Mars and Sainsbury’s look to packaging to reduce consumer food waste

New technologies and improved dialogue with consumers has seen brands and retailers turn to packaging in order to reduce food waste, although companies still need to dispel myths that packaging is "evil".

That was the joint opinion of sustainability experts at Sainsbury’s and Mars, who both agreed that packaging had to walk a thin line between sustainability impact and the health and preservation of the food products that they offer.

As concerns raged on about the influx of plastic that is seeping into waterways and onto beaches, Sainsbury’s head of sustainability Paul Crewe told delegates at the Economist Sustainability Summit on Friday (24 March), that packaging was providing the retailers with new ways to extend the shelf life of its products and help consumers reduce household food waste as a result.

“First of all, I’d like to say that packaging is not evil,” Crewe said. “Quite often these conversations revolve around plastic and the environment but ultimately packaging is there to serve a purpose and it is doing a fantastic job of prolonging the life of our products.

“We’re trying to introduce the best solutions possible that extend the life of the food that we sell with the best quality packaging possible.”

WRAP estimates suggest that more than half of the UK’s total food waste derives from consumers, costing around £470 annually for each household. Crewe revealed that Sainsbury’s customers were showing a heightened demand for food waste solutions, which led to the creation of the retailer’s waste less, save more strategy.

The supermarket chain announced a £1m fund for the second phase of the strategy in November after a successful trial in the Derbyshire town of Swadlincote. The trial has tested new waste-saving ideas and technology, including fridges that warn users when food is beginning to go off, bins that give tips as rubbish is put in them and incentive programmes to encourage recycling.

Crewe claimed that during a “Mexican wave of uptake” in food loss prevention techniques and technologies, it was simpler innovations that were resonating with residents in Swadlincote.

Last year, Sainsbury’s relaunched its Taste the Difference sausages with a new “snap-pack” packaging that allows user to minimise waste. It works by splitting the products into two sets of sausages with a peelable seal, extending the shelf life of the sausages which are rarely cooked in bulk. Crewe also claimed that vacuum sealing certain meats was reducing consumer and retail food waste.

Technology growth

Crewe was joined by Mars’ global sustainability programmes director, Adrian Greet, on the panel, who claimed that the “whole industry is trying to make the right choices on packaging to introduce the best solutions”. In order to find these solutions, Greet suggested that “science is the right way forward”.

Mars, along with Rodenburg Biopolymers and Taghleef Industries debuted a bio-based wrapping for its chocolate bars in 2015. The wrappers are made of vegetable by-products from the potato-processing industry and are designed to have a lower carbon footprint than traditional packaging and can also biodegrade.

Greet claimed that these types of innovations allow brands and retailers to improve product safety, reduce environmental impacts and could eventually be used to extend the shelf life of food and helping consumers reduce waste.

More broadly, the panel discussed the role of the private sector in educating consumers on how to waste less food. While campaigns, such as those from Sainsbury’s, are helping in this regard the World Resources Institute’s (WRI) global director of the business centre Kevin Moss claimed that developing countries could soon have the disposal income to mirror consumption and waste trends in the UK and other developed nations. Moss noted that these educational campaigns may need to be pushed beyond boarders.

“The challenge for developing economies is that they’re trying to be like the Northern Hemisphere in purchasing more items,” Moss said. “The UK is leading the way in trying to influence its consumers with new behaviours. I see leadership from the food sector, but particularly the food sector in the UK.”

Matt Mace

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie