Sustainable packaging solutions have been at the top of corporate and social responsibility agendas in the drinks industry for many years. Whether relating to recyclable materials, responsible sourcing, water use, or weight, brands are continually exploring new ways to enhance the green credentials of their bottles, boxes and cans – or, indeed, the liquid itself.
IWSR research shows that environmental concerns are having an increasing influence on consumer purchasing decisions. As such, the motive for distillers, winemakers and brewers to adopt sustainable packaging innovations has become more than ethical – it’s in their commercial interests, too. “All consumer goods companies today know that the impact of their packaging on the environment is very visible to their consumers, and that in order to protect and grow their business in the future, having a sustainable packaging strategy is essential,” says Emily Neill, COO, research and operations at IWSR.
The paper bottle is one packaging innovation that has been garnering significant attention in recent months.
In October last year, Danish beer giant Carlsberg revealed two prototypes for what it claimed was the world’s first paper bottle for beer. Made using sustainably-sourced wood fibre, the prototypes feature an inner barrier made from a thin film of plastic which still has green credentials – the barrier for one prototype contains recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET), while the barrier for the other contains 100% bio-based Polyethylene furanoate (PEF).
The showcase of Carlsberg’s Green Fibre bottle came nine months after the launch of its ‘Snap Pack’ innovation, which eliminated the needed for plastic rings in multi-pack beers.
Earlier this summer, British sustainable packaging firm Frugalpac unveiled the Frugal Bottle, made from 94% recycled paperboard and plastic food-grade liner designed to hold wine and spirits. The lightweight bottle is said to have a carbon footprint in its production process that is up to six times lower than a glass bottle , and it is said to use up to 77% less plastic than a full-plastic bottle. Italian wine brand Cantina Goccia was the first producer to sell a product in the Frugal Bottle.
It is not surprising to see these innovations drive interest particularly in the beer and wine categories. According to Thorsten Hartmann, director at IWSR, “sustainability is much more of an issue for high-turnover, single-strength products, such as wine, beer and RTDs, than for spirits that may sit opened on a shelf for a good while.”
Spirits brand owners do however, need to also be mindful of their sustainability strategy. Just two weeks after the unveiling of the Frugal Bottle, Diageo revealed what it called the “world’s first 100% plastic-free paper-based spirits bottle”. The bottle is made entirely from sustainably-sourced wood and is “expected to be fully recyclable”, according to Diageo. It will debut with Johnnie Walker Scotch whisky in early 2021, most probably as a special edition. Diageo will also work with a consortium of FMCG leaders such as Unilever and PepsiCo to test the technology across different consumer products.
As IWSR has noted previously, consumer enthusiasm for sustainability is growing, and the impact of the pandemic on individuals’ ‘normal’ use of resources is causing many to re-evaluate their day-to-day choices. Single serve pack formats have proven to be particularly popular during the pandemic since they address hygiene concerns and are also well suited to key occasions such as socially-distanced parties in the park and barbecues. However, this type of packaging is also discarded at a faster rate than multi-use formats, which could be off-putting for environmentally-minded consumers.
This change in consumption channels and occasions will likely drive further interest in sustainable packaging initiatives. “Single-serve implies more packaging used per consumption occasion, and given industry pledges to reduce their environmental impact, any rise in the number of packaging units consumed will need to be managed in a sustainable way,” adds Neill.
But what do drinks brands need to bear in mind when trialling new sustainable packaging innovations?
According to Neill, “usability and functionality are key”, and designers will need to make sure the pack is easy to open and – perhaps with the exception of beer and RTDs – to reseal. The packaging must also portray a high-value image of the product and be easy to dispose of in standard household recycling bins, says Neill.
IWSR’s Hartmann adds that, crucially, “beyond its green credentials packaging must always be suitable for the product contained” taking into account acidity, carbonation and UV protection, aiming to create an “unaltered taste sensation”. The liquid must always be centre-stage. He adds that sustainable packaging innovations should not considerably increase the price of a product, and should offer transparency and verification with regards to environmental claims.
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