September 12, 2013 /3BL Media/ - Amanda Humes, packaging engineer at ConAgra foods, will be presenting at Focal Point 2013: Frontiers in Packaging, on Oct. 22 at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. The one-day conference is hosted by the Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology (WIST) at the university. Ahead of the conference, WIST asked Humes about emerging trends in food packaging, how ConAgra Foods is fostering consumer engagement with its sustainable packaging strategies and more.
Focal Point 2013 will target opportunities and challenges for the packaging and converting industries in the Midwest. The event will address manufacturing, converting, end-use, and regulatory concerns in plastics, corrugated carton board and specialty paper.
WIST: What do you see as the emerging trends in packaging particularly in the food industry?
Humes: We’re focusing on convenience, snacking occasions, on-the-go food. Consumers want their products whenever, wherever, and the ability to be as agile as they are is key. The health halo is a huge trend too, which is where we’re excited to continue taking the Healthy Choice brand—better for you and better tasting at the same time. Convenient, single-serve packages may not seem the most environmentally friendly, but they can help reduce food waste (through portion control, for instance), which is generally a bigger resource pull than packaging.
WIST: How do you as a company foster engagement in your packaging sustainability strategy with your downstream customers and the consumer?
Humes: We often use the outputs of our simplified life cycle analyses in meetings with our customers, and understand that the sustainability story is a selling point. We’ve also collaborated with customers on key initiatives—an example would be our partnership with a foodservice customer to develop a first-of-its-kind recyclable frozen potato package, including helping train their employees on proper end-of-life handling for the material. For consumers, we strive to be simple and clear about our on-pack sustainability messaging, and we’ve trained the team in our customer call-in center to be knowledgeable about any sustainability messaging on our packages.
WIST: What’s your take on the emerging bio-based and compostable or anaerobically digestible packages that are starting to appear in the marketplace?
Humes: Compostable/biodegradable isn’t a priority at the moment—it isn’t going to add value for our consumers, as they don’t typically have access to the proper disposal facilities. Also, packaging has much more value as post-consumer recycled content or as fuel than it does as compost. Bio-based is a different story, since reducing our dependence on petrochemicals is something we’re interested in doing. It still has to be the right package for the job though—we aren’t going to sacrifice quality, protection, etc.
WIST: What one message would you like attendees of Focal Point 2013 to take away with them at the end of the day?
Humes: That brand owners are beginning to change the way they think about packaging and sustainability, and that we can hopefully shift consumer perception too. Packaging can be part of the solution to avoiding food waste both in home and throughout the supply chain. It can help minimize wastes throughout the entire lifecycle of a product, and can ideally be reused or recycled afterwards. It’s exciting to shift our focus from being on the defensive about the use of packaging to be on the offensive as part of the effort to reduce wastes overall.