Need for Sustainable Packaging in Meat Industry

By:  Lisa Suwal *


Meat IndustryNotwithstanding the perception of India being largely a vegetarian country, the meat production in the country is estimated to be around 6.3 million tonnes, which makes it the fifth largest producer of meat in the world. As of 2016, India exported $5 billion worth of meat per year. By 2022, the Indian meat market is estimated to touch $65 billion as compared to $31 billion in 2018 which indicates a CAGR of 20 percent.

According to Central Pollution Study board, India produces 26,000 tonnes of plastic every day. Data provided by FICCI confirms that the plastic packaging industry in India is worth $32 billion.

Consumers are Demanding Sustainability

As of today, more than 50 percent of consumers in the US take recyclability, sustainability and biodegradability of packaging into account while purchasing products. In fact, according to a study done by Dataessential, 43 percent of consumers believe that it is important for retail packaging to be recyclable and reusable.

Sustainable packaging is emerging as one of the most important dynamics in the meat industry. Even though it is inevitable that this is the way forward, businesses are still divided about the tangible benefits that sustainable packing can offer. Due to misconceptions, it is thought that any kind of sustainable business practice results in cost escalations. To debunk this myth, it is important to look at the need for sustainable packing in the meat industry.

Lowers Carbon Footprint: increasing the usage of sustainable packaging drastically reduces carbon emissions. Sustainable packaging products are light, use renewable fibres and optimised manufacturing processes. This enables them to substantially reduce their carbon footprint from cradle to gate.

Requires Less Energy and Cost:

Trays, which are created using sustainable methods require lower levels of heat for sealing, which reduces the energy consumption of the manufacturer by 15 percent. Alternative packaging materials might be lighter and therefore could result in cost reduction over the long run for manufacturers. Lightweight materials would also cost less to be manufactured.

Meat Remains Fresh: Sustainable packaging methods make it possible for meat to remain fresh and retain its flavour over a longer period of time. It doesn’t let external factors like temperature or hygiene affect the quality of meat.

Enhances Product’s Shelf Life: As compared to traditional packaging methods, sustainable packaging methods have also played an important role in maintaining a vacuum for the packaged meat products. This makes it possible for the product to remain fresh for a longer period of time.

Transparency: Traditional packaging methods end up covering the meat completely. Therefore the consumer wouldn’t know whether the meat is gone bad unless the packaging is removed. Transparent sustainable packaging methods ensure that meat products can be closely inspected by customers. Therefore, in case they spot any fault with the meat they can immediately bring it to the notice of the retailer. Transparent sustainable packing enables customers to make an informed choice. This also allows for better retail merchandising.

Reduces Wastage and Improves Profit: Over the last six decades, mass production of plastics has reached 8.3 billion metric tonnes which are equivalent to the weight of a billion elephants! 40 percent of plastic which is used for packaging ends up in landfills. Around 30 percent of it is disposed of in the oceans. According to a study, it is estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish.

Individuals are willing to pay more for supporting green initiatives. Certain countries are also providing tax breaks for environmentally sustainable business practices and it may not be long before the same is implemented in India. All these would result in bumping up the bottom line.

Allergen-free and Toxin-free: Sometimes, even if the meat is produced organically, the packaging ends up introducing toxins into it. Sustainable packaging uses materials which are allergen and toxin free. This ensures that the quality and flavour of the meat remain uncompromised. In fact, consumers are getting aware of the non-toxicity of bio-degradable products and hence getting attracted to brands which are using these for packaging.

Saves Shipping Costs: A firm can also save shipping costs considerably. Sustainable packaging alternatives tend to be made of lighter materials and they tend to use space optimally. This results in fewer round trips or lighter load or both which culminate into reduced shipping costs.

Improves Brand Image: Being a user of sustainable packaging material projects the brand image as caring for the environment. This not only enables a brand to receive positive press but also earns respect among consumers who, as written earlier, wish to reduce their carbon footprint.

Consumer Tastes are Evolving

According to research conducted by FMCG giant Unilever, one-third of consumers prefer to buy brands which are doing good for the environment or society. Awareness about sustainability is increasing among individuals who look to do their bit for the environment. A brand that caters to these changing consumer tastes will do well over the long run.

Technology has Made it Possible

Thanks to new technology, innovations are possible in the field of sustainable packaging. For instance, companies have been experimenting with bamboo, sugarcane pulp and mushroom pulp to create biodegradable products that resemble styrofoam. Sheep’s wool is also being considered as a suitable alternative for sustainable insulated packaging. A Chinese start-up has created a green recyclable packing box which can be reused up to 14 times. These boxes are waterproof, shock proof and heat resistant.

Prepare for Policy Changes

All over the world, governments and municipalities are pushing businesses to seriously contemplate on switching over to environmentally sustainable business practices. Leading countries across the world have already taken measures to prohibit packaging which is harmful to the environment. Rather than being caught unaware and having to shift almost overnight to sustainable packaging methods, it is better for an organisation to plan in advance and implement the same when there is still time.

As each generation passes on, it wishes to leave a rich and positive legacy for the incoming one. Unfortunately, the state of our environment is going from bad to worse. The bulk of the after-effects would be faced by the incoming generations. By adopting sustainable packaging methods, we can leave a better planet for those who come after us.


* CEO – Prasuma – pioneers of fresh deli meats in India

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Food Marketing & Technology is a monthly magazine published by L.B. Associates Pvt Ltd

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