What is sustainable packaging in the eyes of consumers? - Danish Food Cluster

What is sustainable packaging in the eyes of consumers?

Consumers’ perception of what sustainable packaging is, may not always be entirely in line with what is actually sustainable. But how can we change the way consumers think about sustainability?

Polymeros Chrysochou, Associate Professor at Aarhus University, was one of the speakers at Danish Food Innovation’s last Food Meet Up of the year. Here, he shared his knowledge on consumer perception of packaging and sustainable alternatives.

Sustainable packaging may require overcoming certain challenges

A problem that occurs in connection with more sustainable packaging is that consumers may sometimes perceive the more environmentally friendly packaging as being of lower quality. This perception is a challenge that managers, according to Polymeros Chrysochou, need to overcome and find solutions for.

A lot of consumers for instance prefer water bottles made of thicker plastic rather than those made of the thinner plastic. This is due to the fact that many consumers perceive the thicker and stronger plastic bottles as being of better quality, even though the thinner plastic bottles are more sustainable as they are made from less plastic”, said Polymeros Chrysochou, who is currently doing a study on consumer perception in connection with sustainable packaging solutions.

Glass and paper instead of plastic

48 % of Danes believe that paper is the most sustainable type of packaging and 43 % believe that glass is the most sustainable, according to Polymeros Chrysochou’s newest results. On the other hand, 60 % of Danes think that plastic is a less sustainable type of packaging.

But which parameters do the consumers base their answers on?  

“It is difficult for consumers to assess sustainability and figure out which type of packaging is in fact overall more sustainable than the other”, said Polymeros Chrysochou. Other speakers at the event pointed out that for instance the weight of glass packaging has a large impact on how much CO2 is emitted under transportation.

At the Food Meet Up, hosted by Danish Food Innovation, Polymeros Chrysochou was amongst four presenters, who all shared different perspectives on the subject of packaging. 

Organic buyers: not necessarily sustainability advocates

“Organic byers do not act sustainable since they often tend to prefer packaged organic products over bulk organic products”.

In Polymeros Chrysochou’s study, consumers were asked to choose organic products that were either wrapped in plastic packaging or unwrapped. The study showed that compared to consumers who do not often buy organic food, buyers of organic products had a tendency to prefer wrapped organic products. Thereby, the conclusion on the study was that organic consumers do not always act sustainable, as their choices are also driven by other motives.

 New norms and better communication

We have to communicate sustainability better, especially at the point of purchase. And we should take advantage of the role that social norms and framing could play in making the message more efficient”, Polymeros Chrysochou concluded in the end of his presentation and stressed that the companies that uses packaging are co-responsible of changing consumers’ perception of what is sustainable and what is not.

The perception of sustainability is thereby much dependent on the eyes that see, the knowledge a person has, and which aspects of sustainability the consumer values the most.

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