Explore the potential of sustainable packaging
In their first ever webinar social, Jason Gibb and Tara Mei, co-founders of Bread & Jam, the UK’s first food founders festival, speak with Paul Horton, the founder and director of consultancy brandprintcolour™️, about exploring your business’s sustainable packaging potential.
For the past few years, sustainable packaging has been a hot topic in the fine food and drink industry, and then came the coronavirus pandemic…
As part of Bread & Jam’s webinar series, Paul Horton, the founder and director of consultancy brandprintcolour, says that despite the implementation of certain plastic policies, bans and taxes being pushed back, the focus is still firmly on sustainable options.
“I believe [plastic policies and taxes] will still happen… the general principles of what has been proposed and consulted to date will remain. This is the foundation and scaffold that we can use to guide material choices,” Paul says. However, he added that the focus is evolving towards carbon reduction rather than just plastics removal.
Paul cited a study conducted by the RSA that found just 9% of Brits want the UK to return to ‘normal’ after lockdown ends. “The poll showed the British people are increasingly aware that the health of people and the planet are inseparable, and it’s time for radical, environmental, social, political, and economic change.”
Paul continues: “Sustainability in packaging is absolutely here to stay”. There is a maturing conversation about packaging and choices made into lifecycle assessment and carbon footprinting. We are going to increasingly see that on packs – brands stating their carbon footprint. In fact, it’s something that the meat substitute brand Quorn released into the UK recently on their latest packaging refresh.
Covid 19 has focused business on survival, for some this means sustainability activity is on pause, for others lockdown has created opportunity to reflect, to refocus and drive forward sustainable projects and strategies that may have otherwise lay dormant (filed away in the ‘mañana’ folder) to be better, to do better in a post Covid world.
Starting at the end
Throughout the webinar, Paul stresses that sustainable packaging isn’t just about the end product – but that’s where he suggests companies start when they begin thinking about their sustainable options.
“Think about what your packaging actually is. What does it do? Is it a label, is it a box, does it feature additional and perhaps unnecessary or purely aesthetic component parts? Does your packaging reflect your values?” In the waste hierarchy of remove, reduce, reuse, recycle, focus on removal of unnecessary packaging components is a good place to start.
The waste management hierarchy indicates an order of preference for action to reduce and manage waste from most favorable to least favorable actions. Ad Lansink is internationally recognised for making the original waste hierarchy or ‘Lansink’s Ladder‘*
*I have added the *remove step to the Lansink’s original as it helps drive debate further, particularly around peripheral and purely aesthetic packaging components.
“There are a range of actions you can take to commence your sustainability journey without going down the rabbit hole of complex material choices.”
Consider the UK waste infrastructure, which, Paul admits “is not the best”. “Where I live, the kerbside collection will be different to where you are. And ultimately that makes for some challenges.”
“A goal of the proposed legislation is to align the UK waste infrastructure so that there is a uniform collection of material types across the country. Utopia would include, alignment on colour coding to make disposal intuitive and consistent.” There is also the customer to consider, and Paul says they need education and clear instruction about what to do with any product packaging. “Evidence, both science based and anecdotal shows that consumers on their own are unlikely to make the best choices,” Paul says. “You’ve got to make it easy, easier to do than not do.”
Right first time
Paul also stressed the importance of taking time to focus on getting packaging right first time. “Consider the options. Consider the landscape. Look at your competitors. Explore different categories and sectors and what they’re doing and check, check and check again packaging artwork, specification and cutter guides before pressing go. There are a myriad of packaging companies and printers out there, vying for your business, each offering ‘the next best thing’. Approach this with cautious optimism and when required brandprintcolour™️ are here to hold your hand.
“Think about stock control, think about inventory, think about obsolescence, minimum order quantities… Some of the startups I have worked with had a lounge full of packaging, and within a few weeks of launch discovered that it was not fit for function, it may be a surpisingly obvious typo or the product doesnt fit… These mistakes happen more often than you may think, and it all ends up in the bin! Setting out with the best intentions without taking that extra moment to really consider the form and the function of the packaging, it can be a missed opportunity, it can be expensive.”
For example, Paul spoke about a brand he worked with recently to explore sustainable packaging options for high-quality beef. “They were very, very intent on moving away from plastic,” he says, but every option reduced the shelf life significantly. After many trials and several frank conversations supported by data the client eventually agreed that it would do more harm than good (taking into account the potential for significant additional food waste) and instead focusing on the optimum packaging for preservation. “It’s about asking these extra questions, taking that extra moment to think about the impact of your product in a holistic context.”
Don’t sweat the small stuff
When it comes to start-ups and small producers, Paul says that often the most important thing to think about is getting your product onto the shelf. “It becomes increasingly important as your footprint grows, but it is never too early to consider, mindful that sustainability typically increases packaging cost.”
He says: “I’m going to assume that you are all startups starting out on your packaging journey. I mentioned earlier about ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’. It’s as important for you to have cash in the bank and products in the market and selling. Getting that right first time, irrespective of the packaging you choose often has a far greater impact on your overall sustainability than trying to find that perfect packaging solution immediately. In fact, im not sure it exists yet!
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Maya Angelou
As you scale, and can demonstrate a solid business proposition more and more supply options will come on stream, in some areas commercial viability will unlock and often your purpose and specific challenges will crystalise. We are here to provide support along this journey, to realise your packaging potential.