Pleasure for the Good Conscience

The Leipzig-based startup Nucao wants to be a pioneer for vegan and sustainable chocolate products and now relies on primary packaging made of paper by Koehler Paper. In an interview, Mathias Tholey, CEO and one of the founders of Nucao, and Mathias Schwarz, packaging engineer at Nucao, report that they want to convert all packaging before the end of this year (2023).

Mr. Tholey, why do you want to turn the chocolate market around?

Tholey: As a food startup, we want to take a holistic approach to stop climate change. It’s common knowledge that the meat industry consumes a lot of CO2. But few know the enormous damage done by cocoa farming. We produce vegan chocolate, make a conscious decision not to use milk powder in order to save CO2, and source a growing proportion of cocoa from agroforestry systems. Even the sugar in our products does not come from sugar cane plantations overseas, but from domestic sugar beets. This is the more expensive but more environmentally friendly alternative. When it comes to packaging, we have been using sustainable materials since 2016 and are still pioneers in this area. We started with home-compostable film and are now introducing the recyclable paper bag. We want to turn the chocolate market around – but not with a raised pointing finger, but with fun and optimism. While we stand for the same cause as almost all climate activists, we believe that hope and departure are the more constructive approaches compared to doomsday hymns. We want consumers to enjoy our nucao chocolates with the best conscience for themselves and the planet. Our colorful packaging should make that clear.

Paper packaging is not new. Consumer goods giant Nestlé, for example, has successfully launched Smarties in paper and is currently testing Kitkat in paper packaging in Australia. Why do you think you are more sustainable than other producers?

Schwarz: Nestlé has changed the secondary packaging for Smarties. We are now the first chocolate manufacturer to offer primary packaging with a barrier function. That’s the difference. What Nestlé is now testing with Kitkat in Australia, for example, is in line with our model. That’s a good thing.

Why are only some products going into paper? What about the other products?

Schwarz: We have always considered only sustainable packaging for our products. With the recently launched nut and fruit snacks, we immediately switched to paper packaging. Our bars are currently still packaged in home-compostable cellulose film, as are our bars.

But not everyone has a compost pile at home. This packaging doesn’t belong in the organic waste garbage can.

Schwarz: That’s right. That’s why we now want to go one step further and convert all our packaging to paper this year. That won’t happen overnight, because it will require machine and sensor tests, among other things. However, the paper recycling stream is one of the most sustainable available. One paper fiber can be used up to 25 times, according to the packaging manufacturer.

Tholey: But back to our home-compostable film. When it ends up in the garbage can, it is not harmful when incinerated. But disposal through the paper garbage can is definitely easier for customers, which is why we want to switch to paper packaging. The paper recycling streams also work very well across Europe.

The most sustainable product is of little use if people end up throwing it carelessly into the environment. What do you say to the idea of introducing deposit systems for simple packaging?

Schwarz: If deposit systems are well established and used uniformly by as many bottlers as possible (example: Euro bottle, NRW bottle), their use can definitely be seen as positive. After all, filling, cleaning, transport, and logistics also play a major role in reusable packaging and leave an ecological footprint. However, I can’t imagine reusable packaging for chocolate bars.

by Anna Ntemiris