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Packaging inching toward sustainable

AUSTIN, TX – Prior to the pandemic, the produce industry spent a lot of time talking about more sustainable packaging options.

A lot of that talk was muted in 2020-21 while grocers were in survival mode, just trying to meet surging demand amid supply chain challenges. A year and a few months later, I’m seeing retailers getting back on track with pilot initiatives for an array of different styles of packaging.

In fact, a recent trip to Trader Joe’s BB #:162286 showed me nearly as many different styles of tomato packs as I saw during store checks in Berlin in February 2020.

The tomato set at TJ’s featured bulk for only the Roma category of tomatoes, which were priced at 19 cents each. Other than that, we had the standard clamshells, zip top pouches, flow wrapped paper trays, and top seal punnets.

Then it got creative, with paper boxes, flow wrap over what looked like a white foam tray (think meat) that turned out to be some kind of compostable fiber, top sealed compostable punnets, and more.

Now, Trader Joe’s is not what I’d call a beacon of green packaging options considering nearly everything in the produce department has some type of package due to the company’s unit pricing structure.

But the Monrovia, CA-based retailer does appear to be trying to cut back on the plastic in meaningful ways, including compostable single-use bags for produce, and more compostable and recyclable options where available.

Offering all these styles of packaging does a couple things:

  1. Helps draw attention to differences between tomatoes, which I like. When everything’s in the same style of clamshell, it can be hard to decide what to get.
  2. Gives ample opportunity for messaging from either the brand or the house label.
  3. Lets Trader Joe’s gather data on which packaging appears most appealing to consumers.

It’ll be interesting to see what the category looks like in six months or even a year. I’ll have to check back.

Pamela Riemenschneider is Retail Editor for Blue Book Services