Minimalizing environmental impact remains a hot topic in the beverage industry. As consumer preferences lean toward environmentally friendly products, brand owners and packaging material suppliers must adapt and manufacture beverages that utilize recyclable materials. The sustainability benefits of cartons and aseptic packaging not only reduce environmental impact, but also offer a sense of quality to consumers, experts note.
Flexible packaging represents approximately 19 percent of the total $167 billion U.S. packaging industry, and is the second largest segment behind corrugated paper, according to the Annapolis, Md.-based Flexible Packaging Association (FPA). As global waste [food and beverages, and its packaging] increasingly becomes an issue, flexible packaging innovates to help reduce this problem and extend product shelf life, the FPA says.
According to the 2018 EcoFocus Trend Survey, 68 percent of all grocery shoppers say that a corporate commitment to only using packaging that is made with renewable materials is an extremely or very positive purchase influence, references Erin Reynolds, marketing director at Evergreen Packaging, Memphis, Tenn.
Consumer trends around health and sustainability continue to impact the food and beverage industry, especially as they relate to consumer perceptions of responsibly packaged products, she says. “Named Responsible Packaging Shoppers (RPS), this trend-setting segment of grocery shoppers is purchasing food and beverages they believe are healthy for them, and are packaged in a manner that is good for the environment as well,” she adds.
The Carton Council of North America (CCNA), Denton, Texas, also notes the RPS trend. A survey released earlier this year by the CCNA found that 92 percent of consumers said recycling is important, while 74 percent of respondents believe people should make recycling a priority, says Jason Pelz, vice president of recycling projects for CCNA, and circular economy director for Tetra Pak.
Experts note how the sustainability demand plays a vital role within the packaging materials industry. “The drive for sustainability is certainly impacting the beverage industry and is something that is at the core of our business,” says Gustaf Rabe, vice president of aseptic sales for Tetra Pak U.S. & Canada, Denton, Texas.
“Tetra Pak has a Design for Environment process for all new product development that ensures we are focused on constantly improving the environmental profile of our products,” he continues. “At the same time, we focus on responsible sourcing and recycling, taking into consideration the ethics, labor, social and environmental aspects when purchasing products and services, both for our direct and indirect suppliers.”
Beyond the packaging itself, Tetra Pak is committed to driving sustainability across its operations while simultaneously helping its customers do the same, Rabe says. This can take many forms, including environmental benchmarking services that identify opportunities to decrease water and energy usage, reduce plant waste and otherwise increase the efficiency of our operations, he adds.
Evergreen Packaging also is faithful to its sustainability practices. “Promoting a sustainable source of wood is vital to the future of our company, other companies that utilize forests, and the communities in which we do business,” Reynolds says. “We are committed to promoting responsible forest management practices and helping landowners obtain the resources they need to implement those practices.
“We maintain third-party certifications, which verify responsible forestry practices,” she continues. “To play an active role in certified forestry, we developed the award-winning Evergreen Forest Certification program, which works with small landowners to increase the amount of certified forests, promoting responsible forestry. Our commitment to sustainability provides our customers with supply chain accountability.”
Cartons and aseptic packaging are increasingly becoming popular for beverage-makers. “Over the past year or so, we have seen many products launch in cartons,” Rabe says. “Water brands are choosing cartons because they offer a more sustainable alternative to other types of packaging.”
For example, Glen Falls, N.Y.-based JUST Water’s packaging was created with sustainability in mind. The carton is made from 82 percent renewable resources and 54 percent Forest Stewardship Council-certified, responsibly harvested trees, the company says.
Carton usage also has expanded beyond juices and water as wine and ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktail brands are using the packaging format. Austin, Texas-based BeatBox Beverages LLC offers RTD cocktails in 500-ml single serve Tetra Pak cartons that allow consumers to sip and re-seal, the company says.
Experts agree on the benefits of using cartons in the packaging segment. Cartons are lightweight, compact and made mostly from paper, a renewable material, CCNA’s Pelz says. They are strong, durable and have a great product-to-packaging ratio, he explains. The average item that is sold in a carton is made from 93 percent product and 7 percent packaging, which translates to efficient transportation and low carbon emissions, Pelz adds.
Tetra Pak’s Rabe also highlights the benefits of cartons. “Beverage producers choose aseptic carton packaging to provide their customers with the highest standard of food safety and quality, while delivering packaging that has one of the best environmental profiles available,” he explains. “It’s also a choice that can help position the product and brand. For example, our research shows cartons project an image of natural, high-quality and sustainable products.”
Along with sustainability, increased shelf life also is becoming widely popular within the RPS community. The aseptic packaging process extends the shelf life of products without refrigeration for up to a year, resulting in less food waste, Rabe says.
For manufacturers, aseptic packaging also can save on energy use and transportation costs by enabling ambient distribution, rather than refrigerated shipping, he adds. “Of course [Tetra Pak’s] aseptic cartons also offer a strong environmental profile that resonates with consumers looking for easy ways to make sustainable choices,” he says.
Tetra Pak offers a wide range of sustainably made packages and caps in its portfolio. In the United States, consumers predominately will see Tetra Brik Aseptic, Tetra Prisma Aseptic and Tetra Evero Aseptic, Rabe says. The Tetra Evero carton bottle launched this year for the High Brew Coffee brand. The 1-liter package delivers all the functionality of a traditional bottle but with the environmental benefits of a carton, he adds.
Another trend driving aseptic packaging among consumers is the demand for clean, simple ingredients, Rabe notes. Unlike many other processing and packaging methods, aseptic packaging does not require the use of preservatives or refrigeration to keep beverages safe and efficacious, and this opens up a lot of options for clean-label products, he says.
CCNA’s aforementioned survey also notes the clean-label appeal of using recycled packaging. “Ninety-two percent said brands should take an active role in helping to increase the recycling of packages,” Pelz says. “Cartons present a perfect opportunity for brands, not only because of their strong environmental profile, but they also are becoming more prevalent as the packaging choice for healthy, organic and natural products.”
Rethinking traditional packaging
Experts note the importance of responsible packaging materials. RPS’ represent 59 percent of all grocery shoppers and are a growing part of the population that is thinking about the packaging and the product, Evergreen Packaging’s Reynolds says. This group is 30 percent more likely than traditional grocery shoppers to always or usually think about the environmental impact of packaging before purchasing products, she adds.
Tetra Pak’s Rabe also sees an increased demand for responsible packaging. “We’re seeing increasing demand for carton packaging and we believe there a few things driving that,” he says. “First, consumers are demanding more sustainable products, and cartons are a great choice to help deliver on those demands.
“Second, product formulations are becoming more and more complex, with sensitive and exotic ingredients also becoming increasingly popular,” he continues. “Our aseptic processing and packaging process helps protect these ingredients — and without the need for added preservatives.
“Finally, grocery eCommerce is driving the need to rethink traditional packaging,” Rabe adds. “Lightweight, shelf-stable aseptic and retortable cartons are a great fit in the eCommerce channel and we expect more brands to adopt cartons as they develop their online grocery strategies.”
The FPA also highlights the influence eCommerce is having on the sustainable packaging sector. Lack of sustainable eCommerce packaging is increasingly a concern among consumers, the company said. Flexible packaging has an opportunity to reduce the amount of material used in eCommerce shipping, optimize shipping space on trucks, and design packaging for easy returns, it added.
As more brand owners and consumers understand the sustainable aspects of cartons, the market will see more products being packaged in them, experts say.
“For consumers, a product’s packaging continues to be a key factor in determining whether an item is good for the environment and recyclable,” CCNA’s Pelz says. “Consumers increasingly expect food and beverage brands to be committed to sustainability and recycling. The previously mentioned survey revealed that 92 percent said brands should take an active role in helping to increase the recycling of packages.”
This reinforces that companies will continue looking for more sustainable packaging options, he says. CCNA is very optimistic about the future of cartons and expects consumers to encounter more and more of them on store shelves, he adds.
Evergreen Packaging’s Reynolds notes that RPS’ are here to stay. “In the future, aisles dedicated to responsible packaging and the demands of the RPS segment are likely to be just as familiar,” she cites from a whitepaper titled “Responsible Packaging Shoppers” by Linda Gilbert, study author and chief executive of EcoFocus Worldwide.
“RPS’ are setting recyclable and renewable packaging as the cornerstones for responsible packaging. Packaging that is as clean as the ingredients, and protects taste and nutrients naturally, is in high demand,” Gilbert says. BI