Just a few years ago, it was normal to buy food around the corner with various packaging types. However, today, it seems like a thing of the past, especially in the USA, although it can be true about many other parts of the world.
In recent times, the United States has witnessed a great reduction in the packed food, as more and more markets have opted for packaging-less food options.
Similarly, even the stores that offer packed food are trying to go with a minimalist approach towards packaging, and are concentrating more and more on sustainable packaging.
Packaging-less food is in vogue – what potential do packaging-less products hold, what is the future of this strategy, and which economic factors have been associated with packaging-less products have been addressed in this article.
History of packaging-less food in the modern world
The pioneer of this trend was a Canadian food chain, Bulk Barn, back in 1982. However, for Europa and the USA to adopt it properly, it took 25 years, and this idea finally and fully kicked off in the USA and Europe in 2007.
Since then, it has been a ride, as more and more such supermarkets have appeared all across the USA and Europe. Its potentials have not been realized at their fullest until now, and they can only be realized once this type of food markets dominate the food industry.
How these markets appeal to the customers?
According to recent research by Price, Waterhouse & Co., under the report title ‘Packaging-free food – Niche or Trend?’ most of the interviewed customers were very positive about this idea. They showed their willingness to prefer such markets over food that offer packed food.
To be precise, the report statistics look like this:
1. Eighty-two percent of customers were open to buy packaging-less food.
2. Sixty-three percent of customers want a wider range of food in packaging-less markets.
3. Thirty-five percent of customers would prefer a packaging-less market over any other food market.
4. Eighteen percent of customers cannot imagine preceding packaging.
There are plenty of motives behind this trend, and some of them are:
Growing awareness about the environmental crisis across the globe, and a dark future that is ahead of us if things do not change, have got people thinking into better habits. The packaging is one of them, and a major one, which can significantly reduce and increase the ongoing crisis.
The majority of the population do not want to be a part of the crisis by opting for packaged food, and all other types of packaging, from retail packaging to the packaging that comes along with online orders. It is also down many worldwide campaigns that have kickstarted in recent years to ensure that there as little packaging as possible.
The visuals of sea life choking on to the plastics have also played a great role in public awareness of unsustainable packaging solutions. Similarly, teenagers have a growing sense of responsibility towards a better planet, and the lives of those teenagers that can only be good if the future of the planet is good.
So, the environmental motive is one of the major motives behind the packaging-less food markets. There are some other greater motives in this aspect, which play an equally important role.
It is important to note that people who are opting for such markets are also accepting to pay more prices for food than usual. It shows the dedication that people are showing towards this cause and how it will be a key factor in this aspect in a future that has no space for retail packaging and shipping boxes.
However, it may also be a key repellant to many new customers who may shift away from these markets based on the higher prices. In such a scenario, a common ground should be found, and a lot of responsibility lies on these stores to offer a competitive price for their products.
How sustainable are such food-markets?
A very good question and the entire debate over such markets revolve around this question. While many people have argued that such markets are not sustainable, and others have argued the other way around, there hasn’t been much research.
Christina Scharpenberg, a research assistant at the University of Göttingen, has dug deep in this question in the context of her master’s research thesis in close cooperation with the German pioneer packaging-less company Original Unverpackt.
The focus of her research work was mainly to answer the question of whether the environmental impact of packaging-less unpacked products is lesser than compared to conventional distribution packaging and channels.
Therefore, the life cycle assessment is required to consider the entire value chain of such markets – from the extraction of raw material until the disposal of the product. Furthermore, the cleaning of the returnable food containers by original unpackaged products was also included. Also, the fact that many customers generally do not return the returnable jars was taken into account as well:
1. Emissions from all kinds of process stages of such food have been assigned to various climate impact categories (e.g., climate change).
2. Subsequently, the emissions per impact category were also condensed to a respective identical unit (the indicator value, e.g., CO2 equivalents).
3. The indicators made it possible for the research to derive the climate damage potential of a product within the respective category impact.
A total of six value chains of “original unpacked” packaging systems were considered and compared with the value chain of a comparable product in traditional one-way packaging using a modern life cycle assessment software.
Overall. The costly life cycle assessment of such markets is positive. Four of the six packaging strategies tested by Original Unverpackt were way superior to conventionally packaged food products. For example, packaging-less noodles can reduce environmental impact by 18 percent. Cosmetic products of various kinds as hand washing materials, liquid shower gel, and hand washing-up liquid are also convincing with a total reduction of 34 percent and 27 percent, respectively.
We can easily conclude that such markets are the future, and the retail packaging will gradually become a thing of the past. Similarly, this may not prove to be limited to food markets and can expand in other markets for a positive change.