Tesco scan bananas packaging detail

There is very little publicised here in the US with regards a drive towards a reduction of packaging by retailers. Really, I haven’t seen much promotion of environmentally friendly policies at all (see Donald Trump vs Paris and Pittsburgh).

While working in the UK supply base, we focused on minimising packaging as much as possible, driven by both retailer strategy and cost mitigation. Almost every UK retailer, whether part of Wrap’s Courtauld 2025 or with their own targets, has announced ongoing plans for packaging reduction, and last week’s announcements further strengthened the position.

In the UK microns have been reduced and trays removed where possible, and even simple changes such as a move from a fin to lap seal can add up over a year’s production. This is not the case here. They can shrink wrap an individual apple. Some US retailer websites make reference to examples of moving away from fossil fuel-based packaging and removing BPA and harmful materials using recycled content etc. But certainly where they currently are on pre-packaged goods is behind the UK.

As a large volume of produce is branded it falls outside of the scope of retailers’ own-brand claims, if they exist. Packaging in the US can feel more premium. It may also provide greater protection against longer transportation routes, in-store rotation and customer handling. There is also the shelf life angle: there are multiple components to maximising life on every product and I won’t feign to know many of them. This side of the pond actually led the way in some of those technologies. They do like and expect longer shelf life here – would you believe bread lasts nearly two weeks!

Many of these plastic delights feel very continental Europe in format. Particularly the plastic tubs for items like baby leaf and fruit. Asparagus in tear-open, block-bottom, carry-handle packets with no banding – very convenient for recipes that only use a few spears. There are lots of polystyrene trays with cling-wrap not seen in the UK since the early 1990s, chiefly in prepared vegetables.

The flip side of course is that higher volumes of loose product may well mean that despite finding 40 micron film, their environmental impact via packaging volume in produce might well be balanced.