When it comes to organic, using the right sustainable and environmental packaging is key

When it comes to organic, using the right sustainable and environmental packaging is key

In 2019 consumer concerns about the environmental impact of plastic packaging surged, caused, in part, by David Attenborough and the Blue Planet effect shedding light on the huge issue of plastic pollution. But as the Covid-19 appeared we saw a change in priorities, with packaging hygiene concerns heightening during the pandemic and lock down.

As Covid restrictions eased, we set out to get an up to date insight into consumer attitudes towards packaging on organic products to find out if consumers are still concerned about packaging. 

Results of the research

Consumer packaging preferences are changing swiftly as they become increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of packaging and the recyclability of products. 

Research with over 1,000 consumers¹ has revealed valuable insights which are driving packaging trends, reflecting the growing interest in ‘less and better’ packaging for fresh organic produce as discerning customers demand greater sustainability and integrity.

Packaging insights

  • Over half (56%) of shoppers are concerned about the impact of food packaging on the environment
  • 55% expect organic fresh produce packaging to have a low or no impact
  • 42% of people expect organic products to be packaged in materials that are more environmentally friendly than non-organic alternatives
  • Non-recyclable packaging is the biggest cause of concern for almost one in two (48%)
  • Followed by excess packaging (42%) and plastic packaging (37%)
  • Non-recycled plastic is the least preferred packaging option and the biggest offput to purchasing organic fresh produce with 50% saying they simply won’t buy a product packed in non-recycled plastic compared to just 11% who are put off by recyclable plastic.

This suggests a move away from people solely focusing on plastic pollution with key concerns broadening to encompass the ‘re-useability’ and ‘re-cyclability’ of packaging and its ability to be part of a circular economy.

When it comes to organic fresh produce, loose is the preferred packaging choice for one in four (27%) followed by cardboard and paper for one in five (22%).

Industry Example: Abel & Cole’s approach to packaging

Abel & Cole, one of the UK’s leading organic box schemes, is pioneering ways to reduce and reuse packaging within their boxes. For fresh produce they pack the majority of fruit and veg loose and, where that isn’t possible – either due to freshness implications or to protect products such as berries – they carefully select suitable materials. This includes cardboard punnets which they aim to reuse as much as possible and they are currently trialing ways of collecting plastic films from customers to recycle in the UK, as opposed to asking customers to dispose of them in their general waste bins.

They have also launched a new refillable range, Club Zero, replacing single use packaging on fifteen ambient pantry products such as rice, nuts and pasta with reusable, durable screw – lid pots that are collected, washed and refilled for the next journey. These pots withstand washing up to 125 times without any noticeable impact on the container. Abel & Cole are exploring ways of scaling up their Club Zero offering and hope to bring an expanded range to their customers soon.

Helping consumers make an informed choice

Our research showed that the majority of shoppers are not completely informed of the environmental impacts of packaging and would like more information on what recycling labels mean, what materials can be recycled in their local authority areas and clearer information on what packaging materials are used. However, regular organic customers, are more concerned about packaging, are more aware of the environmental impacts of different packaging types and have greater expectations for organic fresh produce packaging to be environmentally friendly.

Soil Association Senior Business Development Manager Sophie Kirk said: “The evidence is clear that there is a significant opportunity for organic fresh produce businesses to evolve and to seize a competitive advantage by meeting the environmental needs of customers and providing helpful information about the sustainability, recyclability and eco-credentials of their packaging.

“Shoppers are becoming increasingly more knowledgeable about their purchasing decisions and this is even more important for organic customers who on the whole demand the brands they buy from meet the highest standards.

 “The adage remains ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ but in 2021 it is vital that businesses can demonstrate their sustainability and have thought ahead considering new legislation and future recycling advances and infrastructure.”

The message is loud and clear – brands and retailers which can demonstrate to consumers that they have embraced sustainable and sound environmental packaging solutions have greater appeal. In particular organic fresh produce businesses, packaging manufacturers and retailers should embrace opportunities, where infrastructure allows, to use packaging materials with a circular economy to drive sales and have a competitive advantage by meeting the high expectations of their organic consumers.

Read the research in full


1 - Research carried out by Censuswide. They surveyed 1,000 respondents who are open to purchasing organic food and shop at supermarkets excluding “deep greens” between 13.07.2021 – 16.07.2021