Retailers

Sustainable Packaging By the Numbers

Industry research highlights the importance of planet-friendly options to grocers, CPGs and, of course, consumers
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Despite COVID-19 disruptions and a shifting landscape, industry research shows that planet-friendly packaging continues to be a key focus for grocery retailers and consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies. It’s also a high priority for consumers.

For its 2021 Global Buying Green Report, Chicago-based Trivium Packaging surveyed more than 15,000 consumers across Europe, North America and South America and found that a majority of consumers consider themselves to be “environmentally aware.” Additionally, more than two-thirds said they did not deprioritize sustainable packaging due to the pandemic, while 70% said it’s important for the products they buy to include recyclable packaging, and 64% would like packaging to contain recycled content.

Not only do consumers want sustainable packaging, they don’t mind paying a premium for it. A large majority (70%) of survey participants expressed a willingness to pay higher prices for sustainable packaging, with willingness increasing to 83% for younger consumers. Breaking it down by age, the survey found that nearly 60% of consumers ages 18 to 24 are willing to pay up to 10% more for sustainably packaged products, while only 47% of consumers ages 55 to 64 and 44% of those older than 65 are willing to do the same. 

As demand increases, grocery retailers are ramping up their sustainability efforts. The Food Retailing Industry Speaks 2021 survey from FMI–The Food Industry Association confirms that being a good corporate citizen has become an important part of many food retailers’ business practices. The report highlights an emphasis on social responsibility—including cutting back on packaging waste—as a top takeaway.

Among food retailers surveyed, 41% have quantified goals and implementation time frames in place for package waste reduction, while another 34% are working on them.

Though responding to consumer demand for social responsibility can be costly, more than a third of survey participants (37%) said they are more likely to see positive impacts on their businesses than negative impacts due to such efforts. Almost 70% of retailers said they use social and environmental policy as a differentiation strategy.

Sustainability is also a key concern for CPGs. According to a 2021 PMMI survey, which asked CPGs to rank their top three operational priorities, sustainable packaging came in at No. 10—even before innovation and quality.

Likewise, CPG leaders surveyed for Consumer Brands Association’s Industry View 2020 report ranked concerns over plastic and packaging among the factors most likely to impact their businesses that year.

To address such concerns, many of the leading CPGs have made ambitious commitments regarding sustainable packaging. For example, Unilever has pledged to make all its plastic packaging fully recyclable, compostable or biodegradable by 2025, and Procter & Gamble (P&G) promised to cut virgin plastic from its packaging 50% by 2030.

“There's simply not enough recycled plastic available to meet the commitments that have been made by not only just P&G, but our peers and industry.”

Supply Chain Issues Impact CPG Pledges

As CPGs work to meet their packaging sustainability goals, ongoing global supply chain issues present challenges.

"There's simply not enough recycled plastic available to meet the commitments that have been made by not only just P&G, but our peers and industry," P&G VP of Global Sustainability Jack McAneny told attendees at the Reuters NEXT conference in December.

To help combat the issue, P&G is developing new technology to more easily recycle polypropylene and other materials. The company is also working with suppliers to boost the output of recycled plastic.

For some packaging manufacturers, supply chain disruptions are slowing down the order fulfillment process.

“Many packaging customers had gotten used to just-in-time delivery,” Rachel Kenyon, SVP for Itasca, Ill.-based Fibre Box Association, told WGB, “but supply chain issues have forced longer lead times.”

In some instances, this has created a need for greater inventory at the customer location or at the packaging provider’s facility to ensure that packaging is available when and where customers need it.

Click here to return to the 2022 Sustainable Packaging Report

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