It’s been nearly twenty years since anyone carried a Big Mac® out in a foam box. Back in 1990, McDonald’s began making the environmentally conscious move to more sustainable paper-based packaging for some of its perennial favorites like the Big Mac, Quarter Pounder, Egg McMuffin, Filet-O-Fish, and Chicken McNuggets. Prior to this move, McDonald’s on its own had used about 2 percent of all the polystyrene produced in the United States.
Sustainable packaging isn’t just a PR move for a big food service company, however. It’s environmentally friendly, yes, but beyond that, sustainable packaging in the food manufacturing industry is a smart business move. According to food engineering, the demand for easily recyclable packaging materials is expected to continue growing. Consumer bias is shifting toward companies that can prove sustainable methods. If you’re not already using sustainable packaging, it’s time to seriously consider it.
Defining Sustainable Packaging
Sustainable packaging for the food manufacturing industry is a concept with a loose definition. However, it should meet some or all the following characteristics:
- Safe to Use: Packaging that does not leach questionable (although acceptable in the industry) chemicals into food products
- Easy to Recycle: Consumers can easily and clearly add it to their recycling bins
- Low Manufacturing Impact: From start to finish, the manufacturing of the packaging materials does not compromise the environment or create residue or waste products that can harm the environment
- Green Energy: May be sourced, made, or transported using renewable energy
- Meets Manufacturers' Requirements: Meets industry standards and requirements for safe transportation and handling of food products
Add to this the need to be transportable for the consumer, build the company’s brand awareness, and not be too expensive, and you understand why sustainable packaging, while a smart move, can pose a challenge.
The Cost of Sustainability
At first glance, this list looks daunting, and expensive. However, field-tested sustainable packaging has proven to be comparable to and even less expensive than conventional packaging. Walmart tested sustainable packaging for children's products and found that it saved $3.5 million in transportation costs alone, as well as considerable energy and resource costs. The packaging was a clear winner compared to older, conventional packaging.
Not to be outdone, food manufacturers see clear benefits as well. Coca-Cola, for example, switched to sustainable packaging and estimated the company saves $180 million per year. McDonald's and other fast food restaurants, as well as convenience food manufacturing companies, are also exploring sustainable packaging as an alternative that both appeals to consumers and makes sense to their bottom line.
Sustainable Packaging to Acquire and Retain Customers
Best of all, sustainable packaging may help you acquire and retain loyal customers.
The Millennial demographic values environmental awareness and sustainability issues. In the United States, the Census Bureau reports that there are more Millennials than Baby Boomers, with 83.1 million born roughly between 1980 and 2000. In Canada, Millennials also represent the largest generation. This particular demographic enjoys packaged food products as a daily staple rather than the occasional treat. That being the case, they may gravitate more and more toward manufacturers and brands that tout sustainable packaging. Even if moving to a sustainable packaging option costs you more on the front end, the increased sales that result will often offset any additional production costs.
The best way to track the savings of moving to a sustainable packaging solution is through packaging industry software, such as an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. PositiveVision may have come after the Big Mac, but we are well-acquainted with the drive and desire to practice environmental friendliness in multiple areas of business, manufacturing, and distribution. Whether you’re already using sustainable packaging, or you’re simply considering the switch, let PositiveVision set you up with the right software to manage your production and packaging processes to prove that being sustainable isn’t just friendly to the Earth, it’s friendly to your bottom line too.
Download ERP for the Packaging Industry, a whitepaper for US manufacturers and distributors.