Vegan foods are becoming increasingly popular. Corresponding products are labeled as vegan, but so far the packaging excludes this.
In 2021, companies in Germany produced 97,900 tons of meat substitutes, and compared to 2019, production grew by 62.2 percent. The value of these products in 2021 was 458.2 million euros. This is not much compared to the value of meat and meat products produced in Germany in the same year, which amounted to 35.6 billion euros. Nevertheless, vegan products are in vogue, as shown by the example of Rügenwalder Mühle: In 2021, the meat and sausage specialist made more sales with vegetarian and vegan products than with sausage and meat for the first time. According to a recent YouGov survey, more than three million adults in Germany have already taken part in Veganuary, the vegan New Year’s challenge in which people try out a purely plant-based diet for a month.
During this time large retail chains offer a variety of promotions and special offers, as well as new products. The latter are often marked with the V-label, an internationally protected brand for vegetarian and vegan products and services.
However, this does not mean that the packaging is also vegan. For this to happen, animal products and corresponding ingredients would have to be dispensed with in the entire manufacturing process. The fact that this is not a matter of course is explained by the specialist wholesaler Igepa using the example of cardboard boxes: Here the surface of the fiber material wood is usually glued – for example, to increase the wet strength or to color the paper slightly. The glue, however, can be an animal product if – as is often the case – gelatine, casein or glutin, i.e. bone glue made from animal waste products, are used in its manufacture.
A Pioneer of vegan packaging
Heinrich Buhl can be described as a pioneer of vegan packaging. As early as 2015, the packaging company produced vegan folding cartons, product cards or blister cards: Vegan products such as natural cosmetics, hairbrushes, tooth gel and vitamin tablets were also to reach the customer in vegan packaging, which is why adhesives that were free of glutin and casein were used here.
“The topic of vegan packaging was a test balloon from us to see if there was a need in the market,” says Managing Director Henning Buhl. Basically, he says, all that is needed for the production of vegan packaging is to query the raw material line for the relevant substances and confirmations.
This is therefore not “witchcraft.” In 2015, however, the market in the non-food segment was not yet interested. Today, Heinrich Buhl only pursues the topic in the case of specific inquiries. “I think the demand is significantly higher in the food, cosmetics and pharmaceutical segments. However, we deliberately do not supply these segments because of the legal requirements.”
Since licensing the first vegan product in 1990, The Vegan Society has issued 65,000 Vegan Trademarks. However, one package was labeled accordingly for the first time in April 2022. The licensee was Smurfit Kappa. The packaging company
has clearly defined the criteria for its vegan packaging. According to this, all products bearing the Vegan Trademark must be manufactured using paper, glue, starch and printing inks that are all sourced from environmentally conscious suppliers and are free of animal products.
Sealed Air is the second company to have packaging certified as vegan: The Cryovac brand Sealappeal range received the designation from the Vegan Society in September 2022, with the corresponding licensing of the Cryovac Darfresh brand vacuum skin packaging to follow.
Developed in 2015, the Sealappeal range contains no animal derivatives and offers PET high barrier films for alternative proteins, according to the company. Frédérique Brement, marketing communications manager Germany at Sealed Air, explains that animal derivatives can be present in polymer additives in packaging. “For this reason, vegan compatibility is embedded in our requirements and is therefore taken into account when selecting our plastic suppliers.”
Sealed Air plans to convert some of its existing formulations, such as tray lidding films, to vegan compatibility, he said. Brement would not specify the extent to which adapting to the demanding vegan criteria would also increase the cost of the packaging, but admitted, “Materials without animal derivatives can be more expensive than standard polymers.