The Kinnek Forecast: Natural Products Outlook
This month, we met the nutritional supplements, food processing, and beverage production communities at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, California.
Food writer Emma Cosgrove covers the latest food packaging trend: the squeeze pouch, to provide advice for small food businesses considering the format for their products.
Innovation or Fad?
It can be hard to tell the difference between a packaging innovation that improves the way consumers interact with food forever and a simple trend.
Some may come seemingly from nowhere and take over the market quickly, at which point its hard to know whether the trend or innovation came first. Others slowly grow through cumulative adoption driven either by necessity (tied to food innovation, for example) or external factors such as pricing, regulation, consumer demand and beyond.
Squeeze the Sauce
Take the example of French applesauce and “health snack” juggernaut Gogo Squeez. There might as well have been a neon sign pointing toward the packaging! Though the company suffered a hiccup in October with a sizeable recall due to mold, the company has experienced strong business growth since its debut - reaching $100 million in US sales in its second year. In June, the president of its parent company, Materne North America, said the “fruit-pouch” category will be a $1 billion market in the next three to four years.
You know the format: rectangular squeeze pouch topped with a colorful plastic, resealable cap. The benefits are evident, especially to people with children. For small food brands looking to engage with that premium customer segment, it’s a hit. Tapan Shah, Brand Director at Manhattan-based food accelerator Accelfoods echoes that sentiment: “A totally new format jived with an evolving consumer need. A parent can give it to a kid and the kid can feed itself.”
Following Gogo’s success, other brands are jumping on board. You’ll now find capped squeeze packs for other food products including baby food and kid’s snack categories. The format has also led to new food innovation in itself including portable purées for adults, fitness gels, nut butters, oatmeal and chia puddings.
Both function and marketing are driving innovation among brands today. “Packaging is vitally important. It's how you present your brand to consumers. [Brands have to ask themselves] Does your packaging and the form you use represent your product?” says Shah.
Squeeze the Green?
For businesses concerned with their green credentials, many ask if the squeeze format is sustainable? Flexible packaging is complicated. Some packaging is created by layering paper and plastic in a way that makes the combination destined for landfill.
Some, like Seventh Generation’s plastic pouches are made from completely recyclable plastic. However other well-known brands have a fickle relationship with their green credentials. For example Method’s detergent refill bags are not recyclable (in the US). YumButter nut butter pouches are not recyclable either. In the latter's case, the company mitigates against consumer resentment, by featuring an apology right on the package. It's an interesting way to manage an anticipated consumer reaction.
Gogo Squeez has an interesting but nascent answer to the question of recyclability. They have partnered with TerraCycle, which offers a mail-in recycling service for cumbersome consumer-level materials.
Meredith Danberg-Ficarelli, operations manager of Common Ground Compost and general expert on all things waste, says TerraCycle is an exciting prospect for recycling. “I really love the model - the idea that we have these waste streams that are difficult to manage for any number of reasons, perhaps they clog machines at recycling facilities, or usually end up in the ocean, or whatever - and we can transform them into value-added products if we just put in the effort to collect them” she says.
Though, mail-in takes quite a bit more effort than throwing something away (especially for a product that is meant to be consumed on the go!), mailing in recyclables is simpler for consumers than expecting them to make special trips to dedicated centers to make sure batteries, corks or flexible packaging goes to good use. Danberg-Ficarelli is enthusiastic about the prospect of Terracycle but agrees it’s not a permanent or wide-reaching solution: “There’s no silver bullet solution...networked waste management systems...will be necessary to get us on the right track.“
Environmental journalist Kendra Pierre-Louis, author of “Green Washed: Why We Can't Buy Our Way to a Green Planet,” warns about carbon emissions. “You’re reducing the Co2 emissions but you’re creating a physical waste product that endures in the ecosystem. [It] has estrogenic effects and effects on marine life and there really is not a good cost-benefit calculator for that,” says Pierre-Louis. The sustainability math equation is difficult - especially in the abstract. “You’re creating this long term permanent waste and that's really problematic. I’ve not yet met anyone who can make that calculation,” says Pierre-Louis.
The Benefits of Being Bad?
Shah says that though flexible packaging may seem wasteful, it has positive reverberations in other areas. “On a truck you can get much much more product than ever before: 5 to 10 times more pouches on a truck than with glass jars. From a sustainability side you’re finding less trucks on the road dedicated to jarred baby food,” says Shah.
Green advocate Pierre Louis adds: “There’s the argument that we’re changing fuel supplies. Trucks are becoming more efficient. They're looking into biofuels.”
To Flex or not to Flex that Packaging?
So far, the market has shown no resistance to this unsustainable format. Consumers are connecting with it to be sure. It’s also worth noting that existing products moving to squeeze pouches tend to be moving from an equally unsustainable package. But if sustainability is part of your brand, or your personal compass, it is doubly important to analyze packaging trends. The most important factor of all? Trust that your food product will be more important in driving sales than its trendy clothes.
Not sure what's right for your food business? Whether you're considering going green or using a different packaging strategy, it's helpful to first research and connect with suppliers who can provide support whatever you decide. Luckily the Kinnek marketplace can help you with that. Try it today...
Emma Cosgrove is a food writer and content consultant with experience in all aspects of the grocery industry from stocking shelves to launching new consumer brands.