The Sustainable Food Packaging Features Consumers Seek Most

The Sustainable Food Packaging Features Consumers Seek Most

A new Freedonia Group analysis finds that consumers are increasingly considering the way their food is packaged, particularly with an eye toward the amount and utility of packaging. Consumer survey data collected by The Freedonia Group, and featured in the analysis, identify the packaging features that consumers are seeking out most while grocery shopping:

  • Functionality is most important, with nearly 70% of survey respondents considering packaging that extends shelf life to be a mid-to-high-priority feature.
  • It is also very important to many consumers for packaging to have a window or clear element so that the packaging shows through to the food inside, with 65% of consumers considering this a high or medium priority.
  • A similar share (64%) considered unbreakable packaging to be a high or medium priority.

None of these results is surprising as most consumers see packaging’s primary function as protecting the food inside. However, the survey data also show that sustainability of food packaging is increasingly on the minds of consumers, as climate change and waste issues receive more media attention – with recyclability ranking as the second highest-priority feature overall among American consumers according to the survey.

How Do Consumers Perceive Sustainability in Food Packaging?

While sustainability is a complicated concept that food brands and packaging producers are addressing in a myriad of ways, consumers most widely equate eco-friendliness with what the source material is:

  • The survey data show that 57% of consumers ranking ranked jars, bottles, snack bags, and pouches made from bioplastics as the most eco-friendly packaging type. Still, the ranking would likely be higher if more consumers had access to the composting infrastructure that would allow the sustainability of bioplastics to be optimized at the end of their useful lives.
  • Paper-based options such as paper (e.g., wrappers), paperboard (e.g., cereal boxes and milk cartons), and corrugated board (e.g., shipping boxes) were also ranked highly in perceived eco-friendliness.

Additionally, most consumers are looking for some sustainable packaging features when they shop:

  • Recyclability was the leading sustainability option in addition to being the second highest priority feature overall.
  • Reusable packaging was the second most important sustainability feature.
  • Packaging that has little or no plastic was close behind reusable packaging as the third most important sustainability feature.
  • Compostability was the lowest priority sustainability option, primarily because most consumers still have little or no access to composting services.

However, some features can be harder for consumers to perceive, and for brands and packaging suppliers to communicate. For instance, nearly 30% of respondents noted they were particularly looking to find recycled content or no excess packaging when making decisions, but information about recycled content requires looking carefully at the package and is typically not seen from the shelf without picking up the item and reading its package.

The same applies to excess packaging, which is something that consumers are more likely to perceive once they take a product home and use it. As such, this feature is more likely to affect subsequent purchasing decisions rather than initial decisions.

Vegans & Families with Children Place Highest Priority on Sustainable Packaging Features

The analysis finds that vegetarians and vegans are more likely to place a high priority on environmental features of packaging. This stems at least partly from the fact that many choose this eating plan for environmental reasons (lower carbon footprint or animal welfare):

Compared to total households, a significantly higher percentage of vegetarians and vegans place a high or medium priority on recyclability, recycled content, and packaging with little or no plastic. The gap between the share of vegetarians and vegans and total households that place a high or medium priority on compostability and reusability in food packaging is even larger.

Families with children are also more likely than the general population to prioritize environmental features in packaging, the analysis shows. Though not as highly as vegans and vegetarians, these consumers rank recyclability, recycled content, packaging with little or no plastic, and compostability  and reusability as higher food packaging priorities than the average US consumer.

Want to Learn More?

Food Packaging Consumer Insights examines consumer insights and trends for the US market for food packaging, including both rigid and flexible packaging, sold to food manufacturers, primarily for products targeted at retail or foodservice markets.

About the Author: Peter Kusnic is a Content Writer with The Freedonia Group, where he researches and writes studies focused on an array of industries.

  Consumer Goods      Food & Beverage      Industry Studies      Packaging