
For the time being, there is thus no change in primary packaging due to this new purchasing method.

Consumers’ primary expectations: health and safety

According to an Ethicity study that came out in 2012, health and safety are consumers’ number one priority, followed in 2nd position by the quality/price ratio. This concern remains very strong and legitimate due to the recurring food scandals. Our packaging must be flawless in terms of health and safety. Packaging must also be easy to handle, preserve the product, and be storable. Next, can it be recycled? Once the product is consumed, packaging suddenly loses all its appeal and becomes mere waste.

As we are aware of being at the same time customers, consumers and citizens, and as we often think and act in a different way depending on the life cycle situations of packaging, we must switch from the idea of waste to the idea that we have a ‘new post-consumer material’ in our hands. End of life is a true challenge for tomorrow and a high value-added issue for society.

I hope that we gradually move to packaging solutions with more and more recyclable materials (which really integrate a material recycling channel). Today, in France, a large part of packaging waste is not recycled. Sorting guidelines must be extended to plastic materials (tests are being made by Eco-Emballages, 51 local communities, 32 sorting centers and some 3.7 million citizens) in order to develop these new recycling processes.

It is important that the packaging sector make progress towards a better managed end of life, but also that the recycling industry adapts to new packaging and to our customers’ new consumption habits.

Smart packaging… ‘almost’ invisible and truly responsible!

Lastly, smart packaging would be one which cannot be seen or detected, which is as transparent as possible in the overall life cycle of the product/packaging system. Packaging is useful, necessary and has essential and key functions. If packaging is removed, we risk making a backwards move, generating food waste, increasing food contact, reducing preservation, creating transport issues… Packaging is therefore recognized as taking part in the improvement of food and in the no-waste approach.

We carried out a study with PWC (PricewaterhouseCoopers), TetraPak and LSDH (Les Laiteries de Saint-Denis de l’Hôtel) on sustainable development and packaging indicators.
This concerned particularly milk and orange juice cartons. We understood that in terms of environmental impact, packaging represents between 5 and 20% on many indicators (CO2, water, energy for example). The major part of environmental impacts is the product itself!

As I now know their impacts better, I am in favor of eco-design for packaging taking into account a key indicator: the packaging deliverability, i.e. the capacity of packaging to provide all or part of the product contained.I In some milk packages for example, the consumer is unable to pour between 1 to 5 cl of milk into his bowl. Likewise, in a square butter dish, several grams of butter are often not used! This represents worldwide a huge loss both in terms of food waste and environmental impact.

It is not acceptable for consumers to be unable to consume the product right to the end! And it is not acceptable for us, as distributors, to purchase a product that our consumers will not be able to fully use. Our packaging must offer maximum deliverability; as Danone has done with its new yogurt pot. I find that this is also smart packaging: packaging that is economical, ecological and marketed.

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