EUROPE - Mars is in the final stages of launching a bio-based packaging material for its Snickers and Mars chocolate lines to reduce the carbon footprint of existing packaging materials, according to Thijs Rodenburg, CEO of Rodenburg Biopolymers, a producer of starch-based products that has been working with the confectionary company through the development process.
In 2010, Mars Chocolate Europe and Eurasia had a vision for a special packaging solution for its Mars and Snickers chocolate products.
Mars wanted to switch to a bio-based packaging material that did not have a higher carbon footprint than the existing package. The new packaging solution also had to be scalable into other industries – meaning the material had to be “sellable” into other applications; Mars wanted to ensure there was economics of scale that would make the material affordable.
“Mars explained to us that they were looking for a certain type of bioplastics that was not available in the market at the time,” explained Thijs Rodenburg, CEO of Rodenburg Biopolymers, to more than 300 participants at the recent Innovation Takes Root 2016 conference organised by NatureWorks LLC in Orlando, FL, USA.
“The focus was on using a packaging material that is sustainable and uses 2nd generation feedstock,” he continued. “Biodegradability was a packaging side-effect for Mars which didn’t consider it highly important because the company was concerned consumers might not understand what it (biodegradability) means; Mars didn’t want consumers thinking the packaging waste would just anyhow biodegrade and hence can be casually thrown into the environment.”
The project started in 2012, taking almost four years to develop the starch compound, run packaging production trials, and conduct consumer feedback research.
The starch compound for the packaging material consists mainly of starch derived from potato cutting waste – which doesn’t compete with food or animal feedstock - and “some” PLA, according to Rodenburg.
Taghleef, Mars’ packaging converter, manufactured the film on one of its existing BOPP lines in Europe, while Mondi printed the packaging; it took four production trials before an acceptable packaging film was manufactured.
Chocolate is not one of the easiest products to package in terms of smell and taste preservation and sensitivity, said Rodenburg, but this new starch-based packaging material fulfils the product protection requirements.
“We’re not there yet; we don’t have the perfect product,” Rodenburg said. “We still need to make some improvements to the compound; but at least we have started. We have a compound that works, and is recyclable at production (film extrusion) which helps reduce production waste and bring material cost down.
“I think it is a very good first step.”
The new starch-based packaging material, while already proven at commercial production level, has not been officially launched in the European market yet; Rodenburg understands that Mars hasn’t decided on a launch date.
For more on our coverage of Innovation Takes Root 2016 and its presentations, see the May Issue of our subscription-based newsletter Packaging Business Insight Asia:
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