Japanese food companies are accelerating their move away from plastic packaging

Courtesy of NH (Nippon Ham) Foods Ltd.
Old package from Schau Essen, left, and new package

TOKYO — The drawstring pouch-style packaging for sausages that has been familiar to Japanese consumers for more than 30 years has disappeared one after another this year, as major meat brands have changed the packaging design of their products.

Movements by food companies to redesign the packaging of their basic products have multiplied in recent years. However, the changes aren’t just aimed at boosting sales, as environmental considerations have also surfaced.

‘Cut the bun’

NH (Nippon Ham) Foods Ltd. posted an online video titled “the ceremony to cut the bun” in January. In the clip, a huge drawstring pouch-style wrapper of his “Schau Essen” sausages sits in front of a folding screen covered in gold leaf. Comparing the sumo ceremony of cutting a wrestler’s bun to mark his retirement, company executives including Vice President Nobuhisa Ikawa cut a piece of the wrapper with scissors one after the other. ‘other.

The video creatively informs consumers of the packaging redesign, the first since the product was launched in 1985. The new packaging is rectangular.

These packagings were successively adopted by food companies in the 1980s based on the idea that the product looks like a gift that will attract the attention of consumers at the point of sale. The style became the basic design for sausage wrappers.

Following the lead of NH Foods, three other major meat companies – Itoham Foods Inc., Prima Meat Packers, Ltd. and Marudai Food Co. – announced that they would also “cut the top knot” of their products.

The four meat companies, which hold the majority of the market share, are keeping pace.

Environmental responsibility

Changing the design of a package, which is the “face” of a product, is a difficult decision for a company to make in the context of fierce competition. This is all the more important in the case of flagship products such as Schau Essen sausages.

In past sales tests, NH Foods tried to dispense with the drawstring pouch type packaging or shorten the top knot, but sales plummeted. Sales department officials vehemently opposed such moves, saying NH Foods would be beaten by rivals.

However, the company made the switch because it believes consumer sentiment is strongly against the use of plastic.

“We reviewed the packaging, resolved to change it even at the cost of lower sales,” said Masayuki Osada, director of marketing promotion department at NH Foods.

Plastic, which is mass-produced cheaply, is widely used for food packaging, cups and straws.

Orikane, a Nagoya-based packaging materials wholesaler, was founded in 1887 as a manufacturer of wooden bento boxes. Today, more than 90% of its products are made of plastic.

“Plastic was appropriate for the times when people were looking for convenience,” said Sadanori Hattori, head of the public relations and SDGs section.

Plastic is cheap and convenient, but it doesn’t break down naturally. In the ocean, it simply drifts.

This negative characteristic was dramatically exposed to the world in 2015 when a grim video went viral showing a sea turtle with a plastic straw in its nose writhing as tweezers were used to remove the straw.

Food companies are accelerating their move away from plastic packaging

Courtesy of Ezaki Glico Co.
Ezaki Glico’s new milk carton used for school meals

The United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals that year.

Corporate social responsibility is being critically questioned, as is the massive consumption of plastic.

In response to this trend, Nestle Japan Ltd. changed the outer packaging of its KitKat chocolate bars from a plastic bag to a paper bag. Fujiya Co., a leading confectioner, replaced the plastic packaging of its Milky candy with paper packaging. Ten major food companies, including Ezaki Glico Co., have phased out plastic straws for nearly all of their small milk cartons used for school lunches.

Plastic consumption reduced by 30%

What is the real effect of these efforts to reduce plastic?

In the case of Schau Essen sausages, NH Foods said the company was able to reduce plastic use by around 30%.

According to the Japan Ham & Sausage Processors Cooperative Association, a Tokyo-based industry group, half of the estimated 230,000 tonnes of sausages sold by its member companies last year were packaged in drawstring-style packaging. As companies phase out this type of packaging, the total amount of plastic used is expected to drop significantly.

Nippon Paper Industries Co., which makes milk cartons for food companies including Ezaki Glico, said the reduced amount of plastic for straws for the 10 food companies combined is estimated to be around 100 tonnes per year.

FoodClip, an industry-focused media group, surveyed food companies about their use of plastic. A survey in April last year found that 60% of food companies had discussed over the past year whether to revamp their packaging. Within this group, 63.5% of companies said they did so for environmental considerations.

Amid the rising cost of various goods, including the price of crude oil, reducing the use of plastic is expected to lower material costs. As sales of Schau Essen sausages have reportedly not changed much, consumer understanding of environmental considerations appears to be progressing. Product packaging reviews are also expected to continue.

New business opportunities

According to Fuji Chimera Research Institute, Inc., a Tokyo-based market research firm, the domestic food packaging market in 2020 was 1.106 trillion yen. The decision to replace plastic with environmentally friendly materials could also create new business opportunities and innovations.

Startup materials maker TBM Co. has been selling Limex, a product developed with limestone as a primary raw material, as an alternative to plastic since 2018. Although highly durable and recyclable, there is a large amount of limestone in the inside and outside Japan. , ensuring a stable supply, the company said.

TBM has supplied Limex to around 8,000 companies in Japan. The material was used to make the trash bags used at the G20 summit in Osaka in June 2019.

Rock Field Co., a leading manufacturer of containers used for packaging side dishes, adopted Limex for use in some of its products in June. “When burned, it emits less CO2, contributing to environmentally friendly business management,” said Rock Field President Takashi Furutsuka.

Nakabayashi Co., a leading stationery company, has entered the food packaging industry by using its paper processing technologies to develop a highly effective product to preserve food freshness. At the end of July, the company will start selling paper bags for coffee beans.

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