Sustainable packaging solutions for the catering and food trade: this was the title of an online event organized by EHI Retail Institute e. V..
The research and training institute for the retail industry with more than 800 members had asked representatives from companies as well as an expert from the German Federal Environmental Agency to report in a practical manner on the new packaging requirements and their implementation in retail. Sonia Grimmiger from the Federal Environment Agency began by explaining the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive and the planned amendment to the German Packaging Act to the participants. There is no way around the reduction of single-use plastic products, everyone agreed. But what alternatives are there, and which ones are consumers ultimately willing to accept and at what price?
Sushi freshly prepared in the supermarket: Eat Happy has grown in Europe with its store-in-store Asian food stores and on-the-go sushi packs. Frederik Becker, Senior Product Manager & Packaging Specialist at Eat Happy, explained that the company with more than 3,500 employees is constantly developing products and packaging. Becker showed the way to more sustainability with some figures: since April 2021, the packaging has been made of 100 percent rPET. By 2025, the company wants to operate in a climate-neutral manner, which also includes reducing animal products. Already, vegan alternatives for sushi fish are increasingly available. However, Becker also shared questions and thoughts from the company. How much effort is the consumer willing to accept for reusable packaging? “Do we really bring our used containers into the deposit cycle, and do we accept retail containers that are not new in the grocery store?” he said. What raw material should be used according to customer perception and is it really sustainable?” asked Becker. And a point that plays a special role in the fresh produce sector that he added: Is the customer willing to take a sushi carton off the shelf that has no viewing window? If you were to do away with foil altogether, the customers would not be able to convince themselves of the freshness of the product, he clarified.
“We have the coffee machine at home for 1,200 euros but buy the coffee on the way to the office. We eat salad from the counter at Rewe for lunch, and in the evening, we order dinner via Lieferando.” Axel Gelhot, Head of Marketing Commercial Central Europe at Duni GmbH, deliberately presented an exaggerated picture to start his presentation. Convenience accounted for the growth of the catering industry, he clarified. Despite everything, he has been noticing a sensitization of consumers when it comes to sustainability. Consumer surveys confirm this: “The guilty conscience eats along.” More than 75 percent of guests and customers wanted sustainable packaging, Gelhot said. And this is possible, he added. “There are a variety of alternatives even beyond the bans.” Retailers and restaurants therefore want to offer sustainable materials, recyclable packaging, mandatory deposits, and reusable packaging. Plastic cutlery for on-the-go consumption, for example, was being replaced by wooden cutlery, he said. The market offered several alternatives for plastic made from renewable raw materials and compostable materials, he said. Duni’s expert also said that transparent packaging continued to have its place. “The customer wants to see the quality of the product.”