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#BizTrends2021: Safety vs sustainability - the packaging industry's key conundrum

The Covid-19 pandemic calls for a paradigm shift in how the packaging industry meets consumer's safety concerns while addressing the very real threat of climate change.
Nthabiseng Motsoeneng, Tetra Pak
Nthabiseng Motsoeneng, Tetra Pak

Growing awareness of the effects of climate change has meant that sustainability is a key concern for any industry. This has been overtaken by the debilitating effects of Covid-19 on health, communities and the economy – and with it, a disruption to every aspect of life.

Priorities shifted overnight: individuals were forced to relook – and change – set patterns of behaviour, and “pivot” became a rallying cry for businesses.

Established supply chains were summarily disrupted; quarantines and isolation led to a surge in deliveries, and safe packaging that limits the spread of the virus became a key concern – as did a renewed focus on food safety.

Results from Tetra Pak’s global consumer research, carried out in mid-2020 and recently published in our Tetra Pak Index report 2020 found that food safety is now a major issue for more than two-thirds of respondents, with environmental sustainability still a major, but secondary concern. Coupled with this is a demand for transparency and need for trust.

This has deep implications for the food packaging industry, notably because packaging can, and does, cause problems for the planet. And there is much more to sustainable packaging than merely recycling, using eco-friendly alternatives, or reducing waste.

A holistic environmental approach that reduces the energy intensity, carbon emissions and end of life impact is vital to the preservation of our planet. This is why safe, sustainable food packaging demands a deeper future dive into innovation in operations, processes, materials and services – in short, the entire value chain.

Solving for safety and sustainability

Technological advancements have played a major role in the progress already made in ensuring a robust, progressive food packaging industry. The impact of tech on design, too, cannot be overlooked: convenience, personalisation and aesthetics now play key roles in look, feel and usability of the end product.

Then there’s the role artificial intelligence is assuming in the entire product life cycle, with smart packaging providing full information on the journey and shelf life of the contents of a package.

Burning issues

In 2021, we will no doubt see even greater progress in sustainable packaging. But we cannot do so without also paying closer attention to the burning issue of carbon recycling knowledge – and the effect that consumer demand has on ecological sustainability.

Knowledge is key. In 2021, we need more education campaigns that address the disconnect between packaging and safe food provision.

These should emphasise the critical role that packaging plays in our global food delivery system.

Sponsored school programmes on how individuals, families and communities can contribute to, and benefit from the circular economy will prove equally critical.

The industry itself needs to fast track any and all initiatives towards an end goal of net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and 100% renewable energy by 2030.

This applies to every aspect of business and operations, including all elements of the value chain, such as raw materials, production and distribution, food protection and consumption, recycling and circularity.

South Africa has a robust and competitive packaging industry (valued at 37.3 billion units in 2019) thanks to progressive legislation, policies, a practice of responsible packaging and a well-regulated waste management plan.

Covid-19 has proved that crisis is a catalyst for change – and there has never been a better time to inform, collaborate and generate a wider debate about sustainability and the future role of packaging as we strive to meet the needs of people and planet.

About Nthabiseng Motsoeneng

Nthabiseng Motseoneng is the Marketing Director for Tetra Pak Southern Africa. She has more than 20 years' of experience in sales, merchandising, brands and marketing for some of the country's most respected retail brands. Nthabiseng is leading Tetra Pak Southern Africa's marketing into a new era of sustainability, harnessing purposeful marketing through her transformative portfolio strategy development. She unites Tetra Pak's commitment to food safety, sustainability and people with the needs of food and beverage manufacturers, retailers and consumers.

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