Since the E. coli out break that was linked to spinach one year ago this month, food safety has been the top priority for most grower-shippers. Consumers want assurance that their food supply is safe. But there has been another growing demand among the general population—the green movement. From aging baby boomers to Generation Xers, consumers are looking for products made using environmentally safe practices and packed in earth-friendly cartons.
“America’s demand for environmentally friendly products is creating a frenzy, and this is nowhere more visible than in the packaging industry,” says Chris MacGrory, markets/products manager of reusable plastic containers and radio frequency identification packaging and material handling for IPL Products Ltd., Worcester, Mass., a subsidiary of IPL Inc., Saint-Damien, Quebec.
The movement towards earth-friendly or sustainable packaging in the United States had its origin in late 2003, when a group of about two dozen representatives in the packaging industry got together at the University of Virginia. What resulted from that meeting was the formation of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition.
“The SPC started with nine members and has grown to around 150 members in different parts of the supply chain, reflecting company involvement,” says Erin Malec, director of external relations for Charlottesville, Va.-based GreenBlue, the nonprofit design institute that oversees the coalition.
She adds that the concept of sustainable packaging really came to the forefront within the past couple of years when Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Bentonville, Ark., announced its sustainable packaging initiative, thus motivating the industry. Other industry observers agree that there has been a huge snowball effect from Wal-Mart to regional suppliers.
Why should growers care?
While in the past the greatest interest in environmentally friendly products has come from “green” consumers, an increasing level of concern is being voiced across the board. “Today, everyday consumers are reading about the environment, and a bigger audience is getting the movement going,” says David Stanton, brand manager for NatureWorks LLC, Minneapolis, Minn.
Stanton also says growers should be focused on environmental issues and sustainable packaging in order to track and validate environmentally friendly farming practices. When brand owners and retailers make claims regarding reduced greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel conservation, for example, they need help from the farmer in documenting such claims by tracing the products’ history back to the farm, he says. Also, the high cost of crude oil continues to reinforce the growing need for renewable-resource-based alternatives.