The nude food trend is proving popular with consumers, but how will it affect branding abilities for manufacturers and suppliers, and what sustainable alternatives are out there?

According to the Ministry of the Environment, New Zealanders send around 2.5 million tonnes of waste to landfill every year. About 252,000 tonnes of this is plastic waste. With the recent trend towards sustainability that has led to the ousting of plastic bags across the country, it is likely that food packaging will be next on the chopping block.

Foodstuffs Antoinette Laird, Head of External Relations said the removal of plastic bags was just the tip of the iceberg. “The build-up of plastic in the environment is now the top issue New Zealanders are concerned about the most, according to the 2019 Better Futures Report from Colmar-Brunton.”

A recent survey published by Evergreen Packaging found that 68 percent of shoppers believed that it was extremely or very important to purchase foods and beverages that were packaged responsibly while a similar study from the Natural Marketing Institute revealed that 71 percent of customers thought that products were over-packaged.

A poll conducted by the Plant Based Products Council also supports the trend towards the popularity of sustainable packaging. The poll discovered that 48 percent of millennials said that they felt guilty when they used plastic, while 64 percent said they were open to using plastic alternatives and 60 percent of those surveys said that they were surprised by the lack of plastic alternatives.

Major players are starting to take notice of the need for plastic packaging alternatives. Nestle has announced that it will be continually working on changing its packaging to sustainable options. As part of its global sustainability commitment, Kellogg’s is working towards the goal of having reusable, recyclable and compostable packaging by 2025. And it's not just Kellogg’s and Nestle; PepsiCo has committed to an array of sustainable initiatives, notably PepsiCo India announced that it was pilot testing compostable plant-based packaging for its Lays and Kurkure brands.

“Brands and marketers need to begin thinking of packaging as an extension of the ingredients list, to recognize that grocery shoppers are looking at the total package,” said DeWitt Clark, vice-president of sales and marketing, Evergreen Packaging.

So, what sustainable options exist?

Produce has been a focus for eco-conscious consumers for some time, with some supermarkets coming on board to drop plastic packaging. Laser branding is becoming popular overseas for organic produce. The high definition laser removes part of the pigment from the outer layer of peel to leave a permanent mark.

An array of New Zealand companies is stepping up too, offering sustainable packaging solutions. Stone Paper Packaging has created a more sustainable alternative to one of the most used household items throughout the world—paper. Stone Paper is made from 80 percent crushed stone that has been retrieved from quarry waste and industry offcuts. Stone Paper is photodegradable, 100 percent recyclable, commercially compostable, uses zero water in production, contains no acidity or toxins, is waste-free, waterproof, and 100 percent tree-free.

NZ brand Compostic recently launched the first consumer-based compostable wrap.  “We're able to provide consumers with something they are used to using on a daily basis but without the guilt factor of using a single-use plastic product,” explained founder John Reed. Unlike other plastic wraps, Compostic wrap is capable of breaking down in an at-home compost.

Grounded has a variety of compostable packaging solutions for everything from meat and grains to confectionery and frozen foods. While last year saw Turner and Growers adopt cardboard packaging for its Little Angel tomatoes. And some companies such as Innocent Packaging and Ecoware manufacture biodegradable, compostable or recyclable packaging and utensils for consumers.

While eco-packaging is on a role, there are some challenges involved in creating a sustainable society.

Countdown’s Kiri Hannifin, General Manager, Corporate Affairs, Safety and Sustainability commented on the challenges involved with adopting a sustainable packaging approach. “We don’t just want to provide customers with a slightly better alternative; we want to provide them with viable, long-term solutions. This work will take some time to get right because we have to make sure any alternatives meet a range of requirements including things like ensuring food safety, maintaining freshness, and an ability to withstand transportation both into and out of our stores. We also have to make sure these alternatives meet the needs of our customers and team in that they are easy to use and to process at the checkout.”