Cologne: 19.–22.03.2024 #AnugaFoodTec2024

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Development of Sustainable Packaging

"We focus on the sustainable use of plastics"

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Whether for primary, secondary or tertiary packaging: The demands on packaging for food and beverages are high. From 19 to 22 March 2024, the food industry will be looking for solutions for the responsible use of plastics at Anuga FoodTec. With the vision of REset Plastic, the Schwarz Group is also looking ahead to a sustainable future. What measures food retailers are pursuing to increase environmental friendliness in packaging - a conversation with Kasper Grabowski, packaging specialist at Kaufland.

Mr. Grabowski, what strategies are currently at the forefront of packaging development at Kaufland and what requirements must be met?
Packaging is a very important component of our in-house brands. On the one hand, they have an impact on material or transport costs. On the other hand, they are important for keeping food fresh and protecting it during transport. In addition, packaging has gained an incredible amount of importance in the area of sustainability in recent years.

The ecological aspects of packaging, then, as the defining issue. What are the consequences for development?
All stakeholders along the value chain must agree that protective wrapping is not waste, but a valuable resource that must be appropriately developed, recycled and put back into circulation. The companies of the Schwarz Group, to which Kaufland also belongs, are putting this into practice with the jointly developed plastics strategy REset Plastic.

... this brings the much-criticized plastics in particular into focus.
Plastics have never been more controversial. And yet they represent a key packaging material for food retailers. Accordingly, the companies of the Schwarz Group have been committed to its collection, sorting and recycling for many years now. Overall, they pay attention to environmental criteria for packaging and transport aids for their own brands, as well as for consumables in the stores, logistics centres, production sites and administrative offices. These include recyclability, the proportion of recycled material, and overall conservation of resources.

What exactly is REset Plastic?
In this way, we are pursuing the vision of "Less plastic - closed loops" and focusing on the responsible use of this resource. The goal is to use as little material as possible and to keep the materials used in circulation.

How close are you to achieving that goal?
The following figures illustrate this for the 2021 financial year: Across countries, both retail divisions have reduced their use of plastic in private label packaging by 18 percent, moving ever closer to their REset Plastic target of using 20 percent less plastic by 2025. In Germany, the target has already been exceeded: Kaufland Germany has already been able to save 26 percent plastic, Lidl in Germany 22 percent. In addition to improvements in the area of plastic reduction, the focus for further action is particularly on the use of recycled material and increasing recyclability.

... which means?
By 2025, we want to use an average of 25 percent recycled material in own-brand packaging and make 100 per cent of the packaging of our own-brand products maximally recyclable. Currently, an average of 14 percent recycled material is used across all 32 countries in which Lidl and Kaufland are represented. Kaufland Germany already uses 29 percent, Lidl in Germany 23 percent recycled material in its own-brand packaging. In terms of all 32 countries, the Schwarz Group will have achieved maximum recyclability for 50 percent of its own-brand packaging by the 2021 financial year - which is already half of its target. At Lidl in Germany, 58 percent and at Kaufland Germany 42 percent of own-brand packaging is currently maximally recyclable.

Food manufacturers are also working to make their use of packaging more sustainable and environmentally friendly. What is your first-hand experience here? How important is it, for example, that product developers coordinate with packaging developers?
There are no challenges that cannot be overcome together. It's true that many product developments involve a lot of coordination, as, for example, not only product managers and packaging developers, but also sales and quality management, are involved.

Making the right decision when it comes to materials is a challenge for many...
For years, we have therefore been very carefully analysing, in close consultation with our suppliers, in which areas we can do without plastic altogether or at least reduce the amount required, where we can use alternative packaging and how we can increase recyclability and the use of recycled materials. To achieve this, we have developed a style guide for sustainable packaging design together with our suppliers. It is advisable to bring as many stakeholders as possible to the table and initiate a constructive discussion.

With PreZero, the Schwarz Group also operates its own waste and recycling company. What opportunities does the cooperation offer in terms of packaging development?
With PreZero, we have the opportunity to develop packaging that is optimally recyclable in practice and not just based on theoretical requirements. In addition, we have the opportunity to develop smart cycles for other packaging formats or materials. Together we are working on solutions to reuse recyclables as packaging or as other items ...

What achievements have you already been able to make?
One example is the laundry baskets and toys that we offer at Kaufland on special offer. We also use recycled material from PreZero for production here.

Another part of Kaufland's sustainability strategy is the development of packaging with alternative materials. New in the range are, for example, apples in a silphium-based packaging. What is silphium and why was this concept chosen?
The silphium plant was originally brought to Europe from North America as animal feed. The perennial crop is not very demanding when it comes to the soil, for example, and at the same time protects it from erosion by wind and water. Today, silphium is used as an energy crop for the production of biogas. In addition, plant fibres are extracted which are used for paper production. It also provides a great habitat for insects, making an important contribution to biodiversity. Minimising the waste of resources along the entire value chain and promoting the bioeconomy are clear arguments in favour of using the plant.

Are any other products packaged with it?
In addition to our Cameo apples and our own brand K-Bio, several other articles are packed with the new material, for example K-Bio smoked salmon and hot-smoked salmon.

What hurdles still need to be overcome in the development of sustainable packaging?
Challenges include lack of disposal routes, inadequate technology or unsuitable technology, which can be remedied with the right determination and financial support. Without a sector-wide approach, however, the result is a stalemate. One example is PET bottles, which have a high recycling rate in Germany due to the successfully established deposit system. However, such deposit systems are not yet compulsory, so that other countries without a deposit sometimes have significantly poorer rates.