WASTEFUL food packaging is among the fastest-growing environmental concerns for shoppers worldwide with New Zealanders most willing to cut back, according to a recent Nielsen Global Food Packaging Survey. The internet-based survey in 48 nations indicated that 40% of respondents were 'very concerned' by trash from food packaging in November 2007 against just 31% in the previous poll in May 2007.
South Africans are, in fact, among the top ten countries globally who are concerned about packaging's impact, with 60% of respondents saying they would give up convenience packaging in order to benefit the environment.
At the other end of the scale, the Nielsen survey found consumers were least willing to give up packaging designed to keep products clean and untouched by others (27%); packaging designed to keep products in good condition (30%); packaging information in the form of food labelling, cooking and usage instructions (33%); and packaging that preserved products to make them last longer/stay fresher (34%).
'Concern for packaging waste increased more than any other environmental concern,' Nielsen says of the replies by 25 000 people. The survey also probed attitudes to climate change, water shortages, air and water pollution and use of pesticides.
'While eco-friendly packaging might not be the top priority for shoppers today, it's certainly a growing priority the food industry cannot ignore. Our survey found consumers’ responses towards packaging reflected regional and lifestyle factors which are all important considerations for FMCG manufacturers,' says Lennart Bengtsson, president Nielsen EEMEA.
The survey showed that New Zealanders were most willing to cut back, with more than 65% willing to forego convenience packaging. People in Finland, Ireland, the Czech Republic and Norway were also among those most willing to cut. At the other end of the scale, people in Thailand and Japan were least willing to give up any kind of packaging.
Nielsen says urban shoppers in Asia often bought fresh food from markets and did not buy supermarket food packed for a long shelf life. They often prized aesthetics or easily stored goods.
According to Nielsen’s proprietary pack research system, packs@work, food retailers and manufacturers are continuously striving to meet consumer demand for more eco-friendly packaging solutions that minimise impact on the environment. 'In more eco-aware markets there is an increasing expectation of packaging with minimal environmental impact, although for most consumers, this doesn’t necessarily translate into a willingness to pay more. What most consumers expect is packaging that provides an added “feel eco-good factor”, by minimising environmental impacts,' says Lennart.
In more eco-conscious countries, Nielsen packs@work studies reveal consumer preference for packaging that is recyclable, biodegradable and safe from a disposal perspective, using materials such as paper, cardboard and/or glass rather than plastic or polystyrene. Glass packaging for example, is considered to be hygienic, inert, recyclable, tamper proof, and potentially to extend product life. And its aesthetic appeal provides positive cues about product authenticity, quality and efficacy.
'We are starting to see some backlash against plastics that are not recyclable, or whose chemical composition may lead to tainting or degradation of product quality,' comments Lennart.
First published in PACKAGiNG & Print Media Magazine, April 2008