German consumers consider paper-based packaging to be particularly environmentally friendly. Nevertheless, they tend to be skeptical about innovative products such as paper-based bottles. This is shown by a recent study by the University of Bonn and Forschungszentrum Jülich. Almost 3,000 women and men from all over Germany were surveyed for the study. The results have now been published in the journal “Food Quality and Preference.”
Worldwide, almost 400 million tons of plastic are produced annually – all of the cars in Europe together weigh only slightly more. According to estimates, 40 percent of plastics are processed into packaging: for refrigerators, books, deodorants, but also for drinks or cucumbers. A large part of this later ends up in the garbage or in the environment. At the same time, production wastes valuable fossil resources and endangers the climate.
“One possible solution to these problems is environmentally friendly plastic alternatives,” explains Janine Macht, a doctoral student at the Institute for Food and Resource Economics at the University of Bonn. “These include plastics made from renewable raw materials, such as agricultural waste. Some manufacturers also rely on innovative paper-based packaging such as ice cream cups or bottles. We wanted to know what level of acceptance these alternatives receive from consumers and to what extent this also depends on the product that is packaged.”
Macht investigated these aspects together with her colleague Jeanette Klink-Lehmann and project coordinator Dr. Sandra Venghaus from Forschungszentrum Jülich (Venghaus has since moved to a junior professorship at RWTH Aachen University). The researchers conducted an online survey with nearly 3,000 male and female participants from across Germany. The sample was chosen to be as similar as possible to the distribution in the general population in terms of gender, age distribution, and education.
The researchers focused their survey on three very different foods: Blueberries, butter and vegetable oil. In addition, there were three different ways in which these products were packaged: in a traditional (but at least recyclable) plastic container, in a bioplastic container, or in a paper-based alternative. There were therefore nine different food-packaging combinations in total.
Berries in cardboard box tempt you to buy
Participants were also asked to indicate whether they would buy the product in the packaging shown. According to the study, significantly more people would pick berries in a cardboard container than in a plastic basket. Vegetable oil, on the other hand, was most attractive for purchase when it was filled in a bottle made of bioplastic. “So when it comes to making a purchasing decision, customers don’t just look at the presumed environmental friendliness, but also at how suitable they think the packaging is for the food in question,” says Macht.
For more information:
Institute for Food and Resource Economics
University of Bonn