5 steps towards more sustainable packaging

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Over the next few months, the Food & Beverage Team at 4C Associates, working with Mintec, will be producing a series of blogs focussed on packaging for our industry and the challenges consumers and suppliers face as the pandemic begins to ease. We will explore the reality of recycling plastic packaging, changing consumer behaviours, and finally the market trends impacting packaging prices and availability.  

This article is written by Mark Boswell from 4C Associates who has 20+ years’ experience in Food & Beverage supply chain and procurement, who gives his views on steps towards more sustainable packaging   

In this first blog we will outline our five steps required to create an environment for more sustainable packaging.  

Packaging is and can be a brand’s greatest asset not only commanding and stimulating consumer sales, but also protecting the product and informing us of its contents, whilst at the same time always being aligned to the regulatory compliance and the legalities of each market. Sir David Attenborough hit the consciousness of consumers in the Plastic Planet episode of his Blue Planet II series and left us with a deep feeling of “What am I doing to reduce or stop my own personal impact on the planet?”. Since then, the world has continuously turned up the dial on informing us of the damage that packaging and waste is having on our home and every species that inhabits it. 

Packaging works hard for the brand and now it needs to work even harder for the planet 

Ask yourself – would you buy a Coke in a naked clear bottle? You might say “yes” but you would struggle to find it in store or elsewhere without its iconic branding and moreover we would be sceptical – is it the real thing or ‘RolaCola’? Therefore, I make a prediction that product packaging will retain a prominent part in our everyday life. Everything from cleaning, eating, washing, drinking, wearing, curing, painting, sleeping, and just living requires packaging. Often this is not only the packaging you see on the shelf, but a whole host of differing formats and materials for transporting, delivering and storing the product. 

So, what to do if you are a food & beverage brand owner with a myriad of products that you want more consumers to buy from you and keep them doing so? Right now, those very consumers are expecting you to take a stance and communicate what you are doing to take responsibility in addressing the packaging and waste challenge facing our planet. 

How an integrated packaging strategy can help you move towards more sustainable packaging

Getting to a point where you can communicate your Packaging Sustainability stance is not easy. Typically, it requires the development of an Integrated Packaging Strategy which fundamentally outlines an overall sustainable position for your brands, the business and your consumers. Bearing in mind current consumer dynamics, here are five steps you need to take to get going on this journey: 

1. Baseline

Get a hold of all your packaging BOMs (Bills of Materials) and specifications. All this data needs collating, understanding, analysing and fundamentally challenging. It is astonishing just how many manufactures cannot flick a switch and deliver a fully detailed report on this. There are many reasons for this, but the main one I have come across is that most BOMs and specifications reside with the supplier that you are buying your finished goods from. 

2. Deep dive

Once manufacturing is completed, work with your suppliers to always split the cost of packaging materials from the costs of the product, as this spend can equate to between 10% and in some cases I have seen 35% of the total buy. In addition, split out the costs of the Primary, Secondary and Tertiary packaging. Lastly, be clear on who and where your packaging is printed and ensure all these suppliers have been audited thoroughly by your consumer response team as well. 

3. Integrated packaging strategy

Develop, validate and agree your integrated packaging strategy spanning across all business functions and in line with the 3Rs – Reduce, Reuse/Refill, and Recycle. At the same time, analyse old vs. new sustainable material cost to enable your brand support and commercial strategies to be aligned. 

4. Implementation

Implement the strategy with a focus on simplicity and reduction of the number and types of packaging to leverage your spend aggregation. Also make sure to define and put in place a printer panel aligned to the current global, regional, and local supplier base geographies, further helping you to leverage your printed materials spend. 

5. Monitoring

Once all of this is done, you will have a better grip on packaging sustainability, your packaging cost, your consumer communication platform and your benefit levers, plus the associated compliance strategies for ongoing monitoring and tracking. 

If you have the available resources and focus, this journey takes anywhere between six months and one year depending upon your number of SKUs. Here at 4C, a typical packaging assignment is between three to six months with a focus on speed of delivery by leveraging our industry and consulting expertise. 

Final thoughts

David Bateman from Mintec highlights “the cost of packaging prices has risen considerably in April, up 5.4% month-on-month. From a procurement strategy perspective, these rising prices are challenging – however integrating and prioritising sustainability goals amongst rising costs in your overall procurement strategy is essential.”  

Therefore, please consider reviewing your own waste and recycling habits as we need general acceptance and commitment to reducing the impact of packaging on our planet. If you are a food or beverage manufacturer then you have an obligation towards your customers to find the most appropriate and sustainable packaging types and sources of supply. If you work in the retail environment, it is on you to educate your consumers by putting a communications platform in place that incentivises them to change their individual approach to your brand’s packaging waste.  

Our team at 4C Associates combines extensive knowledge and experience with the latest process and technology innovations to provide our clients with transformative solutions and sustainable commercial outcomes. To find out more about how we can help you to transform your procurement, contact Mark Boswell, Director at 4C Associates at mark.boswell@4cassociates.com to arrange a complimentary consultation. 



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