Food Packaging Sustainability Is Increasingly Important to Consumers

Cleveland OH, March 16, 2022 – Sustainability continues to be one of the highest profile stories in the food packaging market, with producers of the different types of packaging jockeying to be seen as the most environmentally friendly choice. According to a new Freedonia Group consumer insights analysis, this is driven in part by consumer awareness of the amount of waste generated by their household food consumption, coupled with increased media coverage of sustainability challenges.

However, the definition of sustainability continues to be problematic and often is focused on only one or two packaging parameters instead of total lifecycle environmental cost. While consumer awareness of this complexity is increasing, the issues involving waste – how the packaging is disposed of – and how it protects the food remain in the front of consumers’ minds.

Packaging Materials Ranked by Perceived Eco-Friendliness

While sustainability is a complicated concept that includes factors such as protection of the product from damage or waste and the amount of carbon needed for transport, consumers most widely equate eco-friendliness with what the source material is.

A consumer survey conducted by The Freedonia Group in 2021 found that:

  • Consumers considered jars, bottles, snack bags, and pouches made from bioplastics to be the most eco-friendly packaging options.
  • 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.
  • Conventional plastics were ranked lowest in perceived eco-friendliness.

While it is hard to communicate more complex levels of sustainability on a label, prominent placement of recycling instructions or eye-catching information about the incorporation of recycled or bio-based content would help make it easier for consumers to gauge the sustainability of a product’s packaging.

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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.