Retailers have remarkable political and economic influence in the food system and an integral responsibility to demonstrate good corporate citizenship through corporate social responsibility (CSR). CSR refers to a company’s practice of taking responsibility for its effects not only on the environment but also on people’s social well-being, going beyond just sustainability.
Organizations with integrated social responsibility plans can often enjoy positive reputations, creating competitive advantages. By implementing these initiatives throughout the organization, the opportunity to positively engage with customers and communities provides an impactful differentiator which can positively enhance brand recognition, propel public relations initiatives, and increase customer traffic.
CSR commitments have focused on five key priorities:
- Donating surplus food to charities for redistribution to feed the hungry;
- Reducing and recovering food waste;
- Sustainably sourcing materials and partnering with vendors who share their vision;
- Governance of food safety;
- Evaluating private labels and announcing specific requirements
To successfully meet these requirements, retailers have set specific supplier standards who have been called in partnership to positively influence food safety and quality, the reduction of food and packaging waste, and other sustainability issues which all contribute to the welfare of our communities and environment.
Why the Call-To-Action?
Because of these announced standards for suppliers, a shift in packaging demands have led to the following sustainability-driven conversations:
- Recyclable and Reusable Packaging
- Plastic Reduction and Packaging Design
- Biodegradable and Compostable Options
Retailers are looking for ways to use less plastic and help increase recycling rates while continuing to provide access to the day-to-day products consumers depend on.
The question then becomes, what happens to the packaging after it has completed its role in the food system? This is where the CSR agenda comes in. To meet goals, it has been requested that suppliers manufacture and supply packaging applications that are fully-recyclable with the added benefit of reusability features, to avoid single-use packaging. The retailer has stated that they intend to divert plastic from landfills. Using packaging as a billboard for cause communication includes the consumer in the call-to-action, impacting the end-all recycling actions. This then, highlights another feature of packaging as means of communication to share a cause with consumers, creating a communications campaign which can result in a Call-To-Action.
While swapping conventional plastics for bio-based plastics may seem like a sustainable move, not all bio-plastics can be recycled in the traditional recycling stream due to different melting temperatures, causing problems at recycling centers.
More than 250 companies signed on to the goals set forth by the New Plastics Economy vision from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in 2018, which promotes the elimination of unnecessary and problematic plastics through innovation of plastic materials that can be reused and recycled.
Walmart encourages all suppliers to set goals and follow the steps in its sustainable packaging playbook, where it provides guidance and best practices on designing recyclable packaging. To maximize effective recycling, even the packaging labels should be evaluated.
Trader Joe’s is evaluating its packaging through its sustainability framework, which includes reducing and removing packaging; sourcing renewable and recycled packaging materials; choosing packaging that can be realistically recycled; and avoiding the use of harmful substances in packaging.
Aldi has laid out a series of plastic reduction goals, announcing their plans to make all their packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, expecting to reduce their overall plastic usage by at least 15%.
These transitions have led to packaging applications to use feedstock polymers, or Eco Starch Resins, as additives to their polymer mix to reduce the plastic content in their packaging application. This still poses a concern to Material Recovery Facilities (MRF’s) as consumers can have difficulty identifying these packages for proper recycling. Additionally, if the ESR percentage is over a certain percentage, it renders the package unrecyclable.
“Naked” bulk products face increased food safety and spoilage factors and in some cases, the removal of protective packaging leads to decrease in sales. Using alternatives such as paper can seem like a plausible solution but introduces other environmental factors such as increased greenhouse gases and additional energy consumption.
When considering distribution, the reality of how to safely transport products to consumers becomes complex. Using flexible packaging reduces energy consumption and environmental impact during transportation, allowing customers to ship more while consuming less.
US supermarkets referred to the Environmental Protection Agency’s food recovery hierarchy which prioritizes source reduction, followed by feeding people, feeding animals, industrial uses, composting, with landfill or incineration at the bottom.
To prevent and divert food waste, many retailers have outlined management strategies to create the most benefits for the environment, society, and economy. Kroger, through their Zero Hunger Zero Waste initiative, has been a leader and strong advocate against food waste in their commitment to end hunger in their communities and to eliminate waste within their stores.
Food waste is a significant global problem, a third of the food produced is never eaten. Food waste happens in all stages, from growers, processors, manufacturers, distributors, retailers, food service operators, and ultimately, the end consumers. A study has shown that 70% of loss occurs in the home.
Committing to reduce food waste throughout the food system urges retailers to address their own practices which can contribute to waste generation. These practices include setting standards for fresh produce in terms of imperfect produce, providing appropriate packaging formats (e.g. over-sized), encouraging increased food purchases in packaging through offers and fittingly labeling foods with ‘best before’ dates to indicate optimal product quality not required by food regulations.
Retailers have taken note that consumers who are encouraged and empowered drive purpose-driven brands to grow faster. Supporting this statement is the Cone 2017 CSR Survey, which found that 89% of consumers are likely to switch brands to one that is associated with a good cause, given similar price and quality.
- A recent Cone Communications survey found that 87% of consumers are apt to purchase a product if the company supports something they care about.3
- A recent Nielsen study showed that about three-fourths of Millennials are willing to pay more for sustainable offerings, and older-generations are willing to spend more on products that encourage and support healthy choices.4
Consumers are increasingly looking to engage with purpose-driven brands that empower them to make a difference. Marketing becomes much more meaningful, and campaigns are able to appeal to the emotional aspect of a consumers’ buying habits and can attract more engagement and social sharing when reinforced with a purpose-driven message that helps advance a customer’s personal values, positively impacting and contributing to an all-around healthy lifestyle. This may or may not be led with a sales message, and in fact, could run counter to the normal intuition for retail brands to increase sales.
Retailers can enforce exclusive standards for private labels and brands to manage risk by controlling products, processes, and movement through the supply chain. Globally, market share of supermarket owned brands is predicted to grow until they dominate the food supply and such transition will be led by the largest retail chains. Retailers have highlighted their strategies to grow their brand ranges through sustainability announcements and in describing the scale of new product development, strict standards which must be met by third parties, suppliers, and vendors, and the ability to innovate with healthy and sustainable products.
YOUR CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
As businesses, we define corporate social responsibilities that we are expected to adhere to in order to operate legally and ethically. An important part of this commitment involves the environmental efforts taken to reduce the size of our carbon footprint and the amount of waste produced. By responsibly managing waste, the likelihood of consumers feeling unsatisfied or having distrust in a business is decreased, greatly assisting in meeting corporate social responsibility goals.
In an internet age, where the accessibility of social media is empowering consumers to share their voice, it is of the utmost importance that your business is set to operate ethically and sustainably to earn and maintain a sound reputation.
Practicing a sustainable business model doubles as a unique selling point, giving personal voice to brands, allowing a company to lend their expertise, and provides peace of mind to shoppers - particularly in the case of environmentally conscious consumers.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Packaging does more than simply protect food; it serves as a bold statement about a company’s sustainability priorities. Fox Packaging has a 100% recyclable and reusable product line, offering convenient solutions that allow fresh produce to respire, extending shelf-life.
If you would like additional insight, please feel free to reach to our sales team or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about packaging design, download our Designing for Sustainability ebook as a resource.
- Global supermarkets’ corporate social responsibility commitments to public health: a content analysis
- United States Environmental Protection Agency. Sustainable management of food: Food recovery hierarchy. 2017 19 April 2018]; Available from: https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/food-recovery-hierarchy.