Inside scoop: Ice cream’s paper-based challenge and the future of dessert packaging
24 Aug 2022 --- Dessert and Ice Cream packaging is being forced to adapt to a changing landscape, as with most other forms of packaging. While the food category has seen a relative boom in product launches over the past year, it also faces numerous technical hurdles associated with environmental sustainability and consumer appeal.
Challenges raised by the COVID-19 pandemic, increased environmental regulations and pressures against materials like plastic, and the need to make products appear healthy and sustainable all play a role in how dessert and ice cream packs are currently being designed.
PackagingInsights speaks with experts from Finnish consumer packaging company Huhtamaki and looks at some of the recent findings by Innova Market Insights to find out more about how the segment is changing and what we can expect to see in the near future.
Pudding on the rise
According to Innova Market Insights, the use of Desserts & Ice Cream in food & beverage/category launches is increasing globally, featuring a +7% year-over-year growth when comparing 2020 and 2021 launches.
Herwin Wichers, head of FMCG category, Fiber Foodservice Europe-Asia-Oceania, at Huhtamaki, says three central trends accompany this rise in popularity.
Fiber-based Frenzy,” noting a huge shift away from plastics as increasing public sentiment and legislation against fossil-fuel-based materials has occurred.First, there is an ongoing drive for more sustainable materials, such as the move from plastic to paper-based packaging formats. Innova Market Insights labeled this industry-wide trend the “
“Concurrently, there is a drive for more sustainable barriers, using less (plastic) material. The replacements to plastics are sought from biobased materials or compostable materials,” says Wichers.
“Lastly, changed and changing consumer behavior and its impact on packaging. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, there is more demand for home usage. This has an impact on packaging, for example, functionality when opening/eating and pack size (single versus family use),” he continues.
The plastic replacement challenge
Replacing plastic is a central challenge for packaging companies as polymers make for such convenient materials, for example, in providing barrier properties.
Wichers notes that ridding ice cream packages of plastic presents particular difficulties.
“Comparing paper-based ice cream packaging to plastic alternatives, it is important to pay more attention to factors like chill and frozen/condensation resistance of the materials used,” he says.
“Other issues include consumer functionality (opening, using/scooping, handling, structural integrity, ‘looks and feel’) as well as custom functionality in frozen (pack line, supply chains).”
However, Wicher also notes the increased use of paper in ice cream packaging also presents new opportunities for producers.
“For the packaging manufacturer, paper-based ice cream and dessert packaging offer new possibilities, such as the full cover printing options, running new materials on existing pack lines, and good consumer understanding of the sustainability benefits.”
This means suppliers can offer sustainable packaging solutions that achieve the same or better technology and supply chain performance and provide better options for decoration and shape. Companies in the dessert and ice cream business can also seek to address changing consumer behavior via innovation, he notes.
“Companies should seek to explain in clear terms and in an objective way what the key [environmental] sustainability benefits are, for example, for paper-based materials.”
In 2021, Innova Market Insights found that the “Tub” was the leading packaging format among the global desserts and ice cream launches tracked. In 2021, “Plastic - Not Specified” was the leading packaging material among the global desserts and ice cream launches tracked.
Huhtamaki has answered both the trend toward tub formats and the move away from plastic by preparing to introduce its IconCup – a recyclable and repulpable ice cream container set to launch this year.
“The Icon packaging eliminates the polyethylene coating and gives consumers the ability to recycle the container,” says Kevin Gunning, consumer goods senior vice president, Huhtamaki North America.
“This container fits squarely within our ambition to become the first choice in sustainable packaging solutions and our long-term strategy with sustainability at the forefront.
“We are also working with customers to include a connected package, which offers our customers a direct link to a landing page helping them market their products while promoting how to recycle the container properly.”
Innova Market Insights also found that the top sustainability-related claims among global product launches tracked with global desserts and ice cream launches in 2021 were Recyclable (41%), Green Dot Certified (10%), and Responsible Source (3%).
Slashing plastic, policy help
This year, Huhtamaki achieved considerable gains in ridding the ice cream supply chain of plastic by working with Carte D’Or to shift the packaging for their ice cream to recyclable paper tubs and lids.
The move to recyclable paper-based packaging will help the brand eliminate more than 900 tons of virgin plastic in the UK annually, says Huhtamaki.
The recyclable paper tubs and lids for the Carte D’Or range use 93% less plastic per tub; this translates to a significant reduction in the amount of plastic used annually. The packaging solution from Huhtamaki will be introduced in the UK and is made using fibers from PEFC-certified sustainably managed forests.
Despite these advances, Gunning notes that industry needs help from policymakers to improve social infrastructure.
“It’s commonly known in the industry that poly-coated paperboard is a recyclable source that we use every day, but it is difficult as adequate infrastructure does not exist,” he says.
“We are offering a new container with a water-based coating that enables the consumer to rinse, flatten, and place with other paper products and enter an existing collection stream at curbside. We need everyone in the supply chain working to develop this material, including the customer and consumer base.”
“We all need to challenge the current situation and continue to strive for a solution that protects food, people and the planet,” he concludes.
By Louis Gore-Langton
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