Interview • 22.05.2015

"You don’t have to be instantly 100 percent green"

Retail lags behind when it comes to sustainable packaging. Interview with Peter Désilets, pacoon AG

Peter Désilets visited iXtenso and informed editor Natascha Mörs  about...
Peter Désilets visited iXtenso and informed editor Natascha Mörs about retailers and green packaging
Source: beta-web/Chrzanowska

German retailers are scaredy cats – at least when it pertains to sustainable packaging concepts. The fact that they could save up to 20 percent in costs by using them and that they are passing up an immense image improvement, barely seems to lessen this fear. Peter Désilets from pacoon AG took the time to visit us in our editorial office to talk about the reasons for this reluctance.

Mr. Désilets, pacoon actually designs packaging. How did you come up with the idea to expand your portfolio with sustainable products?

Peter Désilets: When I visit packaging trade fairs, I have asked myself for quite some time now why so many synthetics materials and foils are being used, even though there are so many bioplastic materials available on the market. I discovered that most retailers simply don’t know about them or think they are too expensive. Although that might be true at first glance, a sustainable overall concept is ultimately more successful. I can save up to 20 percent of my costs if I use a more sustainable overall concept as a retailer.

How are logistics, design and image aspects connected in terms of sustainability?

Désilets: The packaging should convey an image, keep the products safe and address the customer. A lot can still be done, especially when it comes to cardboard packaging. Here is one example based on shoeboxes: retailers often use boxes that are too stiff and thus use too much material. The solution: I increase the quality and the look-and-feel of the packaging with an improved opening mechanism, design the top lid differently and create a consistent design for all models I carry in the store. This in turn creates a more harmonious ambience. In one fell swoop, I save material, space and logistics costs.

What other advantages does greener retail provide?

Désilets: A sustainable company enjoys great corporate image advantages. There are plenty of examples of this if you look at brands like Hipp or Frosch. According to their own studies, more than 90 percent of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging and a clear corporate image that they can identify with. At least two percent more, to be exact. Retailers like to add these types of articles to their selection since they achieve higher sales.

Yet the retail industry still barely supports the subject of sustainability?

Désilets: Retail is not able to shift the current concept on its own. When a retailer receives 200 products from 50 to 60 suppliers, each manufacturer would need to change his packaging just for this specific retailer. Only a few large chain stores have sufficient market power to initiate changes in this area. What’s more, currently there is simply no strategy in the industry to jointly tackle this problem.

This works a little better in other countries.

Désilets: Yes, the Austrians and the Swiss are farther along than we Germans are. People there just try things out and don’t just debate them. We Germans are afraid of stepping forward. And only because some marketing campaigns for products with sustainable packaging backfired.

Which campaigns are you talking about here?

Désilets: One good example of this is DANONE with its Activia yoghurt cups. The container was repackaged with a bioplastic material. The company indicated the environmental audit was now better than before. However, this wording was flawed since the audit was actually not better, but just the same. Unfortunately, ‘just’ a miscommunication, but it backfired tremendously.

How can a change be better communicated?

Désilets: Companies need to be honest with their customers and disclose their sustainable efforts. We tell them, don’t say you are green if you are not. However, you don’t have to be instantly 100 percent green since it cannot be realized immediately. Small goals, on the other hand, can be implemented. A company can communicate that its first step is to change over the plastic packaging at the deli counter to bioplastics over the next few months since this can be done quickly and easily. The next step could be to change over 50 percent of all packaging over the next three to five years.

The retailer should explain all of this to the customer, for instance with information at the deli counter, stating, “we use bioplastic foil". The consumer is able to understand this and it shows that the retailer is in the process of changing something.

You have already come up with several packaging solutions that can show retailers and manufacturers what sustainable design might look like. I am personally a fan of one of your pizza-packaging concept: just a recyclable cover that is much easier to open than traditional boxes. Which product that is already implemented are you particularly proud of?

Désilets: North Face wanted to repackage an underwear collection. It was previously packaged in plastic cubes that could rarely be reclosed again by consumers. In addition, the info on the label was very small and the color-coding was incorrect. It also didn’t look good on the shelf. This type of garment costs up to 60 Euros and unpacking it should be a celebration. We subsequently designed an opening on the side, which lets you completely open the lid and repackage the garments inside again. As a material, cardboard is better suited for this than the previously used plastic material, and it also looks much better. After six years, the product is still sold in retail in this form, which makes it an overall very harmonious concept.

Interview by Natascha Mörs, iXtenso.com

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