Sustainable packaging: Mixed signals from studies, consumers

Depending on what study you follow, consumers are either more or less interested in sustainable packaging these days.

According to a Datamonitor study, Americans are less worried about sustainable packaging than consumers in other countries around the world.

In fact, the United States is one of the countries least concerned about excessive packaging, and Americans are among the least interested in seeking out products with less packaging. The survey, Sustainable Packaging Trends: Consumer Perspectives and Product Opportunities, draws on the responses of consumers in 15 countries across Europe, Asia Pacific, South America and the United States.

Datamonitor consumer analyst Matthew Adams also suggests that the recession makes consumers buy more efficiently and, as fewer purchases are made, there is potentially less waste.

On the other hand, a report from brand strategy firm Miller Zell indicates that consumers want more green information: It found that 40% of shoppers are left wanting when it comes to green information at the retail level. Overall, retailers earned a poor D-minus grade for the quality of information on green products provided at the store level.

The study also said that members of the Gen Y and Millennial age groups tend to want more information than others. Empty Nesters and Baby Boomers cared less about having green information at the store level. These findings were from Miller Zell’s report, Gone in 2.3 Seconds: Capturing Shoppers with Effective In-Store Triggers.

There’s similar pressure on retailers across the Atlantic, according to the Environmental Data Interactive Exchange, billed as Europe’s biggest environmental site. In Britain, the Local Government Association believes consumers are therefore unable to make fair and informed decisions on which supermarkets are truly green. The LGA, which represents more than 350 local councils throughout England, is demanding supermarkets come clean about the packaging they produce. Of eight supermarkets the LGA contacted, only M&S, Waitrose, and Morrisons revealed details about how much packaging they produce.

In July, Wal-Mart announced its product scorecard that would inform consumers about the environmental impact of the products they buy.

This all suggests that the pressure retailers are feeling from consumers will likely be passed along to consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers.

As sales shrink, package sizes expand

There’s been plenty of recent negative press about manufacturers downsizing their package and portions sizes while keeping product pricing the same. Referred to as “package shrink” or “portion shrink,” the practice is disdained by consumers.

Now package size changes may be swinging the other way-and we have the recession to thank, as brand owners upsize to try to boost sales. That’s according to the Aug. 15 Packaging Strategies (www.packstrat.com) newsletter. For example, in 2008, the Frito-Lay unit of PepsiCo was among the leading CPG companies that responded to a hike in food ingredient prices by reducing package sizes to keep the price point unchanged. Now Frito-Lay has increased the product in its bags for its Doritos, Cheetos, Tostitos, and Fritos snacks by as much as 20%. Other packagers may follow suit to increase revenues eroded by the economy and by cheaper store brands.

‘Enormous opportunities’ in private label

Contrary to popular belief, cash-strapped consumers aren’t the only ones keen on store brands. New research from Information Resources Inc. reveals that more than 78% of both lower- and higher-income consumers believe private label products are typically of excellent quality.

But according to IRI’s “Understanding Emerging Trends and Key Success Factors in Private Label,” shoppers’ positive feelings about store brands haven’t yet translated into the kinds of private label shares seen in Europe, suggesting “enormous opportunities” for future growth. In fact, IRI predicts store brands’ dollar share is expected to move in the second half of 2009 from 17% to 18% percent by year’s end.

IRI says the best opportunities for private label growth remain in commodity-driven categories without a dominant national brand and relatively low innovation. These include cheese, butter, frozen potatoes/onions and hot cereal.

Briefs

Consumers have grown skeptical about claims for organic and natural foods, but are willing to buy them if their prices are similar to national brands, according to a survey from marketing agency Pavone. It also showed that 53% of respondents did not believe that all of the products labeled “all natural” fit their own conception of what “natural” means.

Kellogg Co. dedicated this fall the completed expansion of its W.K. Kellogg Institute for Food and Nutrition Research, the epicenter for Kellogg’s global product development, research and innovation, and an important driver of the company’s ongoing success. It houses a $54 million, 157,000 square foot pilot plant and office space expansion.

The Food and Drug Administration is reviewing dozens of new studies on bisphenol A and expects to rule by Nov. 30 on whether the chemical is safe for use as a liner in food and beverage containers. The timeline was criticized by some environmental activists, who say the government has had more than enough time to consider the chemical’s effects.

The recession is driving consumers away from deli-counter sliced meats and toward prepackaged lunchmeat, according to a survey by the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association. The survey showed that, when consumers do buy freshly sliced deli meats, plastic tubs are gaining in popularity over zipper bags or vacuum bags due to their ease in handling.

Irradiation is an effective means of ensuring the safety of uncooked meat, and regulatory obstacles should be removed, the American Meat Institute said in a recent statement. AMI is urging the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to move forward on a petition that AMI filed four years ago to allow electron-beam irradiation for fresh beef.

Consumer goods companies expressed confidence in the future of the economy when 22,721 visitors turned up Oct. 5-7 for Pack Expo Las Vegas in near-record levels, reports packaging and processing trade association PMMI. “Given the economy this year, we are extremely pleased with the turnout,” says Charles Yuska, president and CEO of PMMI, which produces and sponsors the Pack Expo trade shows.

Snack food manufacturer Shearer’s Foods, Brewster, Ohio, had much to celebrate this fall, including being named as a Cascade Capital Business Growth Award winner for the fourth consecutive year. Other news included Fritz Kohmann named Crain’s Cleveland Business’s CFO of the Year and Brian Newland named VP of national and international sales.

General Mills plans to expand its pizza plant in Wellston, Ohio, at an approximate cost of $70 million. The expansion includes a 28,000-sq.-ft. warehouse and 6,000 square feet of manufacturing space.

A three-student team from Purdue University Calumet won the inaugural PMMI U Student Design Contest conducted at Pack Expo Las Vegas and will share a $4,000 scholarship. Teams provided “customer” specifications for a palletizing solution that was fast and economical; second place and a $2,000 scholarship went to a team from Rutgers.

The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF), a national multiyear effort to help reduce obesity-especially in children-by 2015, is a recently formed coalition consisting of major food and beverage processors, retailers and non-government organizations (NGOs). The HWCF will promote ways to help people achieve a healthy weight through energy balance.