Shhhh! Sustainable snack packaging is a covert operation. But why?

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

Snack makers are working on sustainable packaging, but it's "probably covert, rather than overt", says the European Snack Association
Snack makers are working on sustainable packaging, but it's "probably covert, rather than overt", says the European Snack Association

Related tags Snack makers Sustainable snack packaging Sustainability Environment Material

Snack packs shimmer with color; screaming temptation and fun but you’d need to look a little closer to find out if the material is recyclable or made from renewable compounds.

“It’s almost like trying to sell savory snack products as healthy – that’s not what consumers are looking for,”​ said Steve Chandler, secretary general for the European Snacks Association (ESA) and director general for the Snack, Nut and Crisp Manufacturers Association (SNACMA).

“Consumer interest in the environment is growing but it’s not the prime reason why consumers eat snacks,”​ Chandler told BakeryandSnacks.com.

Efforts from industry on sustainable packaging such as the use of renewable materials and downsizing are therefore “probably covert, rather than overt”​, he said.

“Snack makers certainly wouldn’t be leading marketing with environmental claims… Ultimately we are providing treats and a bit of fun for consumers, that’s where it all starts and that’s the main driver.”

What is sustainability? And how do you measure it?
What is sustainability? And how do you measure it?

Impossible to measure up…

Even when snack makers do communicate efforts, Chandler said the message can easily get lost.

“There are lots and lots of sustainable and environmental symbols out there – but what do they mean?”​ he said, noting that there are numerous ways of measuring efforts as well as hundreds of ways to process a product.

“It’s difficult to see the wood for the trees. We need some well-defined processes in place… If you look at measuring the lifecycle of a product and processing, it’s incredibly complex. Until we get to the stage where we have a well-defined methodology, it’s meaningless for consumers because it’s difficult to do direct comparison on products.”

“…Currently, lifecycle analysis is a whole can of worms. It’s still an art rather than a science. With a methodology comes the ability to measure what you are doing,”​ he said.

Dick Searle, CEO of UK trade association, The Packaging Federation, agreed: “There’s no such thing as ‘sustainable packaging’ – it’s a nonsense term… There’s no one material that has a monopoly of virtues over another.”

“Sustainability is defined by social, economic and environmental efforts, and often the only thing focused on is the environment,”​ he added.

Snack makers are looking more critically at packaging
Snack makers are looking more critically at packaging

A critical look…

Despite this, Chandler said the snack industry is, of course, committed to sustainability efforts in primary and secondary packaging.

“I think manufacturers, and retailers who make private label snacks, increasingly take a much more detailed look at packaging. They take a much more critical look to ensure it’s not over-packaged but fit for purpose,”​ he said.

On the whole, efforts are invested in downsizing packs and materials and lightening loads, Chandler said. “Those are the most immediate things you look at… It’s also about the quality of those raw materials used in the packaging.”

Machinery has progressed allowing snack makers to work with bag sizes and lighter product weight, he said, and this works to economize business because less material and product is used.

In terms of cutting back on secondary packaging, some manufactures have packaging ready for the shelf – to merchandize the product in directly – or multi-trip cases.

Snack makers, of course, can't forget consumers
Snack makers, of course, can't forget consumers

The consumer is king…

A lot of the time, things move because of what consumers and retailers want – they tend to drive the agenda, Chandler said.

For retailers the environment is a competitive issue, he said, and their ambition is to source sustainable products to feature in store which in turn impacts manufacturers. [Special Edition coverage on what retailers think HERE]

“However, at the end of the day, you can’t forget the consumer. The way you decorate and present packs is important. Ultimately the consumer is king, so packaging needs to meet their wants and needs.”

“Practically, the packaging has to work but it has to also be attractive to consumers,”​ he said.

More from this 'going green' special edition:

Sustainable snack pack materials: What's out there?

Far from rubbish? Food waste R&D simmers with snack packaging hope

Do consumers care about sustainable snack packaging?

Sexy, cheap and eco-friendly: What retailers snack on

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