Agri-Mark, Inc./Cabot Creamery Cooperative announced today that it will transition to a 30% post-consumer recycled (PCR) packaging for its flagship 8-ounce cheese bars later this year. This decision follows the completion of a comprehensive sustainable packaging study initiated in 2022 and will result in reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and fuel requirements by up to 25%, alongside significant water savings during manufacturing of their 8-oz cheese bar line. Study findings will be made available industry-wide with hopes of broadening the positive impact of the grant research.

“This is a pivotal moment in our journey to become a greener company, introducing one of the first cheeses in a post-consumer-recycled package,” said CEO David Lynn. “As the first dairy cooperative to achieve B-Corp status, we have a long-held commitment to sustainable practices, and this shift to PCR packaging in our 8-ounce bar line represents a major milestone in that commitment.”

The sustainable packaging study began in late 2022 after Cabot received a $323,875 grant from the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center (NE-DBIC). “We saw this as a real opportunity within the food industry to be a leader,” said Jed Davis, VP of Strategic Engagement & Sustainability. “We want our award-winning dairy products, including our eight-ounce bars of cheese, to be packaged safely and sustainably.”

“NE-DBIC is committed to the growth and modernization of our region's dairy sector, investing in research and development projects that have the potential to propel innovation at all scales. Through rigorous trials and their commitment to commercializing alternatives to virgin plastic, Cabot has demonstrated what is possible for the dairy industry to innovate in meaningful ways,” said Kathryn Donovan, Regional Programs Manager, NE-DBIC. “Through this project, Cabot has developed pathways for other dairy processors to follow suit, allowing the industry new opportunities to reduce their environmental impact while responding to consumer values.” 

“We can’t overstate the importance of the NEDBIC grant funds,” added Sarah Healy, Sr. VP, Marketing. “This project would not have been possible without the financial support, enabling our small dairy farmer-owned cooperative to lead the charge in sustainable packaging.”

Cabot partnered with TC Transcontinental Packaging, a leader in flexible packaging manufacturing, to conduct a shelf-life and feasibility study that focused on two popular cheeses: extra sharp cheddar and pepper jack. They completed line trials using three innovative packaging options: a 30% PCR content package, a compostable structure suitable for industrial composters, and a fully recyclable flexible film. 

The trials included rigorous testing stages to ensure packaging performance, including assessing integrity during transport, potential leakers, texture, flavor, and color differences. “We set up several stages to see if the films behave as expected, from shipping on tractor trailers to checking for any off-flavors or changes in texture,” said Maegan Olsen, QA Manager. 

Cabot simultaneously conducted consumer studies to gauge perspectives on alternative packaging and ensure consistent cheese quality, flavor, appearance, and nutrition. These studies have been crucial for determining the long-term viability of each film type.

“I was pleasantly surprised to find solutions that were readily available, that did not compromise throughput or quality, and required minimal operational adjustment,” said Jason Martin, Sr. VP, Operations. Specifically, the PCR package performed seamlessly on the production line, and the grant team confirmed that it maintained Cabot’s high standards for cheese quality, shelf-life, and sensory experience. 

Armed with the study results, Cabot’s leadership team decided to make the transition to the PCR film for their eight-ounce dairy bars. The shift will be gradual as the cooperative works through existing packaging supplies. Consumers can expect to see the new packaging in stores by the end of this year. 

“Sustainability continues to be important to our consumers and our cooperative. We have the opportunity to do something special, and that's to be among the first cheese brands to incorporate PCR into their packaging,” noted Sarah Healy, SVP, Marketing.

“The success of this project generates momentum and opens the door for future projects,” said Jessica Riley, Sourcing Analyst. “With our eight-ounce bars in a more sustainable package, we can turn our attention to finding additional ways to reduce the use of virgin plastics across the dairy supply chain.” 

For more information about Cabot’s findings, visit Cabot Creamery Sustainable Packaging.