Protecting products and the environment

An interview with Anne Roulin, global head of packaging and design, Nestlé

What are some Nestlé packages introduced over the last 18 months or so that you are especially proud of?

There are many. We are especially proud of our lightweight PET bottles for water. Nestlé Waters North America has worked to reduce the amount of PET by 40% over the past 15 years. In the USA, we have optimized the packaging for hot cocoa. We have reduced our new hot cocoa carton by 6% in depth, which allowed for a 14% reduction in case length. This packaging change has a substantial impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as well as in saving trees. In Hungary, we received two special awards from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development for our Christmas Kit Kat tree and Smarties Advent calendar in 2009.

In terms of packaging, what are Nestlé’s priorities?

Firstly, product protection is extremely important, and here it is critical to ensure that the barrier properties are appropriate.

Secondly, our policy is to reduce the environmental impact of our packaging. We have been systematically reducing the weight of our packaging and since 1991 have saved over 444 million kilograms [976.8 million pounds]. That said, there are limitations in how far you can go.  Beyond a certain point such an approach will create adverse effects in terms of product spoilage and losses which far outweigh savings achieved on packaging.

We also promote recovery and recycling, using recycled materials where we can and where the safety and quality of our products are not impaired. We choose materials with an inherently lower impact on the environment (such as materials from sustainably managed renewable resources). In considering the impact of packaging on the environment, it is important not to just take one indicator (e.g. carbon footprint) but to include other parameters like water usage, non-renewable energy usage, solid waste, etc.

Consumers are said to be eating at home more often for economic reasons. Do you feel this gives a company like Nestlé an opportunity, and if so, how can packaging contribute?

A: The trend of eating at home, which is more relevant in times of economic hardship, provides additional impetus for new packaging developments, especially for improving the convenience and product experience. E.g., for our Lean Cuisine range we have developed a new proprietary microwave tray that generates grill marks, and results in a panini sandwich that is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

What are your thoughts on sustainability as an enduring trend, and how what are Nestlé’s strategies along these lines going forward?

We consider that sustainability is an enduring trend. Our strategy is to systematically use Eco design.  To this end we have developed and implemented systems including the PIQET tool, which helps us to develop the best packaging solution. The PIQET tool allows you to compare different scenarios for the impact on the environment (e.g., impact on CO2 footprint, water use, land use, air pollution, energy use, solid waste). We generate spider plots to make comparisons between different material, so that we can see what the different trade-offs are. 

It is important to realize that there is no intrinsically “good” or “bad” material. You have to have the right material for the right application. F&BP