- How do you ensure both barrier functionality and recyclability?
This is indeed a challenge we are facing. We are using a special functional barrier paper. When we started the development process two years ago, there was no functional barrier paper available, but development has moved fast since then. The paper we used is coated with a water-based barrier material that is fit for recycling in the paper recycling stream. Of course, it would have been easy to use lamination instead, as this makes product protection easier. But even a thin layer of laminate makes recycling difficult, which is a key feature for us to give the material a second life. We are already using a lot of recycled paper materials for our displays, trade units etc. What we have now is not perfect yet, but this is a step-by-step process and a development journey. In 2021 we will launch a paper-based pouch, and we will integrate the learnings from that into the development process. We do not know if and how and when we will have 100% of paper-based packaging for 100% of our products, but it is a development journey.
- Does the paper packaging affect shelf life?
This is something we are still in the process of finding out. Our 35.000 chocolate bars will be available at the retailer for a limited amount of time. We performed shelf life tests for this particular product and approved it for a shelf life of six months. But we do not know for our other products yet. Some products are easier than others. Whole milk chocolate should not pose any major problems, for example, but what happens with the aroma in our rum raisin chocolate, also due to the humidity it contains? Sharp edges, as we have in our cornflakes and nut chocolates could also pose challenges. Here, we have to perform more tests.
- Are the pack design possibilities similar to standard packaging?
Yes and no. We opted for a natural look and decided against glossy coated paper that has similar printability to polypropylene film. A particular challenge there was the print quality. Making the EAN code and ingredients list readable has been challenging, and there are some missing dots. There are differences between plastic and paper, and we are still working with our supplier to understand this better. But opening the chocolate packaging is a multisensory experience. The consumer has to see that it is paper when the product is on the shelf, and feel it and hear it when opening the pack. So, our aim is to make the printability as good as possible without losing the “natural” experience.
- Do you have any life cycle analysis data available yet comparing the paper packaging and the standard Ritter Sport packaging?
For us it is not so important to have answers as soon as possible, but to have the right answer. It’s about more than an LCA, it’s about the ecological footprint, CO2, water, energy consumption, energy sources, and what happens after consumption. We want to understand all pieces of the jigsaw and adapt it piece by piece. I would like to underline that I don’t want to engage in plastic bashing. Even though we have been talking a lot about paper, our plastic packaging material does a great job too - it is recyclable, albeit more in theory than in practice, and weighs just 1.5 grams. Our overall intention is to look at the future and to solve issues, one of which is recyclability, which is not always given especially for flexible packaging. In Germany, we have a good collection and recycling infrastructure for plastic, but internationally, there are better better collection and recycling systems in place for paper than there are for plastics, so we believe in paper and also want to understand plastic better. Packaging is an integral part of the overall Ritter sustainability strategy. We often talk about raw materials such as cocoa in a sustainability context, but consumer see the packaging just as much as they see the chocolate, so it is just as important as the ingredients are.