Companies across all consumer goods categories are looking at ways to use less packaging while still achieving the same characteristics of functionality. The same holds true for the dairy industry, and processors of frozen products are finding ways to make their ice creams and novelties stand out while using less material.

Making efficient use of packaging and reducing the carbon profile of products is key for companies to consider when developing packaging solutions.

“Package reduction should not be confused with package elimination, but rather how can brand owners optimize packaging so they use the least amount possible while still maintaining product protection, quality, freshness and even efficacy,” said David Luttenberger, global packaging director for Chicago-based Mintel.

This requires using less virgin material and more recycled content when appropriate, Luttenberger said. At the same time, it doesn’t mean using recycled content simply for the sake of making sustainability claims but rather using it to help lower the total carbon footprint from sourcing to production, distribution and end-of-life or second life.


Considering the footprint

Another challenge for frozen dairy manufacturers is to make sure consumers understand that claims on secondary paperboard cartons, tubs or jars only apply to the secondary paperboard pack and not the non-recyclable primary structure, Luttenberger added.

When looking at new formats of frozen dairy packaging, Shor said many brands are introducing ice cream bites in trays. Overall, Mintel has found 30% of consumers cite pack size as an important factor when choosing ice cream while only 8% say being environmentally friendly is a purchase motivator.

Luttenberger believes companies will begin to display carbon footprint claims on-pack as carbon calculations are becoming easily quantified and universal, and 38% of US consumers have said they would like to see labeling that displays the environmental impact of a product and package in terms of carbon dioxide.


Recycle ready

Around one out of four new product introductions make claims related to recyclability, according to Mintel. While many of these claims are on secondary paperboard cartons that are recyclable, many claims are found on flexible film structures made of mono-materials that can only be recycled if the recycling infrastructure for such materials is present.

Overall, the responsibility to increase recyclability lands on the companies. Mintel reports 47% of US consumers expect brands to do more than governments to increase the amount of packaging that is recycled.

As regional sales manager for North America with the Verstraete division of Multi-Color Corporation, Batavia, Ohio, Brian Roske said the company is beginning to see a switch among frozen dairy processors from using cardboard to using polypropylene packaging with in-mold labels to create a mono-material package. He said European manufacturers have already made this switch, and the trend there is to also include embellishments on labels and packaging.

This switch involves significant resources, but Roske said companies have been willing to make those investments. He said while some companies are stating specific objectives related to plastic reduction and incorporating more paper, that doesn’t mean the resulting product will actually be more recyclable. Other companies are taking the opposite approach and using polypropylene in everything to create a fully mono-material container.

“We will see a switch from paperboard packaging and hybrid lids to a fully decorated polypropylene container and lid,” Roske said. “This will then allow for more eye-catching graphics using our foils and coatings.”

The switch to polypropylene containers will also give brands a chance to create unique shapes for their ice cream containers, and Roske said there will be increased innovation around design as a result. This can create an opportunity for differentiation among products that generally all come in similar sizes and shapes of containers.

Randy Austin, director of North America product line for Scholle IPN, Northlake, Ill., said the company is working to offer its food service clients mono-material packaging for soft-serve ice cream mix that is ready to be recycled when the infrastructure is in place. He also said they would like to see more innovation in post-consumer resins so more can be incorporated into their products. Overall, he said the company does not see using plant-based resins as the answer to sustainable ice cream packaging.

Scholle, which is owned by Switzerland-based SIG, is also working to replace some rigid high-density plastic items with bag-and-box packaging to significantly reduce waste, said Chip Halverson, business development director.


Innovation in the pipeline

As a unique project, MCC has also worked with Magnum ice cream to create an in-mold package that allows the consumer to crack the chocolate shell around the ice cream by squeezing both sides of the packaging. Roske said the brand needed finishes to go along with their image as a luxury brand, but the label also needed to fit the specific shape of the container to help consumers crack the chocolate topping.

Stanpac, Smithville, Ontario, has recently introduced a 2.75-gallon bulk ice cream tub that contains 30% post-consumer recyclable fiber. The company is also continuing previously established work to reduce polyethylene using a dispersion-based coating, and vice president of marketing Murray Bain said many of the larger brands are doing their own research to make sure these coatings are functioning as needed.

Bain also said many ice cream brand owners are becoming serious about adding more post-consumer recyclable fiber into packages as well.

In food service applications, creating a closed-loop dispensing system is a focus.

“There has been a move to get some of the packaging to directly connect to the dispensing system to improve the evacuation and increase product shelf life and offer different flavors along with the ice cream mix,” Austin said.

As ice cream brands consider displaying information about their carbon footprint on packaging, innovation in mono-material packaging will increase as companies develop sustainable solutions with functionality.  

“Brands that can invest in sustainable initiatives that do not pass on cost to the consumer, such as more responsible next-generation packaging alternatives that use less material, reduce the use of non-recyclable components, or even schemes that return a portion of sales to an ethical cause, will be more strongly received in the frozen treat category,” said Dasha Shor, associate director, global food and drink, Mintel.

Shor adds that any claims made on pack must deliver on their promises as about 32% of US consumer do not trust companies to be honest about their environmental impact.