What Do Consumers Think Of Bio-Based Food Packaging?
Companies in the food sector are looking for alternatives to regular plastic packaging to reduce their CO2 footprint, but can manufacturers and retailers strengthen the brand position of their food products by choosing bio-based food packaging?
For food safety reasons, recycled food packaging, with some exceptions, is not suitable to be reused as food packaging. This is why packaging made from renewable raw materials is the only sustainable option for the vast majority of food products. “
Research in the Netherlands is studying the perceptions of bio-based packaging among consumers and aims to give manufacturers and retailers advise on making well-founded, sustainable packaging choices. Within the COMBO public-private partnership, Wageningen University and Research is helping brand owners in the food segment make well-founded, sustainable packaging choices.
Karin Molenveld and Koen Meesters, scientist at Wageningen Food & Biobased Research, found that many manufacturers and retailers choose drop-in bio-based packaging, which is chemically identical to the traditional packaging but made from renewable raw materials instead of petroleum.
This transition to bio-based has to be made carefully,” says Molenveld, “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.”
Different Is Good
Molenveld stated, “Consumers immediately notice the difference between bio-based packaging with a totally different material composition from the regular packaging. The packaging may have a different appearance or the bio-based 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 bio-based 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.”
Clear Communication Vital
Meesters states, “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.”
Consumers are positive about ‘compostable’ and ‘recyclable’
Consumers need and want to know what to do with the packaging after use. Clear and correct claims about the recyclability of the packaging as well as recommendations for a correct disposal should always be included on the packaging. Machiel Reinders, scientist at Wageningen Economic Research, confirms that consumers are positive about claims on bio-based packaging such as ‘compostable’ and ‘recyclable’, which clearly indicate how to dispose of the packaging product. “Our research shows that consumers prefer clear claims. Stating that products can be discarded with the organic waste is a good example. The more concrete the sustainability benefits, the better the packaging is evaluated.”
In Australia bio-based drop-in plastics can be disposed and recycled together with their conventional counterparts. Compostable packaging, that is certified to Australian standard AS 4736–2006 is designed to be treated in industrial composting plants and compostable packaging that is certified to Australian standard AS 5810-2010 can be home composted.