Fresh Produce Packaging: Paperboard Takes Center Stage

Consumer preferences, brand sustainability initiatives, and legislative restrictions on single-use plastics are transforming fresh produce packaging. 

Recent data indicates that 44% of US consumers avoid buying fruit and vegetables in plastic packaging, with this number rising to 60% for those under 30 and 51% for those under 40. Similar trends are emerging in European markets, alongside government bans on specific categories of plastic packaging for fresh produce. 

Retailers seeking visually appealing, user-friendly, and recyclable packaging solutions can leverage paperboard packaging to enhance both brand image and consumer experience. 

Reduced plastic, enhanced recyclability 

Paperboard packaging offers significant plastic reduction or complete elimination, depending on the application. Clamshells, baskets, open and closed cartons can be entirely free of plastic, while top-seal punnet trays can achieve up to a 90% plastic reduction compared to traditional options. 

Maintained shelf-life, reduced waste  

The primary function of fresh produce packaging is to extend shelf life and reduce waste. According to UN data, roughly one-third of all food produced globally is wasted, with a significantly larger environmental impact than plastic waste. Just 1kg of landfilled food waste generates the same carbon emissions as 25,000 plastic bottles. Therefore, it’s crucial that paperboard packaging performs on par with plastic. 

A successful example is our collaboration with BelleHarvest apple growers. The paperboard carton we developed resulted in a 15% reduction in bruising compared to their previous plastic bag. 

Efficient operations, reduced investment 

For a smooth transition, it’s vital that alternatives to plastic packaging are operationally efficient and cost-effective for growers, packers, and retailers. Packaging can be designed to function with existing equipment. Our new ProducePack™ Synergy punnet tray exemplifies this perfectly. It runs on standard equipment without requiring investment, allowing for easy interchangeability between plastic and paperboard punnet trays. 

Standing out on the shelf 

Paperboard offers limitless potential for eye-catching structural and graphic design. High-impact prints, utilization of white or kraft-look paperboards, and incorporation of unique shapes all contribute to packaging that excels in aesthetics and functionality. 

Take a look at some examples of our paperboard packaging portfolio for fresh produce.