The lockdowns designed to curb the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic have triggered a sharp rise in UK dog ownership, up from 9.9 million per-pandemic to 12 million as of early 2021. Pet food production has risen to meet this new demand, but it has raised questions about the availability and sustainability of its packaging.

UK-based dog food and packaging company Skinner’s CEO Tim Hansell tells Packaging Gateway why sustainability has become a vital factor to consider in the pet food packaging industry and how the national pet food packaging shortage gives evidence to this.

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The packaging shortage situation

The pet food industry is worth over £2.9bn and is expected to grow 20% year on year. However, a year since the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, UK supermarkets have announced that the country is facing a national shortage of pouch food for dogs and cats, due to this unprecedented rise in pet ownership and the failure of supply chains to meet the new demand.

The shortage of pouches is predicted to continue throughout 2021, meaning that retailers will be forced to rethink their approach when it comes to packaging and supply chains. Covid-19 and Brexit have undoubtedly had an impact on the ability of certain brands to keep their cross-border supply chains flowing smoothly and maintaining products on shelves.

Demand for sustainability vs. preference for convenience

The challenge within the industry is to support consumer preference for both sustainability and ease, which has meant that pouches have continued to be a popular purchase choice. What supermarkets have failed to do on a large enough scale to meet demand, is offer products that are sustainable and will not face issues with production/imports whilst also offering high-quality food for dogs.

With the wide range of packaging products now available in the industry, one type of packaging doesn’t suit every need, which has caused issues for many manufacturers who have looked for a way to switch from their usual packaging. There’s also the issue surrounding the balance between using eco-friendly packaging that is also able to retain the full health and nutritional benefits of the product, and with all-natural ingredients sought by 41% of dog food buyers, there is no room for compromise.

The sector and its supporting retailers must act quickly to turn the tide on the impact of single-use plastics as billions of pouches every year are sent to landfill, with standard pouches having one of the lowest recycling rates of all packaging. This is around 50 times worse than the recycling rate of single coffee cups which continually draw media attention.

Sustainability has become the most important factor

The rise of the ethical and health-conscious consumer, and the wider spotlight on the sustainability agenda has forced the somewhat traditional pet industry to rethink every aspect of its offering, from packaging to manufacturing to ingredient sourcing.

The latest data shows that 80% of retailers found that their customers’ demand has grown for sustainable packaging across its products. For any business that is looking to not just retain its current base but grow it, especially in the ever-competitive dog food market, switching to sustainable packaging is no longer a choice but a vital strand of operations that needs to be addressed.

Skinner’s: A case study

At Skinner’s, we identified the need to invest in a long-term solution and production technology that will help us navigate this tricky landscape and deliver the best products without compromising on sustainability credentials or nutritional values.

Skinner’s are this year celebrating 50 years of manufacturing high-quality food for working dogs and as part of our celebrations have undergone a total brand refresh with new logos, NPD and the introduction of our 100% recyclable packaging which we manufacture and produce at our two onsite factories in East Anglia.

The updated packaging on our Field & Trial range utilises Tetra Pak, made from over 70% paperboard. Tetra Pak is leading the idea that a circular economy, where every part of the process has a positive force on making a change, gives way to positive packaging for, in this case, the canine food market.

We have also introduced a new treats range which is packaged using Earthpouch plastic-free paper packing solutions, with an aqueous coating, it is 100% eco-friendly plastic-free paper packaging, proving that pouch packaging can be sustainable.

The capabilities to produce Tetra Pak on-site means that Skinner’s has not only reduced its carbon footprint, but we do not rely on imports and external manufacturers which has proved invaluable during the national packaging shortage crisis.

Sustainability isn’t easy – but it is worth it.

The journey to take manufacturing sustainably in-house is by no means simple, easy, or cheap as it requires heavy levels of investment and dedication to get it right, but the long-term impact is far worth it.

The current supply chain issues highlight the value of manufacturing close to home in the UK. The shortage also brings to light the need for the industry to continue to seek sustainable solutions.

The issue is now not only about protecting our planet’s future from plastic waste but has filtered down to the food our dogs eat and a lack of availability. It’s time for retailers to steer consumers towards more sustainable choices.