Strawberry Punnet

European consumers want produce packaging to be transparent, protective and cost-effective rather than environmentally-friendly, according to Dr Ralf Mayer de Groot, CEO of eponymous marketing research consultancy in Germany.

A recent Mayer de Groot survey found that 65 per cent of European consumers were not concerned by packaging’s eco credentials, he told WOFI delegates last week, but rather whether it was transparent and protected product quality.

Consumers have a limited understanding of eco labels, and 95 per cent of their purchases are driven by emotional rather than rational responses anyway, Mayer de Groot said.

Among those surveyed about berry packaging, 39 per cent did not accept higher prices for sustainable packaging, and a large target group said it would continue to buy transparent plastic trays.

“The key drivers where berry packaging is concerned are visibility for quality control and lower prices,” said Mayer de Groot. “Pulp trays and carboard trays fulfil the needs of the more environmental conscious consumer segments who are prepared to pay somewhat higher prices.”

Alessandro Mariani of Italian plastic packaging manufacturer Infia added that there is a real difference between the perception and the science when it comes to sustainable packaging.

Making the case for plastic packaging, he told WOFI delegates that if we follow life of an apple from cradle to grave, more than 50 per cent of its footprint is caused by the growing and harvesting of apple itself. Whereas plastic packaging creates only a 6.5 per cent increase in its CO2 footprint and increases the shelflife of the product thus reducing waste – which is a huge culprit of CO2 emissions.

The manufacturing of plastic packaging versus alternative materials, meanwhile, generates two to three times fewer emissions, he said.

“Plastic has a very bad reputation, but we cannot forget that plastic is a very light, inert product so doesn’t allow any contamination with foreign bodies, can be recycled and can then be reused for food,” said Mariani.

“The world population is becoming bigger and the world’s resources are limited. We need to move to a circular way of thinking,” he added. “When we make plastic packaging this is made to be reused for the same purpose. This is the only way to survive in the long term. The linear, take, make and dispose model is not sustainable any more.”