When it comes to sustainability, consumers increasingly are taking brand owners sustainable practices into account when making purchase decisions. According to an international study released in January by London-based Unilever, 33 percent of consumers opt to buy brands that they think are administering socially and environmentally friendly practices. The study, which surveyed 20,000 adults from five countries, highlighted how sustainability concerns impact purchase decisions, the company said at the time of the release.

Although sustainability has global appeal, the ways in which consumers view sustainability can vary. Among the ways consumers assess sustainability is through the packaging that brand owners utilize. According to packaging material suppliers, sustainable benefits from packaging allow brand owners to showcase their environmentally friendly ethos.

“Consumers are increasingly looking to support brands that use sustainable practices,” says Erin Reynolds, marketing director for Evergreen Packaging, Memphis, Tenn. “This trend extends far beyond the beverage industry, into many sectors of consumer packaged goods. It’s impacted the beverage industry by leading to increased demand for renewable packaging, packaging that keeps beverages fresh without preservatives and packaging that is as clean as the ingredients.”

Yasmin Siddiqi, marketing manager for North America at Philadelphia-based SIG Combibloc, highlights that aseptic carton packaging also can help to broaden the sustainable characteristics of a brand.

“Sustainability continues to be a big trend both from an environmental aspect as well as from a food waste standpoint,” she explains. “[It] is becoming a bigger and bigger issue, and with aseptic packaging, you can eliminate product waste because of the shelf life.”

Through its Signature Pack, SIG was able to develop a renewable and more sustainable packaging option with materials that are derived from plant-based sources, Siddiqi notes.

The Signature Pack drives the replacement of traditional plastics made from fossil fuels with certified and sustainable plant-based polymer materials, the company says. The polymers used for laminating the paperboard and for making the spout originate from renewable European wood sources and are certified according to the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC PLUS) or CMS 71 (TÜV SÜD certification standard), respectively, via a mass balance system, it adds. This means that for the polymers used in the Signature Pack, an equivalent amount of bio-based feedstock went into the manufacturing of the polymers, according to the company.

Evergreen Packaging’s Reynolds notes that as more consumers associate personal health with environmental health, it is likely that the desire for sustainable packaging sources will proliferate in the marketplace.

“Demand for sustainable, renewable packaging will grow as consumers continue to associate personal and planetary health,” she says. “The majority of grocery shoppers — 76 percent — agree that better personal health is a big benefit of eco-friendly lifestyles.

“According to the 2017 EcoFocus Trend study, 65 percent of grocery shoppers say it’s important to choose beverages that are packaged responsibly, up from 59 percent in 2013,” Reynolds continues. “Shoppers are also concerned about packaging’s impact on their individual health, with 53 percent saying that a beverage package’s impact on health is a purchase influencer, according to the 2017 EcoFocus study. Paper cartons are perceived to have a more positive impact on health than most other major types of packaging.”

To fulfill consumers’ and beverage-makers’ desires for sustainable packaging, Evergreen released fully renewable cartons.

“These cartons, part of our RenewablePlus line, are made with renewable resources: fiber from trees grown in forests where responsible management practices are used and a renewable bioresin coating from sugarcane feedstock,” Reynolds says. “Available in all grades and sizes, RenewablePlus cartons are recyclable and offer all the freshness protection and operational efficiencies associated with FreshHouse cartons.”


Safe and secure

Although aseptic carton packaging offers sustainable benefits, packaging material suppliers also note how the processing and packaging method can extend shelf-life without the use of preservatives while also offering peace of mind to consumers and brand owners in regards to its safety and efficacy.

SIG’s Siddiqi highlights the benefits that emerge when utilizing aseptic carton processing and packaging.

“One of the biggest benefits is the shelf-life, because we use aseptic processing and filling technology you can protect the color, the flavor, the nutritional content and the consistency, and you don’t need preservatives, which could affect a healthy lifestyle,” she says. “One benefit with aseptic packaging is you don’t require refrigeration, so think about when you’re in a store or even at home, you don’t need to pile everything in your refrigerator. You’ve got that convenience where you can put it in your cupboard or shelf.”

The clean-label macro trend also is one with which aseptic carton processing and packaging nicely align, experts note.

“I think [with] the aseptic packaging, the trend is to have clean labels with the minimum of preservatives or artificial ingredients, and because our products are filled in cold aseptic environments with a very small amount of thermal interference, our hold times are in the three to four second range versus the minute range that a normal pasteurized product is,” says James Hurley, chief executive officer of Tru Aseptics LLC, Beloit, Wis. “Because of the aseptic process, our customers don’t have to use artificial ingredients or other artificial products to have extended shelf life. We call it clean label, shelf stable is the trend that we see. The shelf stability, which is the ability for our products to move through the supply chain with products that would typically require refrigeration, low-acid products.

“When they’re aseptically filled, those products can travel through the supply chain without the need for refrigerated storage distribution,” he continues. “That hits the trend of sustainability [and] environmental consciousness, so it’s really kind of an emergence of what we call the new normal in what we see in consumer behavior, which is more accountability through the supply chain of being environmentally friendly as well as delivering products that have a clean label but the minimum of artificial ingredients.”

Hurley adds that because of regulations and oversight, brand owners can be assured that aseptic processing and packaging stands up on the consumer end.

“The aseptic industry has probably the most stringent regulatory requirements of any food processor, because of the requirement to achieve sterility in the product in the package and in the filling environment,” he explains. “All three of those can be met to be sure that the product is commercially sterile when it’s packaged, so those requirements put us at what we consider the apex of the food regulation pyramid.

“We’re among the most regulated places in the food industry, so we have to make sure that we have the right people, training and food safety,” Hurley continues.

Peter Fox, vice president of sales for Somic America Inc., also highlights the efficacy benefits of aseptic processing and packaging. “There are advantages with the aseptic process to develop product that does not require hot fill or other processes that may degrade the flavor or the nutritional performance of specialty beverages,” he says.

Evergreen Packaging’s Reynolds notes that cartons prevent ultraviolet (UV) light from impacting the product, which expands the efficacy of the ingredients.

“In addition to providing consumers peace of mind about the packaging’s sustainable qualities, cartons also help block light, ultimately helping to protect freshness, vitamins and nutrients,” she says. “Based on a recent study by Virginia Tech, the fluorescent and LED lighting used by stores to showcase milk and other beverages can compromise flavor as well as many health-fortifying nutrients in as little as four hours.

“A few of the vitamins and nutrients that are vulnerable to the UV light produced by fluorescent bulbs include vitamin A, vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and folic acid,” Reynolds continues. “By protecting taste and nutrients in the beverage, cartons help brands deliver high-quality products without the introduction of additives.”


Center stage

In addition to sustainability and efficacy attributes, packaging material suppliers highlight how aseptic packaging allows brand owners to present a unique experience.

“Consumers are more and more discerning and they look at the package of the product,” SIG’s Siddiqi says. “That’s [a brand’s] first moment of truth so they use packaging, any kind of packaging, as a vehicle to communicate to the consumer. I think when you’re seeing new types of packaging, it’s about entering new markets in a modern way. So, you’re using packaging to communicate to consumers [and] ... if you can do [a] different shape or design, you can really show the modern sleek look, which is great for alternative products that are entering the market.”

Through the company’s carbon bottle, SIG is helping Steuben Foods and its newest dairy-alternative line, Elmhurst, to stand out from competitors at retail. The package looks and handles like a bottle while maintaining the environmental and logistical benefits of a carton pack, the company explains.

SIG also is examining the success of its digital solutions in Brazil and is considering incorporating them in the United States and Canada, Siddiqi notes.

The company introduced a digital solution that guarantees complete control of the production process and allows for the creation of targeted digital marketing that focuses on the end consumer, it says.

“Our new digital solutions portfolio shows the alignment of SIG with three megatrends: Connectivity — consumers are increasingly aware and want to receive information anywhere, any time; authenticity and trust — through total transparency of quality information, food safety and procedures to prevent fraud; and finally natural products with certificate of origin and free of chemicals, genetically modified crops, among others,” said Ricardo Rodriguez, chief executive officer of SIG Combibloc Americas, in a statement in August.

Brand owners also can utilize different packaging sizes to market their products while appealing to today’s modern household makeup.

“According to the U.S. Census Bureau, today more than half of American households are made up of just one or two people,” Evergreen’s Reynolds says. “At the same time, consumers are keeping a greater variety of beverages in their refrigerators. Evergreen Packaging responded to these trends with the development of SmartPak cartons, offering an expanded variety of carton sizing options. Part of their FreshHouse carton line, Evergreen Packaging SmartPak cartons include 40-ounce, 48-ounce and 52-ounce sizing options.

“For brands and retailers, SmartPak cartons offer on-shelf efficiencies and promotional opportunities,” she continues. “For consumers, the cartons provide good pouring control, and their slender cross-section fits easily in hands of all sizes and ages.” BI