Bakers must think beyond traditional packaging choices when assessing
The trend toward environmental awareness has encompassed the wholesale baking industry during the past five years, creating ramped-up demand for greener packaging options.
When it comes to packaging practices, bakers looking to go green tend to focus on the actual packaging. But they shouldn't overlook packaging methods and processes. Vendors are stepping up to the plate to meet the demand for environmentally-friendly packaging by creating new options, from packaging and shipping methods to the packaging material itself.
“We certainly see a trend in which bakers are very interested in how they can be a greener company in all aspects,” says Etienne Snollaerts, C.E.O., Coldpack, San Diego. About five years ago, he noticed a sharp increase in the number of bakeries inquiring about the environmental benefits of his company's insulated shipping liners.
The trend toward diminishing packaging waste is driven by wholesale bakers striving to operate more environmentally efficiently. As consumers become more environmentally savvy, the days of using inordinate amounts of energy, potentially harmful chemicals and wasteful packaging to create disposable products are coming to an end.
Becoming a greener operation offers a side benefit as well. A bakery that promotes itself as a socially responsible enterprise may see increased revenues as it capitalizes on consumer demand for environmental awareness. Last year, more than 250 IBM executives were surveyed on corporate social responsibility. Most viewed social responsibility as an opportunity to gain competitive advantage and grow revenue, says Mark Wilterding, IBM's global leader for product lifecycle management consulting.
Bakers aren't shy about touting their use of environmentally-friendly packaging. Vegan cookie maker Liz Lovely, Waitsfield, Vt., includes a fairly prominent statement on the company's website that details its commitment to environmentally-friendly packaging.
In the food industry, it's not easy being green. Packaged foods need to be airtight to maintain freshness, which is a major contributor to plastic waste, says Liz Holtz, founder of Liz Lovely. The company takes advantage of new packaging concepts made from renewable materials that also are recyclable and biodegradable, she adds.
The cookie company is now testing NatureFlex, which Holtz hopes will offer an alternative to polypropylene cookie bags. NatureFlex, from Innovia Films, Atlanta, is made from wood pulp harvested from managed plantations.
Liz Lovely also is committed to using BPA-free packaging, Holtz adds. The company uses containers from NatureWorks LLC, Minnetonka, Minn., which produces what it calls bio-plastic, a biodegradable material made from corn. Bio-plastic doesn't contain BPA.
About one year ago, NatureWorks began seeing its biopolymer's use in the baking industry really take off, notes Mary Rosenthal, marketing communications manager. “There's a whole drive toward sustainability out there and bakeries are looking at what they can do with their own products,” Rosenthal adds.
Her company's biopolymer, Ingeo, is made from dextrose derived from corn. Rosenthal says the product emits 75 percent fewer greenhouse gases than traditional packaging plastics and uses 50 percent fewer fossil fuels to create it.
Ingeo first found traction in the produce aisle four years ago and that impetus quickly morphed into in-store bakeries, Rosenthal says. Bakers supplying SuperTarget bakeries, for example, are packaging products, such as cookies, croissants and muffins, in Ingeo, Rosenthal says.
Similarly, Biosphere Products, Carpinteria, Calif., and Sealed Air Corp., Saddle Brook, N.J., recently joined forces to introduce a line of compostable trays and pans. Wholesale bakers-particularly those supplying products to in-store bakeries-have taken to the product called Renew-a-Pak.
The trays and pans are made from potato and tapioca starches and from native grasses, such as bamboo, says Charles Dunlap, director of sales and marketing, Sealed Air Corp.
The bakeware moves seamlessly from packaging to shipping to consumer sales, Dunlap says. Bakeries bake and ship the product within the same pan, and consumers can heat the product within the bakeware.
Whole Foods Market now bakes, packages and sells many of its muffins in the Renew-a-Pak pans. “The Whole Foods bakeries make the mix, then pour their product into our containers, which are then placed into a very large oven-multiple numbers of these containers at a time,” Dunlap says. Once baked, the muffins are placed directly in a polyethelene bag, sealed with a twist tie and shipped to local stores.
Though the bakeware's environmental benefits are obvious-the products are biodegradable and made from renewable resources-wholesale bakers must look at the entire environmental impact a packaging material provides. Because products can be baked and shipped within the same container, bakers don't need to wash baking containers, saving water and the power used to heat the water, Dunlap says.
Environmental benefits also can be found in slashing the frequency of shipments made. Packaging that allows more product to be packed within one shipping container saves fuel, Snollaerts says.
His company's product, AirLiner shipping pouch, is an inflatable liner that essentially turns a corrugated shipping box into a cooler. Inch-to-inch, it offers the same insulation value as Styrofoam, Snollaerts says. Because it can be shipped flat, however, it takes up much less room than traditional coolers, making for fewer deliveries to the bakery.
“A semi truck of foam coolers takes up the same amount of space as one pallet of our product,” he says. Cutting shipping frequency also means cutting shipping costs, which is one way going green can lead to bottom-line savings. Coldpack's bakery customers ship frozen dough, tarts and cheesecakes.
Bakers must also keep disposal methods in mind when looking to go green and disposal is an advantage with products like these, Snollaerts says. Though the product isn't recyclable, it can be deflated-reduced to a shriveled mass of its former self-to take up much less landfill space than traditional coolers, Snollaerts says.
Wholesale bakeries shouldn't overlook what may be considered the smallest packaging technologies when looking to move to a greener operation. How about cutting the amount of ink used to mark the bake date or the buy date on packaged baked products? Or, how about considering a switch to ink that's more environmentally-friendly, says Scott Prochaska, product manager, Videojet Technologies Inc., Wood Dale, Ill., which makes continuous ink jet technologies used in the baking industry.
Continuous ink jet printing is widely used in the industry today and is considered environmentally advantageous because it uses less ink than other methods, Prochaska says. “If you're stamping on material, you're using more ink because contact printing method uses more ink than inkjet printing does,” he says. “If you're using a thermal transfer process, you're laying down more ink than inkjet. From a sustainability perspective you want to use less to accomplish as much or more.”
Bakers already using inkjet printing have opportunities to improve the method to ramp up its green returns, Prochaska says. They might, for example, consider a switch to an ethanol-based ink, which can dry a bit slower than methanol-based inks. However, ethanol inks release fewer volatile organic emissions because less of the product is used during the printing process due to differences in the ways the inks are reconstituted in order to be continuously streamed, he says.
Of course, water-based inks feature even lower emission profiles, but the trade off is longer dry times, he adds. While the chemical-based inks dry in a few seconds, water-based inks take anywhere from 10 seconds to 20 seconds to dry. A humid environment, such as that found in a bakery, might mean still longer dry times. “So bakers need to weigh the green profile against whether they have time in their process to allow that,” Prochaska says.
When it comes to greening their operations, bakers must always weigh the pros and cons-including both costs and esoteric factors of newer and potentially more sustainable packaging methods. With that in mind, bakers can expect to see more environmentally-friendly packaging offerings, and face decisions on when and how to incorporate them in their operations in the days to come.