Packaging: The Road to Recovery

by Dan Malovany
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POWER Engineers

In the world of natural and nutritional foods, good things don’t necessarily come in small packages. Rather, green is the theme that continues to catch on, especially for companies like Cookiehead Snacks. The Housatonic, MA-based company’s all-natural cookies, muffins and mini-brownies contain whole grains, sprouted grains, flaxseeds and other healthful ingredients to provide a nutritional bonus to what is otherwise considered an everyday treat. Packaging them in plastic clamshells and other containers made with at least 50% post-consumer recycled materials complemented the natural image nicely, according to Lisa Newmann, president and “Head Cookiehead” of the “grainy brainy snacks” business.

 “We’re trying to do the right thing for the consumer and the environment,” she said. “The package is very well-designed. It’s environmentally friendly. It’s real food. It all wraps together nicely for us.”

To develop the packaging, Cookiehead Snacks, whose parent company is officially Over the Top Food Co., partnered with EasyPak LLC, Leominster, MA, which buys Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-accepted flakes and pellets from post-consumer used polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, then blends materials with virgin resins to produce its Ecopak food-grade bowls made in accordance with FDA guidelines. While EasyPak once could command premium pricing when it was founded in 2004, the cost of packaging made with recycled materials, though still slightly higher than that of conventional packaging, has dropped significantly in recent years.

“What was cutting-edge before has become more mainstream because there are a lot more recyclers and regrinders out there,” noted Marco Barbier, managing director for EasyPak, which rolled out a 64-oz container for the Cookiehead brand in January.

In today’s economy, Ms. Newmann said she wants to position Cookiehead products, which are produced by five different co-packers, as a more healthful option while maintaining a reasonable price point. Although many consumers might appreciate the recycled containers, she noted, they don’t necessarily want to pay extra for the packaging. Depending on the market, Cookiehead cookies retail at $3.99 to $4.99 a dozen in the clamshell. Its sprouted-grain brownies retail between $4.99 and $5.99 for 14 brownies.

“We’re trying to stay away from being a high-priced specialty brand and, instead, package our products so they’re affordable to mainstream consumers for an everyday purchase,” she said.

Best of two worlds

When it comes to natural or wholesome lines, the package often becomes an extension of the product, observed James Taylor, manager, business development, sustainability, Printpack, Atlanta, GA. Marrying natural products with a nature-friendly package makes sense. “It’s hard to imagine a natural, organic or healthy product being put in a traditional package that is no more sustainable than for a conventional product,” he said. “A consumer who is interested in healthy, organic and more sustainable products also recognizes and has a preference for more sustainable packaging and expects it.”

That’s especially true with Eco-Planet, a line of healthful foods designed to help educate children about the world’s fragile ecosystem, according to James Sego, president, Eco-Heaven, Los Angeles, CA. Developed in 2006, Eco-Planet’s 100% certified-organic and kosher cookies and snack crackers are in the shapes of a sun, windmill, hybrid car and globe to represented the environment and various forms of renewable energy. The company touts these snacks as the best in and for the world.

To reinforce its eco-friendly message, the bite-size cookies and crackers come in 1.5- and 6-oz animal cracker-style boxes made from 100% recycled packaging and 75% post-consumer material printed with soy inks, Mr. Sego said. Eco-Heaven also purchases wind credits to offset the energy used to produce the snacks and donates a portion of its profits to various nonprofit environmental organizations.

While 75% post-consumer material can be sourced out West where its snacks are made by a California co-packer, Mr. Sego discovered that wasn’t the case everywhere after the company recently developed a line of gluten-free toaster pastries, which hit retailers’ shelves in January and are contract manufactured in Iowa using proprietary technology. “For some reason, we cannot find any more than 35% post-consumer packaging in the Midwest, although the box is still made from 100% recycled material,” Mr. Sego said.

A more perfect world

Although many challenges still exist, Mr. Taylor explained, sustainable packaging has come a long way over the years, especially when it comes to renewable, recycled content, and biodegradable resins made into flexible packaging. The “first generation” of more sustainable materials — some of which have been around for 100 years — include cellulose-, starch- or corn-based films. The more recent, “next generation” renewable films can be made from a sugar-case based resin and perform more like conventional plastic films, he said.

“They present less of a challenge from a process standpoint and a performance standpoint,” noted Mr. Taylor, who added that the FDA in 2011 selectively issued Letters of No Objection for processors of post-consumer recycled resins that maybe used in food packaging.

To go green with packaging, bakers and snack manufacturers have several options. From a marketing standpoint, compostable packaging claims can be vague or controversial if not done correctly. Companies that make those claims should consider certification from the US Composting Council and the Biodegradable Products Institute, said Anne Bedarf, senior project manager with GreenBlue, a sustainability nonprofit that is launching a new recycling labeling program with its Sustainable Packaging Coalition (see “Nebulous world of recycling”).

Rather, claims should mention the specific amount of renewable resin in the package, the amount of solvent reduced in making the package or how much comes from recycled material. “If it’s a consumer claim on a package saying it’s more sustainable, it should ideally be what the FTC terms as ‘qualified.’ The safest, legal claim is to list what percent of that package is a sustainable material, and what that material is,” Mr. Taylor said.

Simply reducing the amount of structural packaging material, he added, also works well, but bakers and snack manufacturers should keep in mind that creating a more sustainable package begins with design to add more packages per case or to design a shipping case to be retail ready for display.

Last year, the Flexible Packaging Association (FPA) included Pepperidge Farm in the Flexible Packaging Innovation showcase for packaging excellence, environmental and sustainability after the Norwalk, CT-based company eliminated its bag-in-a-box format for its croutons and began using a printed stand-up pouch developed with Printpack. In addition to achieving equal or better shelf presence and maintaining freshness, FPA noted the new format reduced packaging materials, weight, freight and emissions that contributed to the products positive impact on the environment.

Mr. Taylor stressed that the actual package remains but one component in the broader sustainable perspective. “The optimization of getting the most cases on a shipping truck, having fewer trucks on the road and having less weight of materials are others,” he noted. “It’s not only the package, but how that package fits into a larger package and how it all fits into a truck.”

Still, companies need to be cautious in how they develop, design and promote a revamped package. “In some cases, it doesn’t resound well with consumers because they may using less or recycled material as diminishing the value of a package and product,” Mr. Taylor noted.

This story is sponsored by POWER Engineers, which has one of the most comprehensive teams of engineers and specialists serving the baking and snack industry. As an extension of its clients' engineering teams, the company provides program management, integrated solutions and full facility design for the baking and snack industry. Learn more at www.powereng.com/food.

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