Category Archives: sustainability

Packaging Review – Fortnum and Mason Loose Leaf Tea Caddy

Fortnum and Mason Tea Caddy - photo for packaging review blog at scgreenwood.co.uk

Fortnum and Mason loose leaf tea caddy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Under normal operating conditions I can’t last for more than a couple of hours without a cup of tea. I also love a little bit of luxury so one of my guilty pleasures when work takes me to London is to pop into Fortnum and Mason at St Pancras Station for a cuppa on the way home.  At over £6 for a pot it isn’t cheap but not that much more than London prices for a pint of decent beer.  The tea is also available to buy from the adjoining shop in attractive caddies, which are reviewed below;

 

In Store

The St Pancras store is a satellite from the flagship department store in Piccadilly.  This is the ideal location to catch both day-trippers and visitors from Europe via Eurostar ready to spend money on a last minute cuppa or a souvenir to take home before their train departs.  The unit is split into two, a bistro on one side and retail on the other offering small, easy to pack luxury food and drink items, ideal for gifting, all beautifully packaged and displayed.

With Fortnum and Mason signature duck-egg blue as the background colour the cube–shaped tea caddies look fresh and modern and block well on shelf (and are also a very efficient shape for shipping).  Different varieties are identified with a bold stripe of colour half way up the pack, which makes the tea easy to shop.  Rather than use 100% ink coverage, the graphic designer has allowed the metal to show through in parts of the design without showing the grain of the metal sheet (which can happen all too often with tins).  Both gloss and matt lacquers have been used, some subtle embossing embellishes the design and the overall print quality is excellent, adding to the premium feel. The tins themselves are over-wrapped with OPP film, many would consider this to be unnecessary plastic, but this is a useful addition as it will protect the finish from scuffing during transit, especially the areas that have been embossed.  These caddies are likely to be given as gifts, so the overwrap keeps the tins in optimum condition whilst also acting as tamper evidence.

There is clearly a focus on customer service here; on purchasing a tin of Countess Grey – black tea with a citrus scent, I was given instructions on how to make an iced version (brew twice the normal strength, chill, add ice and slices of orange).  There is also the added thrill of being handed your purchase in a sturdy Fortnum’s plastic carrier bag. To my shame I find it really hard to say I don’t need a bag on the rare occasions when I buy a luxury brand (the bag was used just once and now languishes in the corner of my kitchen – I can’t quite bring myself to use it as a bin bag). 

 

At Home

The tin is essentially a square version of a paint can with a round lever-lid.  The lid provides a tight seal, but requires the tea-maker to have a suitable lever to hand.  This isn’t an issue in this case as the tea is loose leaf, you’ll be most likely be measuring it out with a teaspoon and can use the handle to prise open.  On opening it is a pleasant surprise to see that the tin is almost full; there is very little head-space.  At £12.95 for 250g, the tea works out at 5.18 per 100g – that’s cheaper per 100g than equivalent products from high-street tea merchants T2 and Whittard.

Some tins aren’t made to be completely air-tight, but these keep the tea in good condition over a few months.  An amusing touch is that when you get close to the bottom of the tin, the words ‘Time for Tea’ appear on the inside of the base as a gentle reminder.

Time for tea

Inside of Fortnums tea caddy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are improvements I would like to see.  I have a couple of these now (Smoky Earl Grey and Duchess Grey) and it would be useful for space saving in my kitchen if they stacked easily on top of each other.  I’m also bothered by the presence of the bar code and a QI code being printed on the back panel – these spoil the overall appearance and could easily be applied using a removable label. 

 

Reuse

Up until a couple of years ago this would have been the end of this blog, the tin is pretty and I’d probably keep it to keep other things in for a while or put in recycling.  However, although it took me a few visits to realise, F&M also sell many of their teas loose.  I’m currently researching reusable and refillable packaging, so recently I took my empty caddy back to the store and to my surprise they happily refilled it for me from a bulk tin behind the counter.  At £4.80 for 100g it came to £12 to refill to the original weight of 250g, saving me 95 pence on the online price for a caddy.  I even remembered a reusable shopper so apart from a small label, my purchase was almost completely packaging-free!

 

Overall

The tea caddy is a desirable object that I am happy to have on display in my kitchen, it keeps the contents fresh for as long as I need it to, and having the option to refill, either directly in store or at home from tea bought loose in store is a definite bonus.

Do you buy loose leaf tea?  If so what is your favourite way to buy it?  Or so you prefer teabags?  let me know in the comments section below.

 

 

 

 

 

Sarah Greenwood MSc(Eng) FIMMM APkgPrf is a Sustainable Packaging specialist.  She is currently leading a proof of concept study at the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures at the University of Sheffield on reusable packaging. This is part of the UKRI funded project Plastics: Redefining Single Use . She is also an independent consultant www.scgreenwood.co.uk #plastics #RedefiningSingleUse #Reuse

 

 

Minty Feet

Classic Packaging – The Body Shop Boston

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 –

 

Humble Beginnings

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.

 

Teenage Dreams

WOuld you use 20 year old moisturiser?

HDPE Body Shop Boston with unusal pink label – this would normally been Body Shop Green

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

Original 80s / 90s Body Shop Against Animal Testing Badge

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?

mmmm pink grapefruit

New Body Shop bottle shape, 250ml with Boston miniature, 60ml

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 Future

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. 

 

If you enjoyed reading this article and would like to read more – visit my blog or join my mailing list to be notified of new posts.

For help with your packaging development – get in touch or call 07826 791 045 to find out how I can help.

Sarah Greenwood

Biodegradable Plastic Packaging – 5 things you need to know

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)

 

Home compostability logo

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)

 

Oxo-biodegradable plastic bag on a beach in 2011.

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 Big Plastics Debate – Who Won?

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)

Sarah

Fresh cucumbers

Do cucumbers really need to be shrink-wrapped?

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;

 

Experiment

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)

Cucumber being weighed

Cucumber being weighed

Here are my results, weight of the cucumber plotted vs time;

Weights of wrapped and unwrapped cucumbers vs. time in home fridge at 4°C

Weights of wrapped and unwrapped cucumbers vs. time in home fridge at 4°C

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-lossAfter 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!

Chilled cucumber soup in a teacup