Sustainability, a Contradiction to Plastic Packaging

Branding your product is important not only for awareness and recognition but also for consumers to know what promises are being made to their experience with your product. This may seem easy to do for a company that sells cars or jewelry, but the produce industry presents unique challenges when it comes to branding.

Many consumers feel that there is too much packaging on their fruits and vegetables, and they’re probably right.

The produce industry is one that talks a lot about sustainability, but a walk in the produce section of any supermarket will lead you to find many products packaged in a plethora of plastic in the form of bags, clamshells and boxes. Perhaps it’s time to take a step back and remember that we’re selling produce, not plastic.

Across Europe, there has been a push to decrease the use of plastic packaging, and many cities in the U.S. have outlawed disposable plastic bags for grocery shopping. But this has not reduced the number of shoppers or produce buyers.

We need to reduce our use of plastics that are clogging our landfills and destroying our oceans. What needs to be considered is not the necessity of plastic packaging, but rather the alternatives for continuing a branding program.

A few years ago, we started branding efforts for Organics Unlimited that included materials that would be a part of the packaging of the organic bananas. The push-back from many natural food markets, often pioneers in the sustainable packaging efforts, was strong and deliberate.

The retailers said their customers didn’t want to see a lot of packaging, and they didn’t want materials that would clutter the displays and the aisles of their stores.  We could have given up and said that branding can’t be accomplished in the produce aisles without plastic packaging, but it can.

Here’s what you really need to define if you’re stuck on plastic packaging:

  • What is your goal with the plastic packaging?
  • Are there labeling alternatives that don’t include extensive packaging?
  • Could other packaging alternatives provide the same efficiency to retailers without the tons of plastic being used?
  • What other creative ways can you talk to consumers about your product without causing the waste and hazards of your current packaging?

“Necessity is the mother of invention” is a saying that has been attributed back as far as Plato. Here, we have a necessity to find other means of convenience and branding. With Organics Unlimited packaging, we didn’t give up.

We simply created a new label that goes on the individually self-contained bananas.  Yes, like many produce items, bananas already come in their own natural container.  Our newest labeling has strong, important messaging for consumers, but it isn’t adding to the pollution problem.  Other companies have found alternatives for containers using bioplastics, corn, rice or wood products – all recyclable and naturally resourced.

2018 is a good year to make strong steps toward reducing and/or eliminating plastic packaging of produce.  Think creatively about the alternatives.  Before plastic, people still ate fruits and vegetables.  How can we use this challenge to be simpler but also successful in both our own eyes and those of our customers?