Sustainability is the name of the game in the coveted food markets – but what options do food processors have when it comes to packaging? Can producers and retailers strengthen their brand position by choosing biobased materials? A new study sheds a light on what might be the next big thing in food packaging…
Eageningen/The Netherlands 0 Companies in the food sector are looking for alternatives to regular plastic packaging to reduce their CO2 footprint. With some exceptions, recycled food packaging is not suitable to be reused as food packaging for food safety reasons. This is why packaging made from renewable raw materials is the only sustainable option for the vast majority of food products.
“This transition to biobased has to be made carefully,” says Karin Molenveld, scientist at Wageningen Food & Biobased Research. “First, the new packaging must have the right functional properties. But we also need to know how consumers respond to the new packaging and how consumer opinion reflects on the brand.”
Drop-in biobased packaging requires good communication
Molenveld and her colleague Koen Meesters are performing desk research within Combo, a public private partnership of Wageningen University & Research, into the development of biobased packaging and perceptions among consumers. They found that many manufacturers and retailers choose drop-in biobased packaging, which is chemically identical to the traditional packaging but made from renewable raw materials instead of petroleum.
Molenveld: “Consumers immediately notice the difference between biobased packaging with a totally different material composition from the regular packaging. The packaging may have a different appearance or the biobased plastic feels and sounds differently than what they are used to. Consumers experience this as positive. But a ‘fossil’ PET bottle cannot be distinguished from a bottle made from vegetable sugars, so, if you choose to use a drop in biobased packaging, you need to clearly communicate and let the consumer know that (even though it looks exactly the same), the new material is beneficial to the environment.”
Recognisable and substantiated claims
And this communication is sensitive, Meesters adds. “As a manufacturer or retailer you have to be careful about the claims you make. You can’t just say your packaging is CO2 neutral. As it is almost impossible to prove, you run the risk of having to withdraw the claim and damaging your reputation. In other words: make sure the claim is correct.
For example, a claim like ‘this packaging is made from plants’ cannot be contradicted. Moreover, consumers like to know what to do with the packaging after use, which is why claims about recycling and composting are included in the research.”
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