Environmental sustainability and net-zero emissions targets are the key change drivers in dairy packaging and processing right now, according to Bengt Eliasson, category manager for dairy ambient at Tetra Pak.
In this wide-ranging interview with PackagingInsights, Eliasson discusses the Swedish-Swiss food packaging and processing giant’s latest low-carbon circular packaging and processing equipment technologies.
He also explores the impacts of COVID-19, accelerated e-commerce growth, supply chain transparency demands and the rise of plant-based alternatives on the dairy packaging and processing market.
Next stop: Net-zero
Tetra Pak has a target to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in its operations by 2030 and an ambition to help facilitate net-zero across its value chain by 2050. In 2017, it became the first food packaging industry company to have its climate impact reduction targets approved by the Science Based Targets initiative, setting emissions reduction targets for 2030 in line with 1.5°C across scopes 1, 2 and 3. The multinational has reduced its operational footprint by 70% since 2010.
According to Eliasson, approximately 49% of Tetra Pak’s value chain emissions originate from customers’ equipment operations. “This [emissions impact] is why accelerating the development of our low carbon circular packaging and equipment portfolio while working to help customers realize their emission reduction targets is a priority,” he explains.
“Continuous investment in [environmentally] sustainable innovation is helping us provide processing solutions enabling reductions in water consumption, carbon footprint and food loss.” Tetra Pak has committed €100 million (US$113 million) annually over the next five to ten years to empower these reductions.
“In addition to this, we offer environmental benchmarking and improvement services so our customers’ GHG emissions can be reduced significantly, contributing to their own [environmental] sustainability and climate targets.”
Enhanced UHT 2.0 portfolio
Tetra Pak recently introduced its enhanced Ultra High Temperature (UHT) 2.0 portfolio as part of its GHG reduction mission.
In combination with OneStep technology and Tetra Pak E3/Speed Hyper packaging equipment, UHT 2.0 allows milk processors to reduce electrical consumption by 31%, steam by 78% and freshwater consumption by 40% against the traditional UHT production process. Moreover, producers can reduce their carbon footprint by as much as 56%.
“Tetra Pak OneStep technology combines separation, standardization, heat treatment and more in a single step,” explains Eliasson. “There’s no faster or more efficient way to produce UHT milk products. It can start from raw milk or milk powder or a combination of both. The technology offers best-practice line approaches for milk and formulated dairy products.”
“The technology can be combined with UHT 2.0 to match a customers’ production scenario precisely, offering greater availability, efficiency and flexibility, and consistent product quality and uncompromising food safety – all with the lowest possible total cost of ownership. OneStep also makes the production more cost-effective and flexible, as it allows formulation variety and rapid product changeovers.”
The COVID-19 catalyst
While the COVID-19 pandemic threw up unprecedented challenges, it also served as a catalyst for change in many ways, explains Eliasson. “For Tetra Pak, the pandemic made our [environmental] sustainability strategy even more important because it demonstrated clearly how the planet, society and the economy cannot each survive in isolation,” he points out.
“With high-performance packaging and processing solutions playing a critical role in today’s global food delivery system, Tetra Pak’s vision to make food safe and available – everywhere – became more relevant than ever.”
According to the 2020 Tetra Pak Index, an annual report focused on providing insights into the global trends and opportunities shaping the future of the food and beverage industry, the pandemic has replaced the environment as the number one consumer concern.
“But still, this [COVID-19 and environment] is ahead of anything else, even economic issues,” continues Eliasson. “Consumers are increasingly aware of a dilemma between the need for greater consumption of food and the impact on our planet – both in terms of packaging waste and food waste.”
“Importantly, solving this dilemma is also something they are looking to businesses to lead on, and knowing this has propelled us forward.”
More recently, Innova Market Insights pegged “Shared Planet” as its top packaging trend for 2022, underscoring how consumers now rank planetary health as their number one concern, overtaking personal health, which had been the top priority in recent years.
COVID-19 social restrictions have accelerated the already rapidly expanding e-commerce market. According to Innova Market Insights, 35% of global consumers have increased their home food delivery use since the virus outbreak.
As Eliasson explains, packaging’s robustness and protection become more important when products pass through the e-tailing channel. “In tandem, packaging for online shopping needs to become more minimal, have reduced package sizes, and use redesigned shipping cases.”
“This is already apparent at Amazon, which is charging vendors that have oversized or unnecessary packaging [through its Frustration Free Packaging scheme]. “At the same time, companies like Amazon and China’s Alibaba are making more demands on food and beverage brands to help ensure products are not damaged, contaminated or recalled, all of which puts a greater strain on primary packaging.”
Tetra Pak has addressed the increased e-commerce demand with its e-Business platform. “Our platform allows for the fluid purchasing of parts, simple stock management, and remote support. The results are lower costs, higher productivity, increased uptime and empowered staff who have more time for core activities,” explains Eliasson.
Supply chain transparency
With the world becoming ever more complex and fast-paced, more effective decision-making is paramount. “Whether you are a consumer deciding the right product for you, a production manager defining the best course of action to reduce quality issues, or a sales manager selecting your next point of sales, you need reliable data to support your choice,” Eliasson continues.
The demand for reliable data in an increasingly digitized world prompted Tetra Pak to add connected packages to its portfolio in 2019.
“With our Tetra Pak Connected Package platform, milk or juice cartons can have a unique code that, once scanned, transforms the package into an interactive information channel, full-scale data carrier and digital tool. Shoppers can access vast amounts of information, such as where the product was made, the farm where the ingredients came from and how the package can be recycled,” highlights Eliasson.
In partnership with Rockwell & Siemens, Tetra Pak can now also offer its dairy clients data-logging, supervisory system, and traceability connected from milk intake to the package in the consumer’s hand.
In November, the company also unveiled gamified app experiences in partnership with digital studio Appetite Creative. The technology is enabled through scannable QR codes printed on drinking cartons.
Meanwhile, plant-based beverages are enjoying market growth. According to Innova Market Insights, 3 in 5 global consumers say they increasingly incorporate plant ingredients in their diets. Meanwhile, 47% say they consume dairy alternatives at least once a week. The market researcher tracked 30% annual growth in dairy launches worldwide between 2015-2019.
Eliasson pinpoints oats as one of the many plant-based materials to have emerged as nutritious dairy alternative sources. Oats are easy to grow in many parts of the world at low cost and have a high nutritional value. Other dairy alternatives include coconuts, soybeans, almonds, buckwheat, peas and hemp.
“For producers in many markets, plant-based production may be a key to unlocking potential market growth capitalizing on consumer trends involving healthier foods,” he says. “Oat-based beverage production is still a new area, with many challenges and no off-the-shelf solutions.”
Oat-based beverages are also:
Low-acid products, requiring heat treatment similar to milk. However, with long running times, the process configuration has to be adapted for oats due to the difference in composition compared to milk.
Not naturally stable, meaning careful consideration must be given to how the product will be formulated, processed, packaged, and consumed.
Tetra Pak’s specialists have the knowledge and practical experience to handle all these scenarios, adds Eliasson. “Such challenges are overcome by selecting the right ingredients, process parameters (for example, controlling how starch and proteins behave during processing) and process design (for example, accounting for the effects of microorganism load).”
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