The company that claims to be the first U.S. retailer to use corn-based polylactic acid packaging is looking into offering more bioplastic packaging items.
Wild Oats Markets Inc., a nationwide chain of natural and organic food markets based in Boulder, Colo., spoke of plans to increase its use of green packaging, at the Biodegradable Plastics in Packaging Applications conference, held Sept. 13-14 in Rosemont.
The company has annual sales of $1.2 billion. Jim McConnell, manager of store supplies and services, said the potential in-store lineup includes PLA-lined coffee and food cups from International Paper Co., PLA clamshells from Wilkinson Industries Inc., corn and starch divided trays and domes from Innoware Inc., as well as PLA straws, cutlery, sandwich wrap, bread, cookie-bag windows and meat soakers.
More vendor-supplied packaging will be green too, including PLA containers and trays, window box film, compostable produce packaging and frozen-food packaging.
Retailers use bioplastics to fulfill their environmental responsibility and obligation to be a driver in the green movement, McConnell said.
Consumer interest in green packaging is increasing rapidly. ``Customers want packaging that provides convenience, quality, appearance, disposability and reasonable cost,'' he said.
``Consumers will display a deeper commitment to ethical products. Fair trade and sustainable ingredients will continue to expand into mainstream product groups. Biodegradable packaging will also regain popularity, especially as more companies reformulate packaging to be more environmentally conscious,'' he said, quoting a report by research firm Mintel International Group of Chicago.
Wild Oats currently uses PLA packaging in a variety of applications, including deli cups and lids, pie and muffin containers from Clear Lam Packaging Inc., juice and water cups from Fabri-Kal Corp., salad bar containers from Wilkinson, floral bags from A-Roo Co. LLC, Earthfirst-brand pie and muffin box windows from Plastics Suppliers Inc., Cryovac meat trays from Sealed Air Corp., tomato packaging film from Innovia Films Inc., and grocery bags and can liners with Addiflex additive from Petoskey Plastics Inc.
Wild Oats' new owner, Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market, supports the green initiatives. The public company's ``green mission specialist,'' Fabian DeGarbo, said the drive is a result of both consumers' wants and retailers' needs.
``Consumers want to feel they are making a difference. They want to patronize businesses who they feel make a difference,'' DeGarbo said at the same conference. ``They also understand [that] less and better packaging could result in cost savings.''
On the down side, DeGarbo said, bioplastic packaging right now still means higher cost and it's not always the best product for every type of packaging need. ``One problem is the increased opacity compared to fossil plastics, especially for films.''
Retailers also need to consider challenges regarding material and product shortages, distribution and government policies, McConnell said.
DeGarbo warned the retail industry of ``greenwashing.''
``You should never make a claim you can't support,'' he said. ``You need to know all the facts about any product you promote, whether it's biodegradable, compostable, reusable or recyclable.''
Whole Foods Market uses containers made from sugar cane (begasse) and coffee cup lids and cutlery made from potato starch. It promotes resource reduction and said it diverts 90 percent of waste from landfills via organics composting and recycling.
Both speakers said they expect bioplastics to keep growing with better performance, lower cost and more energy-efficient production methods.
``We need to encourage others in the industry and push for more government and community involvement,'' McConnell said.