Our next event is a Networking Social on 3rd April at the wonderful Adelphi in Leeds (just round the corner from Asda House). The last event was so sucessful we have moved to a larger function room! Call in any time from 7-10 pm, with the opportunity to buy a meal. The room hire is paid for by the society and we’ll be asking for donations to Yorkshire Air Ambulance. No formal talk, but attendees are encouraged to bring packaging samples for us to geek over further details from myself, Sarah Greenwood 07826 791 045 firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m happy to let you know that the North of England Packaging Society will be having a social on Thursday 8th Nov at the Adelphi Hotel in Leeds (close to Asda House).
We have great plans to arrange a program of visits and talks over the coming months with a focus on cpd and building a support network between members. Although affiliated to IOM3 and a division of The Packaging Society, there is no requirement for you to be a member of either to come to our meetings. If you have suggestions or ideas for future visits or talks, please get in touch, we want as varied a program as possible.
Back to 8th Nov – We’ve got a small function room booked in the Adelphi 1-3 Hunslet Road, Leeds, West Yorkshire 7-10pm. Please feel free to drop in at any point during that time. If you want to purchase a bar meal (I know I will) we’ll be ordering about 7.30pm. (see here for current menu).
As a conversation starter feel free to bring a packaging related curio for ‘show and tell’.
Hope to see you there, and if you can’t make it – keep in touch to find out about our next meetings.
Chair, The North of England Packaging Society
07826 791 045
Northern Packaging Professionals!
If you’re anything like me, you’ll enjoy meeting up with industry colleagues at packaging shows and events, but find that living in the North of England it is usually a long way to travel. For some time now I’ve been thinking of starting networking sessions for those of us working in the North of England – the facebook group UK Packaging Professionals Discussion was created as a starting point. I’ve spoken with a lot of people in the course of this year. After careful consideration I’m excited to let you know that I have agreed to chair the northern branch of The Packaging Society – NEPkgS. I’ve been a member since I started the Diploma in Packaging course in 2004 and although there are excellent events planned by TPS in London and Nottingham, have been disappointed by the level of activity here in the North. The only way to fix that is to do something about it, and with the help of my occasional colleague and associate Steve Jackson will be organising the first of, hopefully, many meetings in the North of England soon. You will not have to join up to attend – we just want to get as many people together as possible.
The North of England Packaging Society covers all of Yorkshire, and the North West and North East up to the Scottish border. Ideally, I’d like every packaging professional in the region to be within an easy drive of at least two events a year. This is a big ask – we’re effectively starting from scratch so this is where you come in.
Please get in touch if you;
- Have ideas of who you would like to see speak, where you would like to visit or know a great place for a social
- Are interested in hosting an event /tour at your workplace,
- Would like to speak at an event
- Help us organise an event near you
Events could be a simple meet up for networking drinks, a talk by an industry expert, a visit to a manufacturer – anything packaging related.
If you are already a member of TPS, keep an eye out for emails and newsletters with details of the new events (it’s also a good idea check your preferences for communication are up to date in your IOM3 login, if you use it). Events should also appear in the events section of Materials World magazine.
Non-members can join the UK Packaging Professionals Discussion Group on facebook (completely independent of TPS, but run by myself and a few others), connect with me on Linked-in or subscribe to my monthly newsletter to be notified of new events.
If the last few months have shown us anything it is that us packaging professionals need to stick together, we do a lot of chatting online, but it would be good to do it in person!
07826 791 045
It is hard to describe exactly how exciting The Body Shop was when my school friends and I first discovered it as teenagers in the 80s. Up until that point the most interesting event our health and beauty world had been the introduction of a Miss version of Matey bubble bath. To us, luxury bathing products were either dubiously coloured bath salts in a jar or foil-wrapped bath cubes from the chemist or the Avon lady.
That all changed with our discovery of the Body Shop – a whole shop devoted to cosmetics, with its risqué name (this was the 80s afterall), exotic, cruelty-free products and in-store social justice and environmental campaigns, it was the epitome of cool. We swooned over Morello Cherry Lip Balm and Coconut Hair Gel, both in glass jars with black thermoset plastic lids, colourful shrink-wrapped soap bars and elegant bath pearls in plastic cartons. There was a gift-wrapping station (no ready-made gift-packs then), an apothecarian perfume shelf, and before I get completely consumed by a Dewberry scented mist of nostalgia, hair and body care products sold in round semi-opaque HDPE bottles, the Boston. These came with a black screw top and you could get them refilled once you’d used up the contents. For me, these simple bottles defined The Body Shop and what they stood for. Here is their story –
According to her 1991 autobiography, when Anita Roddick opened the first Body Shop in Brighton in 1976, she wanted to sell no-nonsense cosmetics without using what she saw as elaborate, unnecessary packaging or by making exaggerated claims about their effectiveness. She chose the round off-the-shelf Bostons as they were the cheapest option. Citing her own frustration at not being able to buy small amounts of cosmetics, she bought them in a variety of sizes. Selling the products in multiple sizes also had the advantage of making the shelves look fuller (the business launched with just 25 different products). The bottles were labelled with generic stickers branded with a £25 logo, the product title being written on by hand. Further information was supplied on postcards and from Anita herself. A refilling service was offered as she said there was not the money to buy enough bottles – customers could even bring their own containers to be filled.
By the time I was frequenting the Norwich store in the late-1980s, refills could only be made in their own bottles, and only for the original product for safety reasons. Labels were now printed with the product with a simple design with the Body Shop logo and green background name. Like most other cosmetics companies at the time the labels were made of paper and would rub away from the bottle when exposed to wet bathroom conditions. Although there was not much difference between the packaging for different products, the shop assistants, testers and information available in store were used effectively to provide information to the customers.
Reuse Refill Recycle
Campaigning formed a large part of the company’s identity. From animal rights, acid rain and preservation of the rainforests, to packaging, which included opposition to the use of CFCs in aerosols, and a Reuse Refill Recycle Campaign. In 1990 they were the first retailer to introduce a system where the bottles could be returned for recycling if customers didn’t want to refill them. This was absolutely groundbreaking – there were no doorstep collections other than general refuse back then.
The End of the Boston?
Over the years they stuck with the shape, making changes by using an embossed screw-cap, using high clarity PET versions and changes to the label design. But in 1999, when sales stated to decline, it was decided to introduce more packaging differentiation and new styles were introduced.
Now the company that has managed to ‘own’ a generic packaging item, have moved almost completely away from their once-beloved Boston. The Body Shop was sold to L’Oreal in 2006, who in turn sold it on to Natura in 2017. During this time, a new bottle shape was introduced without fanfare. Stylish and modern it compares with those of competitors like Neal’s Yard and sets them up for the modern retail environment. The Boston is now only used for miniatures.
The refilling service ceased in 2002 due to lack of demand (ref WRAP). Since then it has become easier to recycle plastic bottles; most local councils now accept plastic bottles in kerbside collections for recycling.
The Body Shop now has ambitious new targets set in 2016 to become ‘the world’s most ethical and sustainable business’ under their ‘Enrich not Exploit’ strategy. Fossil fuel reduction is now the focus – a target of 70%, and a commitment to packaging innovation.
I have to confess, apart from an emergency lip-balm purchase, I’ve not shopped in the Body Shop for years – there isn’t the sense of fun there now that there once was (although yes, I admit I’m no longer a teenager!). Looking at the old Boston and new bottle side by side, going back to the old shape is clearly a retrograde step. However, with the current rise of Zero Waste shops, and new owner Natura at the helm, I wonder if the time could be right now for them to have another go at the refill system, even just on one or two products, and bring back the magic that the Boston once held, if not the bottle itself.
Did you used to get your bottles refilled at the Body Shop? (or did you do the refilling?) What was your favourite product? Do you think they should bring back refills? Let me know in the comments section below.
For help with your packaging development – get in touch or call 07826 791 045 to find out how I can help.
Henderson’s Relish is a dark, spicy table sauce which has been produced in Sheffield since 1885. Although much loved in its home city, up until a few years ago it could only be found on sale in Sheffield and North Derbyshire. Thanks to a business expansion programme, which included moving to a new factory in 2013, availability has now increased to the rest of Yorkshire and beyond. Improvements to their packaging have played an important part in this. Below I explain how the company has made the most of new branding and label layout, a bespoke glass bottle and the introduction of shelf-ready packaging. If you are interested in how to increase distribution and sales of your product using packaging, read on (Disclaimer: I have not worked on this, I just think they have done a really good job! Please get in touch or call me on 07826 791 045 if you want help with your packaging development though).
1. Graphic Design and Label
To most Sheffielders, the sight of a clear half-pint bottle filled with a dark brown liquid and with a bright orange label is unmistakably Henderson’s Relish. Until their rebrand in 2015 the label design had remained pretty much unchanged for decades. There was no logo as such – the bottle pretty much being its own logo and the type was simple capitals, reminiscent of old-style letterpress printing. All pack information, including awards and the barcode, was visible on a single face. The result was that it looked rather cluttered – OK if the product is on sale in a local butchers, but far from ideal for supermarkets and convenience stores, where the packaging needs to do the selling.
For the new design, they have introduced a Victorian style font, sticking with uppercase letters. The strokes of the letter Rs extend below the baseline, turning the product name into a logo. The white Yorkshire rose now sits above the text, showing the brand’s provenance, white highlights on the lettering complement the rose. Founder Harry Henderson’s signature has been added to the base of the label and a subtle background texture breaks up the solid orange background.
The layout of the label is much neater. Although shorter, it has been made bigger so it wraps further around the bottle, and front and side panels have been introduced. The barcode, accolades and newly added nutritional information are now hidden on the sides of the bottle rather than the front, creating a much neater appearance.
Although Henderson’s used bespoke embossed bottles in their early days, more recently they had been using a generic half-pint bottle. They returned to their roots in 2017 with a bottle produced by nearby leading glass manufacturer Beatson Clarke. ‘Henderson’s Relish’ is now proudly positioned in relief on the shoulder and even the base. This gives a real feel of class – in order to have bespoke bottles for your brand, there is a significant minimum order quantity and the associated tooling costs. To someone who has not come across the brand before, this says ‘we are here, we are reliable and we are going to be around for a long time’.
The glass itself is 30% recycled, 10% is from locally recycled glass – a great story which reinforces their Made-in-Yorkshire credentials.
3. Shelf-Ready Packaging
Along with other requirements, major retailers will often not list a product unless the outer packaging meets their specifications. They will have strict guidelines on the type of packaging and how it is labelled and palletised. It is common for them to insist on shelf ready packaging (SRP or RRP), outer packaging that can be opened quickly and place directly on the supermarket shelf without the need for decanting. Originally in an ordinary brown cardboard box with cardboard dividers to protect the bottles (like a crate of wine), the dividers have been done away with and the top portion of the box is easily ripped away to reveal the contents inside. This SRP is printed in Hendo’s Orange, and they’ve jumped on the opportunity to add serving ideas and their gluten-free and vegetarian credentials to the part of the packaging which stays on the supermarket shelf, turning it into a valuable marketing tool.
So what next for Henderson’s ?
Combined, the above changes have transformed a very ordinary-looking local hero into a product that looks worthy of any upmarket supermarket or farm-shop shelf. Over the period that most of these changes were introduced, sales increased by 30% (Sheffield Star, October 2016). Clearly this hasn’t been entirely down to the packaging, for example Henderson’s are very good at taking advantage of publicity opportunities, Hendogate, for example, and futher establishing the brand by producing special editions. When the new design was launched In 2015 their aspirations were just to conquer Yorkshire. Now they have invested in a new bottling line and are planning to go global (Yorkshire Post 2017). The changes to the packaging that have been made over the last few years have set them in excellent stead for this.
To see how I can help your business grow using new packaging, check out the case studies and services provided pages on my website. For more information, contact me here, call me on 07826 791 045 or subscribe to my monthly newsletter
If your company plans to supply products into Retailer Own Brand (or Private Label) and you are responsible for packaging, then this blog is for you. Below is an essential check list of things you need to know, including what resource you will need, what to ask for from the retailer and what information you can expect them to ask you for. (If you are looking to supply your own branded products subscribe to my mailing list to be notified when my next blog comes out).
Retailers work to very strict timescales so it is vital that you have enough resource to cover the work during the period to the launch date. There needs to be someone available to look after packaging sourcing and specification, e.g. a Packaging Technologist and also to manage the artwork process, an Artwork Co-ordinator. Depending on your set-up, these roles can be done separately or combined into one position. (If you do need extra resource – read this case study to see how I can help you).
Retailers usually require a 48 hour turnaround on artworks, 24 hours on amends. As several people within your business could be needed to check the artwork for accuracy– typically Technical, Product Development and the Packaging Technologist, it is vital that they, or a deputy, are made available to check artwork in order to keep to the project timescales.
What to ask for from the retailer;
Many of the large retailers publish packaging guidelines on their supplier web-portals, for which you will need a login and password. These could include guidance on material grades, shelf-ready and transit packaging and an approved packaging supplier list. I’m a big believer in continuing with your existing suppliers (see How to find a packaging supplier) but don’t dismiss the suppliers from the approved list straight away, the retailer might be able to get you a good deal.
Login to the Artwork Approval System
You will need a separate login to their artwork management portal and the contact details for the artwork account manager – artwork management is usually sub-contracted to a specialist company. It’s a good idea to put them in your speed dial – you‘ll be in contact with them a lot!
The Critical Path
Once you’ve supplied your FTP date (See below) You’ll be issued with a number of key dates that need to be met to keep the project on track, including pack copy submission dates and when the artwork is due to be issued for approval, etc. The key dates could be at odds with your company’s product development timings, especially if you use a gated product development process. This is something you will just have to find ways to work around. My experience of 6 years of working on ROB was that the two processes never matched!
What the retailer will ask for from you;
If this is a completely new product, then you will be asked to provide an unprinted mock-up, including all packaging components.
Cutter Guide (primary pack)
This is the line drawing that either you or your printer have issued to have the artwork added onto. It should show the position and orientation of panels, position and size of the BB area, etc. Chances are you might still be developing the packaging at the time the cutter guide is requested – this is where your artwork account manager comes in – they might be able to buy you a little time or allow you to submit a provisional cutter guide – it is really important to keep on top of this though, I’ve seen someone (not me!) lose track of this which cost a lot of money to fix.
Printer Details and a File To Printer (FTP) date
Your printer will be included in the artwork approval process and artwork will be sent to them directly once the artwork is signed-off. You provide the FTP date working back from when you need the packaging on site, the printer’s lead times and a bit of wriggle room, etc.
Your technical and NPD team will supply this through the retailer’s specification portal. Artwork timings depend on these being supplied at the right time, so it is worth keeping in close contact with them on this.
Simple Packaging Specs and Recycling Information
Retailers vary enormously in the amount of information required. E.g. for outer cases, some are happy with ‘B-flute SRP’, others ask for the full spec! It helps to have this information ready at your fingertips. You could be asked to provide the OPRL labelling information for your lines (ask the packaging team at your retailer if you don’t have a copy of the OPRL guidelines).
New Line Form Information
Case count (number of products per case), size of outer case in mm, number of cases per pallet, number of cases per layer, and number of layers, weight per case and height of pallet. These are usually required early on, so if the product is still in development stress that the values are provisional and UPDATE your sales manager (or whoever is responsible for filling in the new line forms) as soon as you can.
The above just touches on what you need, but hopefully I’ve given you an insight into what is required from a packaging perspective when you start supplying your product into Retailer Own Brand. There is a lot to consider, but as long as long as you stick to the checklist above, you’ll be winning.
Have I answered your questions? If not put your comments in the section below and I’ll do my best to answer.
You can join my mailing list for general information on packaging (emails sent out about once a month)
If you use plastic packaging, carriers or cutlery to give to your customers it is tempting to use biodegradable versions. These can be a good idea, but only in the right circumstances. Read on to find out why;
1. Biodegradable plastics don’t necessarily break down in the sea, on land or in landfill. There are 2 main kinds of biodegradable plastics for packaging – compostable and oxo-degradable. Compostables have to be processed in specific conditions for them to break down, and there is currently doubt over the effectiveness of oxo-degradables.
2. Compostable plastics – are usually made from natural sources – like corn starch or cellulose from wood. They are often used for carrier bags, disposable cutlery and bags for food waste where councils collect it. Most of these will only break down in an industrial composter, or an anaerobic digester, which operates at temperatures of around 60°C. These can be identified with the symbol above with the code EN13432. More details available here . Unless you / your customers have access to an industrial composting waste stream, these materials could be doing more harm than good – at best they will either be incinerated or stay intact in landfill. At worst they could decompose in landfill releasing methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, or end up contaminating the plastics recycling stream. Green-field music festivals are a good example of where compostable items can work as they have complete control over their waste management. (Vegware have this sorted)
3. Home Compostable plastics – are the same as the industrially compostable plastics above, but will compost at lower temperatures, so in theory you can put them in your compost heap. I’d love to hear from anyone that does this – my garden is too small for a compost heap!
4. Compostable plastics decompose to water, carbon dioxide or methane and a very small amount of biomass . Very little of the original material is left behind as compost. Composting of plastics is really just a way to make them disappear, a slow version of incineration! (although the methane can be captured from anaerobic digestion and used as fuel)
5. Oxo-degradable plastics (or oxo-biodegradable plastics) – are standard oil-based plastics, like Polythene, which have an additive included. The additive makes the plastic fragment into smaller pieces over time. In theory, these smaller fragments can then be digested by micro-organisms. However, in November 2017, 150 organisations including Greenpeace and WWF endorsed a statement from Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy that recommends putting a hold on using this kind of plastic until it has been proven that these particles do not accumulate in ecosystems. You can read the report here . Naturally the Oxo-biodegradable plastics association refute this. My experience is that they take a long time to break up in the environment – the photo above shows a carrier bag I found on a beach in March 2011 – it had been around long enough for the ink to fade, but not for the bag to break up (the retailer in question no longer uses this technology). (By the way if you have stored something in one of these bags over the last few years check up on it – they make a real mess when they start to flake!)
The points discussed above don’t mean we should stop looking into biodegradable plastics, far from it, but the method of disposal needs to be considered before making claims about the benefit to the environment. Ideally in a few years there will be no public demand for biodegradable packaging as all of it will be captured and reprocessed before entering the environment as part of a circular economy!
Do you use biodegradable packaging? Do you compost at home? Do you think all plastic packaging should be biodegradable? Let me know your experiences in the comments section below.
To see how I can help your business grow, check out the case studies and services provided pages on my website. For more information, contact me here, call me on 07826 791 045 or subscribe to my monthly newsletter
The Packaging Innovations show at the NEC, held at the end of February could, at a pinch, be described as the Glastonbury of the packaging world. Alongside supplier exhibits, there are plenty of opportunities to meet up with colleagues and attend talks and discussions from professionals in the industry.
The BBC’s Blue Planet, the UK Government’s 25 year plan and Iceland Foods’ announcement that they intend to go plastic free on their own brand products by 2023 has ignited an enormous amount of debate throughout both industry and the general public.
Rightly so, the Packaging Innovations organisers, Easyfairs leapt on this opportunity and planned as the headline event ‘The Big Plastics Debate’ a session of talks and a panel discussion with key industry players.
Martin Kersh from the Foodservice Packaging Association spoke on legislation. The stand out points for me were;
- The Packaging Industry’s frustration with the public’s understanding of the issues (using the anti-straw campaign as an example),
- A call for legislation reform to encourage the incorporation of recycled material into packaging, and
- For all brand owners to join a packaging waste compliance scheme, not just those above a certain turnover.
Ian Schofield shared Iceland’s vision for their own brand products. The retailer says they have listened to their customers and by eliminating plastic are giving them what they want. Interestingly he is avoiding the use of bioplastics marketed as compostable or biodegradable. He acknowledged that it wouldn’t always be easy, but Iceland have made a strong statement of intent and they are sticking with it.
The discussion panel, which took questions from the floor included Ian Ferguson from the Co-op, Nick Brown from Coca-Cola and Kevin Vyse from M&S. Slightly disappointingly, it was a very well mannered affair. You can view the whole session here on youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Zib38FsFjU
So who won the debate?
Interestingly the retailers and brand-owners seemed to have more in common than differences. They all (naturally) want to keep food waste to a minimum, in which plastic plays an important part, move away from plastic where possible and increase the recyclability and recycled content of the plastics they are left with – Iceland’s first step for frozen food bags is to move away from laminates to more easily recycled monolayers; Coca-Cola intend to dramatically increase the use of recycled content of their bottles over the coming years.
In summary, it was an interesting couple of hours. It would have been good to see more variety in the panel – maybe someone from Surfers Against Sewage or Friends of the Earth and the British Plastics Federation who have been very vocal on the subject , but it was a good start, and it will be interesting to see how much progress has been made this time next year.
Do you think the packaging industry is doing enough to combat plastic waste? Add your comments below.
If you need help to reduce plastic packaging from your products, contact me to find out how I can help or call me on 07826 791 045.
You can join my mailing list for general information on packaging (emails sent out about once a month)
A Beginners’ Guide.
Whatever format of packaging component you are looking for; printed or unprinted, cartons, bottles, flexibles or rigid plastics etc, finding the right supplier isn’t always easy. Whether you are working in an expanding start-up or an established business, here are some tips to help you find the right packaging supplier;
Making a Start
Before talking to anyone it is a good idea to have an idea of volumes i.e. how many units of packaging you will require a year in thousands. This could filter out a lot of potential suppliers – some have high minimum order quantities, others will specialise in smaller quantities. If your requirement is for anything under 1000 units, it will almost always be cheaper to go for ‘off the shelf’ options. It is also a good idea to be clear at this stage what requirements the packaging may need to conform to in addition to standard packaging regulations – e.g. BRC accreditation if you are in the food industry.
Creating a Short-list
Searching on Google will return more than enough candidates, but how do you identify who is most suitable for you? The most reliable way is to ask someone for a recommendation (us Packaging Professionals are good for that!). The next best thing is to check out online directories from the relevant trade associations – The British Plastics Federation or British Glass for example in the UK. If you don’t need to find someone straight away, packaging trade shows are a good idea, like Packaging Innovations in the UK. Visiting a trade show is a really good opportunity to talk to a lot of suppliers in one day. Be aware though that many suppliers choose not to exhibit so you could miss out if you rely on trade shows alone.
Narrowing it down
Once you’ve got your short-list, it’s time to contact the potential suppliers for an initial telephone discussion. You’ll find out quickly if they are a suitable fit. If so, the next stage is to invite two or three to provide a quote and to arrange to meet up for a face to face discussion.
At this stage it is tempting to go with whoever provides the cheapest quote. Beware – this could end up being a false economy without considering the following;
Sales managers will almost always bring a set of example packaging for you to look at to see the quality of their products. It is essential to handle the samples to get a feel for the substrate as well as checking print quality. As part of the development/quotation process they will provide mock-ups (usually unprinted) to your specification.
Lead Times and Stock Holding
Can you accommodate the longer lead times associated with sourcing from continental Europe or the Far East? If a fast response is required, it may be worth sourcing from within your country even if the unit price is higher. If space is at a premium on your site, ask if they are able to hold stock on your behalf in their warehouse. This could be a useful service, especially if included in the price.
Are they easy to contact to place an order? If there is an issue with quality how quickly can they be on site to address it? Do they offer technical support for line trials or training for your colleagues on the packaging materials used? How fast can they turn around development samples? Fast responses to all of these are vital in an FMCG environment.
What do they offer in terms of special finishes and materials? e.g. foil-blocking and bio-based substrates. Do they offer any other value-added services? You might not need these now, but it could be useful to be able to offer these to your brand manager/ customers in the future.
Innovation and Development
What creative solutions can they offer? Ask to see previous projects. Do they keep on top of developments in their industry? Are they able to offer cost-saving ideas or more sustainable packaging solutions? What are their development facilities like? Again, these are useful for your supplier to have within their capabilities before you need them (who know what the next consumer trend will be?)
Once you’ve met with your potential suppliers and asked the questions above, you’ll have a good idea which companies you want to work with. A small trial order will confirm their credentials and hopefully be the start of a wonderful business relationship!
If you need help to find a packaging supplier, contact me to find out how I can help or call me on 07826 791 045.
You can join my mailing list for general information on packaging (emails sent out about once a month)
Retailers are under enormous pressure to eliminate plastic packaging altogether. Do cucumbers really need to be shrink-wrapped with plastic? Read on to find out…
OK, so most people know that if you keep a cucumber wrapped it will stay fresher for longer. If you are curious like me about by how much, here is an easy experiment you can do at home to see what difference the plastic shrink-wrap makes;
Get hold of 2 cucumbers of similar size and the same best before date. Weigh them both using kitchen scales and remove the shrink-wrap from one and weigh the packaging. Put both cucumbers in the fridge and continue weigh every day (more often if you like) until the best-before date. On the best before date, weigh the cucumbers one final time, take a slice from each and taste. (For one way to use up your cucumbers at the end of the experiment, try this recipe for cucumber soup from Delia)
Here are my results, weight of the cucumber plotted vs time;
The wrapped cucumber lost just 1g during the testing period, the unwrapped 12g – 3.5% of its total weight on the day of purchase (day 0) on the graph above. The unwrapped cucumber was still fresh but less crunchy than the wrapped cucumber.
What does this mean?
Shrink-wrap isn’t just a barrier to moisture-loss. After harvest all fresh produce continues to respire (breath) – its carbohydrate reacts with oxygen in the atmosphere and releases carbon dioxide and water (see here for more info). Shrink-wrapping reduces the amount of oxygen available so the cucumber’s respiration rate slows down, less water is lost and it stays fresh for longer. (Note a number of factors also affect the respiration rate – the variety, ripeness of the cucumber when picked, wax coatings and storage conditions).
These particular cucumbers came from Greece, so were picked, wrapped and labelled in Greece, loaded onto a truck, travelled 2000 miles including a trip over the sea to a UK distribution centre and then from the UK DC to the local stores. This can’t take any less than 2 days. Even with temperature controlled transport the temperature the cucumbers are kept at will vary. In many cases (as with these) they are sold and stored at room temperature, so respiration and water-loss will be greater during the time they are on sale. The shrink also physically protects the fruits from damage during transit.
OK, so the home-experiment above was just a bit of fun (yes I know, I need to get out more). However, the Co‑op, regarded as one of the greener supermarket retailers for packaging, performed a rigorous trial across the whole supply chain in 2012. Their trials showed that the shrink-wrap prevented waste by two-thirds (See this article from Sky News). Extensive scientific research has also been performed – see this report from the Journal of Food Science and Technology.
So what next?
Just 2g of plastic means that a cucumber can be as fresh on its best before date as on the day it was purchased, not to mention the protection it provides during a 2000 mile journey to our fridges. This doesn’t mean the industry should not act in order to reduce plastic usage, but until they find a workable solution, the best thing we as consumers can do is to keep the pressure on retailers to reduce plastic packaging where they can. What about the wrappers on soap bar and tinned tuna multi-packs – are they really necessary?
If you are a brand owner and want help in removing plastic packaging from your products contact me for advice or call +44 (0) 7826 791 045
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In the meantime I’m off to eat some cucumber soup!