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The rise of packaging-free stores and what that means for manufacturers

Darcy Simonis, Group Vice President of ABB’s Food and Beverage network, explains what the rise in packaging-free stores could mean for food manufacturers.

By 2050, it is estimated that there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans. Recently, Swedish teenage activist, Greta Thunberg, has created huge debate and concern for governments on the issue of climate change and the damage it’s causing to the environment, provoking the need for change. As more research is conducted into the damage that plastic is causing to the planet, there has been a dramatic change to the way we as humans, treat the planet. One change that is taking affect is the introduction of packaging-free stores. 

In 2015, the plastic carrier bag charge was implemented in the United Kingdom, and as a result, re-useable shopping bags became essential for some shoppers. In the United States, New York has become the third state to introduce the single-use plastic bag ban in large retail stores, which will come into effect in 2020.

Alongside the carrier bag ban and charge, some supermarkets have begun to alter the packaging their products are sold in to help reduce waste.

Although steps to reduce plastic waste have made a difference, it will still take years to see a positive effect on our planet. That is why some businesses are making dramatic changes to reduce plastic waste. They are taking packaging to the next level – by completely removing it.

From plastic to package-free

Consumers are increasingly being encouraged to bring their own packaging to stores to take produce away in.

The growing consumer demand for plastic alternatives has sparked a rise in packaging-free stores across the world. Stores such as Original Unverpackt in Berlin, Precycle in Brooklyn and more recently, Bulk Market in Hackney, London are revolutionising the shopping experience, with consumers being encouraged to bring their own tubs, jars and containers to take produce away in.

Packaging-free stores eliminate all forms of packaging, including the carrier bags used to transport goods. From fruit and vegetables, to spices and oils, dog food, to toothpaste and shampoos, customers can buy as much or as little as they need with re-useable bags and containers from home to weigh and buy their plastic-free produce in.

Less than 100 years ago, consumers often went straight to the source for much of their produce, minimalising the impact on the environment through the transportation and packaging of goods. While we may never return to this, consumers are increasingly becoming more aware of the carbon footprint their produce leaves and it seems that packaging-free stores could be one way of tackling this issue. Could this growing trend impact food manufacturers though?

Package-free and food manufacturers

For the environment, packaging-free stores are a great invention. However, for food manufacturers, it could impact on production and sales if this trend is to stay.

As packaging-free stores display their produce in bulk, with no packaging to protect it, the risk of contamination is increased. Food manufacturers need to ensure that hygiene procedures are thorough and that products are treated with greater precautions to prevent contamination in the factory, before they reach shop shelves.

When we go shopping, we all like to pick up and handle the produce to ensure its fresh, particularly if it is fruit or vegetables. With no packaging to protect the product, there is the potential for contamination from the consumer. This could pose a big threat for packaging-free stores.

One way that manufacturers can ensure there is no contamination of their produce before it reaches the store, is through traceability.  The concept of ‘farm to fork’ means that consumers have become more inclined to buy produce if they know where it has come from and have information to prove that. Usually, product information is on product packaging and labelling, which is not possible in a package-free store, so barcodes on food containers in the store could contain the traceability data for that product.

A big threat to packaging-free stores is the potential contamination from consumers handling produce.

Traceability allows organisations to track and record data of food produce through all stages of its production, processing and distribution to the consumer. Manufacturers should be compliant with the ISO 22005:2007 traceability standard as a minimum.

With the increasing concerns over climate change and the environment, it’s likely that these trends are here to stay. For manufacturers to keep up with the changes, they must adapt their processes, like implementing traceability into the plant, to counter any new issues that arise from these growing trends.

If a 16-year-old girl is brave enough to stand up with governments and can make the decision to make a change, then food manufacturers certainly can.

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