Brisk business due to the scorching weather and the World Cup bringing out the crowds hasn’t dampened growth in foodservice. This is despite tough high street trade and the debates around packaging waste, reports Jez Abbott.
How has business been for your company in the past year?
Kevin Curran, managing director, Tri-Star Packaging: Brisk. We are 5-6% up on last year in what can only be described as a tough market where standing still is seen by many as pretty good.
Mike Turner, managing director, Graphic Packaging International (GPI) Foodservice Europe: GPI has been performing strongly.
Simon Brears, foodservice sales director, Coveris: Sales have been buoyant. The prolonged spell of hot weather, royal wedding and World Cup have been very beneficial.
Joe Frankel, chief executive, Vegware: We grew by 35% from 2016-17 to 2017-18 and this year is shaping up to be a similar step.
Will Lorenzi, President, Smart Planet Technologies: Sales of reCUP have grown 30% month over month over the course of a year to reach 10 million cups a month.
Neil Goldman, managing director and chief executive, Colpac: Good. We achieved more growth despite ongoing debates on the environment, food waste, needs to reduce plastic and tough high-street trade.
Sally Molyneux, sales director, Klöckner Pentaplast food and consumer products: We are fortunate given today’s focus on plastic packaging – sustainable and recyclable packaging is integral to our portfolio.
What challenges are you facing?
Curran: It’s a perfect storm. Financially strapped food retailers and casual dining operators want reduced costs in a market where raw materials are going up, meanwhile home delivery is growing.
Turner: Our ability to efficiently meet demand as interest in sustainable packaging solutions rises.
Brears: With mounting pressure to use less single-use, but more sustainable packaging, it is imperative for us to progress with the next generation of materials in our formats.
Frankel: We’ve seen a huge surge in demand this year. Many product lines increased 10-fold in as many weeks. We’ve had step changes in categories we weren’t expecting which is a challenge.
Lorenzi: Market understanding of the differences and preferences between recyclable, compostable and biodegradable end-of-life solutions.
Goldman: Brexit and the complexities of the environmental debate around packaging. Both require strong teams to manage the seemingly constant changes.
Molyneux: The focus on closed-loop solutions and moving to a circular economy – we need to be sure we are aligned with this in terms of lightweighting and reducing carbon emissions.
What do you see as the biggest market opportunity for foodservice packaging?
Curran: There are two big opportunities. Street food is still a growing market; and the second is the soaring growth of home-delivered food to suits millennial dining styles.
Turner: Increased interest in sustainable packaging and the variety and quality of sustainable options available.
Brears: Compostable packaging is a small segment of the global packaging industry but we expect its usage to rise. We have re-launched ranges using a plastic-free, compostable film.
Frankel: In the US some operators have switched to reusables in-house though the huge rise in ‘grab and go’ and home delivery means that the overall market opportunity is growing.
Lorenzi: Sustainable packaging options. Products will be successful when they can make improvements on cost, performance and environmental footprint.
Goldman: As an industry we can educate our customers, their consumers and the media on the environmental benefits of packaging. This year we launched products under our compostable and recyclable Zest range.
Molyneux: Food to go, especially hot products with the advent of Deliveroo, Uber Eats and Just Eat. Packaging is integral to the in-home dining occasion.
What do you see as the key developments in packaging formats at present?
Curran: Tricky. Everyone wants to reduce packaging, which has led to a growing acknowledgement in the market that rPET is most probably the material of choice for our sector.
Turner: New coatings to enable packaging to be more easily recycled in standard waste streams.
Brears: Our NPD teams are working with customers to enhance food in environmentally responsible formats with an emphasis on different opening features and on shelf appeal.
Frankel: Let’s turn this question round and say where the development needs to be. Much of the industry hasn’t been designing products with recycling or composting in mind – all components of a product should go in the same recycling stream.
Lorenzi: Cost and performance used to be the key pillars of packaging technology, but the third pillar of environmental impact has become just as important – if not more so.
Goldman: Modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) technologies will play a pivotal role in protecting food responsibly.
Molyneux: Technology to design products that are widely recyclable using optimised amounts of material and keeping products as lightweight and fully functional as possible.
How has your client base changed over the years?
Curran: It’s client attitudes that have changed: they are dramatically more demanding and discerning on products, capabilities and new product development – and the price they expect to pay.
Turner: Our client base is widening in numbers of customers and the types of products we are asked to supply.
Brears: Our client base has been consistent, but we have seen some consolidation in the marketplace.
Frankel: We have gone from being a niche option to now being a key supplier to major players. We now work with big beverage brands.
Lorenzi: Client demand has changed. Now purchasing decisions are being driven by the need to make packaging more sustainable.
Goldman: As boundaries between retail and food service continue to blur more opportunities have presented themselves.
Molyneux: Clear differentiation of substrate versus market. Councils, retailers and the NHS prefer recycled PET. Traditional takeaways want EPS. We must honour the past but innovate for the future.
How do you feel media scrutiny on plastic packaging and utensils has affected the foodservice industry?
Curran: I’m seriously fed up with the political and media focus on plastic as a problem. It is not the problem; it’s how plastic is used, handled and disposed of, and sadly there’s lack of understanding.
Turner: Scrutiny benefits paperboard packaging as we can demonstrate work being done to improve recycling rates. There continues to be confusion on compostable foodservice packaging.
Brears: The media negativity ignores the role packaging plays in protecting food, keeping it fresh, communicating product information and supporting point of sale decisions.
Frankel: It’s been a much-needed wake-up call. At last people are starting to understand that real recycling doesn’t happen by chance.
Lorenzi: Media scrutiny is driving a need for alternative materials, so fibre-based packaging and other renewable materials will see a growth in demand.
Goldman: The media heightens awareness of the issues but it hasn’t the complexity of the solutions. The subtleties to recycling make it hard for the media to convey the scope of the situation.
Molyneux: A certain amount of scrutiny is healthy – based on fact rather than perception. The current narrative does not truly reflect the reality. But it is an opportunity to define long-term aspirations, such as our Positive Plastics Pledge to recycle plastic waste.
Has the media scrutiny on litter and coffee cups posed dilemmas for you?
Curran: Not really. Everybody uses different materials and works to a different premise, be it recyclability, compostability or whatever. If we all agreed on one material, it would ease collection and recycling.
Turner: We are trying to demonstrate to legislators that taxation will not result in increased recycling rates but will hit the high street and the value our manufacturing sector brings to UK Plc.
Brears: We expect the demand for more sustainable packaging to continue to rise and the use of more recyclable materials and those from renewable sources.
Frankel: Compostable packaging isn’t the solution to litter, either on land or at sea – the cup has been the poster boy for a wider issue. We welcome the debate but need a solution for the whole category, not just the cup. The only downside to the media focus has been some misinformation.
Lorenzi: To the contrary. Media scrutiny has helped our business, as we provide a coffee cup with less plastic and easier to recycle.
Goldman: It has helped drive consumer awareness of the environment and recycling which can hopefully provide a base for increased consumer engagement.
Molyneux: Littering is a major social and environmental problem but it’s not the same as plastic waste which is valuable and easily recycled. Products do not litter themselves – people litter.
Has all the uncertainty around Brexit had an impact on your business?
Curran: The uncertainty is worse than Brexit itself. Lack of decisiveness is causing problems. A ‘no deal’ could see us buying more from the Far East pushing up food miles and carbon footprints.
Turner: We are hopeful a deal on Brexit will be agreed and that this will help to clear up much of the uncertainty.
Brears: We have a lot of enquiries from the EU and since Brexit was announced, our exports to the EU have grown 9% year-on-year.
Frankel: Not as yet, but March is just around the corner. WTO rules would add a 9% tariff for many types of disposables. Any logistical or financial barrier between us and our European clients will be a major challenge. Within the EU, we can export with no fees or red tape. Add in currency fluctuations, and Brexit is the biggest business risk we are facing.
Goldman: The country has voted and we need to make a success of it. We need the right attitude to identify the challenges and opportunities.
Molyneux: We welcome this opportunity; as a global player with expertise in dealing with various trading frameworks we have the experience and global structure to cope with any challenges.
What is the most unusual project you’ve worked on?
Curran: The reusable Pokito hot-drinks cup: it is neither disposable nor sold to food processors looking to produce millions of packs, but to environmentally aware consumers.
Turner: I was asked if GPI could develop a paper cup that the consumer could eat once the beverage had been consumed – who knows where the future will take us.
Brears: To construct a transformer pack format suitable for food and that turned into children’s.
Frankel: A longstanding client, the Cambridge Gecko, uses our round deli containers to hatch gecko eggs.
Goldman: The challenge to take out plastic from fresh produce packaging has raised some ingenious options to deal with regular and irregular shapes of fruits and vegetables.
If I could change one thing about the industry it would be…
Curran: The constant desire by manufacturers and suppliers to pacify and satisfy every client and market leads to smaller volumes, lots of products and poor economies of scale. So I’d like a bit more product uniformity.
Turner: To ensure the entire market understands a product made from certified sustainable raw materials.
Brears: To see a more consistent, collaborative approach to developing environmentally responsible packaging.
Frankel: That every product was designed from the ground up to be compostable or recyclable once used.
Lorenzi: To recognise the challenges to provide more sustainable solutions are an opportunity and not a threat to a business.
Goldman: I wish consumers and brands were more aware of the need to support UK talent to create world class products and services.
Molyneux: To make public perception match reality. Plastics are unique and provide social and environmental solutions to society.