Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Sainsbury's, Hershey Look to Packaging to Unpack a Sustainable Future

Packaging innovation offers an important tool to help companies achieve their sustainability goals. Two recent advances could hold promise for tackling food waste, reducing CO2 emissions and reliance on virgin materials.

UK grocer Sainsbury’s is pushing the envelope on packaging to kick food waste to the curb. The company is rolling out a new “smart” packaging label on its own-brand ham that signals to consumers when the product is about to expire.

Confusion surrounding food date labels and concerns over food safety significantly contribute to food waste by misleading consumers to throw away food prematurely. The UK has long been the worst performing European country in terms of food waste, with approximately £17 billion of food going to waste each year.

With its new ‘Smart Fresh’ label, Sainsbury’s is hoping to reduce the amount of ham wasted in the U.K. — currently 1.9 million slices per day. The label works by changing color from yellow to purple the longer the package has been open, indicating the freshness — and the edibility — of the product inside. The rate of change is largely dependent on refrigerator temperature. An open package that is kept below five degrees Celsius has the longest shelf life.

“We’ve all been there; when we’ve found a pack of ham loitering on the bottom shelf of the fridge and can’t remember how long it’s been opened for. We want to find a way to reduce waste of this family favorite while helping customers save money,” said Jane Skelton, head of packaging at Sainsbury’s.

The move builds on the retailer’s £10 million Waste Less, Save More initiative, a five-year strategy which seeks to reduce household food waste across the UK. If successful, the packaging could be expanded to other products.

Meanwhile, Hershey is making moves to achieve its goal of using 31 percent less corrugate — the equivalent of 3.12 million pounds — by shipping its products in display-ready cases that can be placed directly on shelves.

In addition to helping keep store shelves organized, the new packaging is easy to ship and made from 100 percent recycled materials. The packaging will land in stores at the end of July 2017 and is helping the company to reduce waste by 16 million pounds by the end of 2017.

“Simplicity doesn’t just apply to our ingredients,” said Greg Gressel, Director of Disruptive Supply Chain for The Hershey Company. “With packaging, we wanted to reduce waste and save time and one way to do that was by rethinking our packaging approach. Our new ’25 by 25’ sustainability goals help reduce our customer’s display setup time, improve safety and maximize the shopping experience of our customers. We are proud of this effort and look to set an industry standard among suppliers.”

Hershey’s new packaging and display ready case model include:

  • One-piece design with no cover packaging
  • Integrated stacking “shelf” for improved stability
  • Patent-pending easy-open window without perforation
  • Elimination of the center divider for better presentation
  • “Late stage box differentiation” through labels, versus pre-printing
  • Enhanced print and digital design

The result is packaging that uses significantly less corrugate — the equivalent to 24,000 trees saved, 184 trucks taken off the road and a 1,340 metric ton reduction in CO2.


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