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Lightweighting in the Food and Beverage Supply Chain

Mar 31, 2017

Lightweighting is becoming a popular practice with packaging manufacturers and food vendors. It is generally achieved by reducing either the weight of the packaging material or the amount of material being used. It can lead to considerable savings in terms of shipping costs, lowering food and beverage procurement expenses. It can also reduce a company’s carbon footprint, as less energy is required to ship lighter products, and fewer emissions are produced.

Despite this environmental benefit, however, lightweighting can still end up at odds with sustainability. Lightweight packaging materials are often not recyclable, or at least the cheaper ones aren’t. These products are often multi-compositional and simply end up in a landfill, unlike heavier materials such as glass.

However, with sustainability become a growing concern worldwide, many companies are developing packaging that is both light and recyclable. For example, PepsiCo recently announced its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and use only packaging that is recoverable or recyclable by 2025. The food and beverage giant has partnered with Danimer Scientific to develop biodegradable film resins for its packaging. These resins are also lightweight, making them cheaper and more environmentally friendly to transport.

Stand-up pouches are also seeing sustainable innovation. VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has just announced that it has created lightweight, 100% bio-based stand-up pouches. They are made from renewable raw materials and nanocellulose and have high technical performance. Companies like VTT are demonstrating that one does not need to sacrifice light weight for sustainability, or vice versa.

In terms of beverage procurement, the current focus is on making bottles lighter and reducing cap size. Recycling centers are generally not equipped to deal with beverage caps, so smaller caps mean less waste (and, in a small way, less weight). Brands such as Sobieski are switching from glass bottles to plastic. While these may feel less luxurious, they are considerably lighter and also shatterproof. This results in less waste and expense from broken products.

Aside from sustainability, another challenge in terms of lightweighting is quality and appearance. Lighter materials can be seen as cheap, and may be lacking in durability. If the primary packaging is not strong, it may require greater amounts of secondary packaging to protect it in transit, thereby negating some (or all) of the benefits gained from the lighter materials. It is important to take this into account when developing or ordering products — something that appears to be a great improvement may not actually be one.

It is possible to counteract the issue of lightweight products either looking cheap or being expensive by focusing on the selling point of sustainability. As consumers are becoming more concerned with environmental friendliness, many are willing to overlook underwhelming packaging if they know it is sustainable. Alternatively, it is possible to choose more expensive packaging and charge a premium. A report by Neilson found that 66% of consumers are willing to pay more money for sustainable brands, so it is possible to find an audience for products with premium packaging.

Regardless of which route you take, there are several options for companies looking to take advantage of lightweighting in the food and beverage industry supply chain. And with many manufacturers developing innovating new products, more options are sure to appear in the near future.

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