UK meal-kit brand, Gousto, has announced plans to trial the world’s first edible packaging solution in its continued efforts to create a more environmentally friendly service. The company is attempting to reduce the use of plastic packaging in its meal boxes, having already cut plastic by 50% in 2020 after moving to cardboard alternatives and launching the Eco Chill Box, an insulator for fresh produce that is made from recycled cardboard. The company’s latest innovation, a plant-based edible wrapper made from pea protein, will be used for Gousto’s stock cubes.

Sustainability has been in the global spotlight for years. However, the recent warning by the UN that the globe is still a long way off from its climate goals ahead of the COP26 summit is a stark reminder to both industry players and the public of the impending climate crisis. When asked about environmental issues in GlobalData’s latest Q3 2021 consumer survey, almost half (45%) of the global population said this was extremely important to them and 37% of UK consumers reported the same. Notably, only one in ten (9%) people globally say that these issues are not important to them, reflecting the necessity of environmentally friendly brand positioning in a modern consumer world. In fact, 53% of respondents actively said that they are more loyal to brands that support green or environmental matters.

Similar loyalty to eco-aligned companies is recorded among UK consumers. This puts Gousto in a promising position. Should the trial period of the edible packaging prove successful, the company may be able to start phasing out plastic wrapping in its meal boxes and this could mark a real change in the industry. The packaging solution was created by Xampla, a research and development (R&D) spinout of the University of Cambridge. Xampla has spent 15 years developing the packaging, which is reported to be vegan and gluten-free. What’s more, as the capsule dissolves upon contact with hot water, it is perfectly suited for stock cubes and eliminates the product’s usual packaging waste altogether.

However, there are two barriers that must be addressed.

The first is the packaging’s shelf life. Gousto’s has stated that although the packaging solution does not affect the stocks taste or flavour profile, it does reduce the product’s shelf life. While Gousto’s meal box model is catered for a quick turnaround, with the meals typically being prepared within a week, a short shelf life does spell serious implications for the innovation’s retail potential. The stock cube market, for instance, largely relies on low-cost storage and long shelf life. Therefore, this packaging solution would struggle to compete against supermarket alternatives.

Further, sanitation and hygiene trends have been reinforced by the Covid-19 pandemic. Consumers may be dissuaded by the perceived uncleanliness of the packaging type. Many people are now more aware and concerned about the spread of harmful bacteria, leading to a subsequent rise in preference for tightly sealed commodities that protect from foreign contagions. GlobalData notes that ‘hygienic’ packaging is extremely important to 29% of UK consumers, with a further 37% stating that it is quite important (Q3-2021).

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For this packaging solution to see a wide-scale adoption across the FMCG industry, brands will need to make reassurances to consumers of its safe and sanitary application. Gousto’s trial is the first step in bringing it into mainstream use, addressing these misconceptions around hygiene and eventually helping to tackle the growing issue of single-use packaging across the industry in the coming years.