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Why we cling to plastic buckets of snack vegetables

“Consumers want to see snack vegetables through packaging”

For about ten years now, the shaker has been a much-used packaging for Dutch snack vegetables. There’s also an abundance of small buckets with little cucumbers, carrots or tomatoes. But shakers appear to be on their way out, according to rumours at the Tomato Forum in Düsseldorf. This is mainly caused by the themes of sustainability and recycling plastic. Although it was said that the packaging of snack vegetables is outdated in Düsseldorf, it’s a fact that supermarkets are still full of them. If plastics buckets and shakers are no longer ‘in vogue,’ which alternatives remain?

Supermarkets are filled with them in various shapes and sizes: snack vegetables. According to Dutch supermarket chain Jumbo, it’s the goal to use as little packaging material as possible, although user-friendliness and shelf life must continue to be guaranteed. A packaging has to be versatile with various requirements, so they say.

One of the largest players for producing and packing those snack vegetables is Greenco. Jos van Mil works on, among other things, growing and packing well-known Tommies snack tomatoes for Greenco. “We started with the small bags of snack tomatoes,” the managing partner product and market innovation for Greenco says. “The shaker was created in 2007, and since 2010 it was possible to make your own mix of snack tomatoes from the pick & mix trays in supermarkets. I don’t think plastic packaging, such as the buckets and shakers, is outdated. Customers continue to ask for them in supermarkets. Consumers are, understandably, critical of using plastic. And we want to improve in this regard as well. We closely follow developments and innovations in the packing industry, and respond to this as soon as the opportunity to become more sustainable arises.”

Poorthuis Packaging is the party that makes the plastic packaging for Greenco, among other things. According to spokesperson Bas Folbert, the snack tomato became large thanks to the shaker, which they now sell to most growers or packers of snack vegetables. “At first we sold the snack tomatoes in a milkshake cup,” he says. “But the standard milkshake cup was a bit too small, so we created our own shaker, with, if desired, holes in the bottom. The same is true for the snack vegetable bucket. For that product we were inspired by small yoghurt buckets that are sold daily in supermarkets. With some adjustments, like holes in the bottom, a tight handle for the purpose of automation, and less weight, we eventually arrived at the bucket we have now.”

Twenty times as much plastic
A Dutch party that worked on packing snack tomatoes Candiezz in the past, packed the small tomatoes in small plastic bags of film in the past. According to a spokesperson of the company, who prefers to remain anonymous because of his vision of packing options, a small bag of snack tomatoes is a significantly better choice than a bucket. “Regarding amount, not much weight can go in a bucket,” the man says. “Compared to the film we used in the past, a bucket of snack vegetables with the same content uses 20 to 25 times more plastic than a small plastic bag.”

Jos van Mil from Greenco also indicates he would like to work as sustainably as possible, although that’s not always easy. “We did much consumer research,” he says. “This shows consumers choose the packaging that allows them to see the product, which means plastic. We therefore pack the snack vegetables in transparent packaging that also protects the product. Even when tests with alternatives are done, the plastic packaging remains popular. Even when consumers indicate they think sustainability is important. They look, take a bucket, and place it in their shopping trolley. After all, it has to be easy, quick and visible.”

The words ‘quick’ and ‘visibility’ are terms Bas Folbert from Poorthuis Packaging recognises regarding purchasing behaviour of consumers. “The bucket is currently very successful, and that is partially thanks to the visibility of the product in the packaging,” he says.  “We hope to soon market a new plastic packaging, which will be more sustainable than the current shaker and bucket. And in this regard it’s also the question whether supermarkets or consumers will be seduced to choose this packaging instead of the current shaker or bucket.”

Yet the man who wishes to remain anonymous understands why the consumers choose the snack buckets, even though this packaging uses more plastic. “The packaging is a way to be distinctive,” he continues. “I think consumers thinks it’s convenient. It’s easier to put a resealable bucket in your car than a bag of snack tomatoes.”

The plastic used for snack vegetables can be easily recycled, according to the anonymous man. Other existing alternative packaging may seem more sustainable, but that’s not always the case, according to the man. “Take paper cups, for example,” says the packaging specialist. “If only paper were used, the material would become completely pulpy because of the damp tomatoes. It’s possible to add a thin layer of plastic, so the cardboard remains dry. However, this makes the packaging twice as bad. Recycling becomes very difficult, is it plastic or cardboard?” What would be the best solution according to the anonymous film producer? “No packaging,” he says. “It would be best for the environment, but that isn’t going to happen. When the tomatoes are for sale loose, and consumers have to bring their own cup, it can’t be branded. That is possible with the bucket, by printing the brand on the packaging. Otherwise a snack tomato is just a snack tomato.”

According to Jos van Mil from Greenco, there are alternatives for the shaker and bucket, although the solution for larger plastic packaging has not yet been developed. “We tried various packaging,” he says. “We tried cardboard boxes with a plastic layer over the tomatoes, and a packaging of sustainable cane sugar material, but each time the conclusion was that consumers choose the plastic cups in which the tomatoes are very visible.Other alternatives were also made, such as punnets made from leaves, but in that case, price per packaging is increased by about ten cent, and this also doesn’t show the product properly.”

The grower and packer behind Tommies indicates recycled plastic is an option, but not applicable in every case. “When possible we now use recycled material, but its supply has been limited up till now,” Jos continues. “The lids of the plastic shakers are made from 80 per cent recycled material, in any case. The cups and buckets are made from new material, because making the packaging from recycled material is very difficult in this case. The plastic packaging we make are recyclable. We want to communicate towards the consumer how the product has to be thrown away, which is why we put that information on the packaging.” Additionally, food safety also plays an important part in the sustainability process, according to Jos. “For example, about ten per cent of the inside of the packaging, where the product comes into contact with the plastic, has to be made from new material. The same is true for cardboard, the material has to be new where the product makes contact with the packaging.”

Besides, the man from Poorthuis Packaging indicates that sustainable packaging are not necessarily a better alternative to plastic packaging. “The manner of recycling is just as important as offering sustainable packaging,” he says. “Packaging made from PLA, which should be disposed of with the organic waste, although the packaging looks like plastic. When consumers put it with plastic waste, it contaminates the other plastic. The communication about how we have to recycle waste is therefore very important.”



Publication date: 9/21/2017


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