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May 17, 2018 / Richard Hall

New alternatives to plastic

There are, of course, numerous alternatives to plastic already – paper, glass, metal and more. Plastic has many forms too. All have advantages and disadvantages.

I’ve noted four innovations in recent weeks that seem worthy of greater attention.

• In February, Tetra Pak announced it had produced 500 million beverage cartons entirely from renewable materials including the cap. The Tetra Rex bio-based cartons were introduced in October 2014, using paperboard certified by the Forest Sustainability Council and plastic caps derived from sugar cane.

• More companies are using opaque plant-based bottles that look like plastic, such as the US So Delicious Organic Almondmilk with Cashew launched in February. The bottle is 80% plant-based from sugar cane and can be recycled.

• Mondi has created a new recyclable plastic laminate, known as BarrierPack Recyclable, consisting of 2 PE film layers to make pouches.

• CCL Label has developed a new EcoSource label, which provides a bottle sleeve with up to 94% bio-based material.

Bio-based materials offer an increasingly important alternative to oil-based materials, if that’s what society chooses for the future.

BLOG-17MAY2018-1-Tetra Rex Bio-Based Cartons

BLOG-17MAY2018-2-So Delicious



May 16, 2018 / Richard Hall

Making plastic acceptable

One question I have often asked myself is what level of plastic collection and recycling would make it acceptable ?

Recent statistics from Germany’s Forum PET show that:

• Almost 99% of “mandatory PET deposit bottles are collected for recycling in Germany.”

• “93.5% of disposable and reusable bottles are recycled – and up to 98% for disposable deposit bottles.”

• “34% of the recycled material is processed into new PET bottles”, with packaging film using 27% and textile fibres 23%.

• 80% of the PET is recycled in Germany and the rest is exported to neighbouring countries rather than Asia.

One answer is for all countries to ensure as much as possible is both collected and recycled. That won’t halt the debate, but it will reduce the problem.

May 15, 2018 / Richard Hall

Mixed messages on plastic

I am an admirer of plastic. It has made food and drink safer and more affordable, with better presentation and less product waste.

But its ubiquity has led to carelessness and our wildlife as well as seas are suffering.

There is so much that can be done to improve this.

The first is better understanding.

I have written before about confusion over the word ‘bio’.

• In many countries, bio means organic – nothing to do with packaging at all.

• Bio-based means from plant materials, as opposed to from oil, but bio-based does not necessarily decompose naturally.

• Bio-degradable will eventually break down, but this can still take a matter of years unless it is accelerated by a range of composting techniques.

Yet more confusion surrounds bio-degrading compared with recycling.

• Recycling preserves a material and gives it second life, sometimes even continuous life.

• Bio-degrading has great advantages in some circumstances but discards the material and may create gas emissions.

And then there is the question of what is plastic ?

• When the Dutch supermarket Ekoplaza opened the world’s first plastic-free aisle, most of the packaging still looked like … plastic.

My final point about understanding relates to recycling.

• We naturally think that recycling one bottle into another bottle, known as closed loop recycling, is a good thing – which it is.

• But sometimes it may be more viable to convert plastic into building or clothing materials.

• We may also assume that everything collected for recycling is actually recycled, but it isn’t.

All these confusions, added to our own emotional reactions, make an already complex issue far more difficult.

May 10, 2018 / Richard Hall

Organic momentum renewed

Organic is undoubtedly part of the ‘natural’ trend that encompasses related themes such as local and authentic, transparency and provenance.

After the 2008 economic downturn, however, organic growth faltered along with other premium and functional concepts.

Today, organic seems back on the front foot.

• UK organic food and drink purchases rose 6% in 2017, compared with 2% growth for non-organic products.

• This took sales to their highest ever level of £2,200 million in 2017, breaking the 2008 record of £2,100 million.

• Dairy products accounted for the biggest share of 29%. Chilled and delicatessen products achieved the biggest increase of 21%.

• Just 3 chains – Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose – were responsible for 70% of all supermarket trade.

It is no coincidence that Arla Foods has stepped up its focus on the organic opportunity with its purchase of Yeo Valley Dairies.

• According to Nielsen research, organic milk has reached 29% of fresh milk sales in Denmark, with a share of 16% in Sweden and 10% in Germany, but only 4% in the United Kingdom.

• Arla’s Organic Free Range milk is reported to have driven 60% of all UK organic milk growth in the past year.

May 9, 2018 / Richard Hall

61 acquisitions in April

April saw several large scale food and drink industry transactions among the 61 recorded on the mergers and acquisitions database.

7 amounted to more than $500 million, with 3 of these topping $1,000 million:

• $9,500 million for China’s Alibaba to buy the food delivery service.

• $4,200 million for US based Procter & Gamble to purchase German based Merck’s consumer health unit.

• $1,320 million for Canada’s Transcontinental to take on the Coveris Americas packaging business from US based Sun Capital Partners.

Alcohol was the most popular sector with 13 deals, followed by soft drinks on 6, with nutrition and services on 5 each, ingredients and packaging on 4, then plant-based and seafood on 3.

27 occurred within single countries, including 15 in the United States, and 34 were international.

30 of the 61 total featured the United States, followed by 8 for the United Kingdom, then 5 for Australia, Canada, France and Spain.

May 8, 2018 / Richard Hall

Good nutrition not more expensive

The prevailing view is that poor people can only afford junk food and food deserts deny them access to fresh produce.

I’ve always disbelieved this and an article in The Economist on 10th March reinforces my view.

It refers to a US academic study of grocery purchases by 60,000 households and sales by 35,000 stores from 2004 to 2015, which finds:

• “There is little price difference for categories other than fresh produce.”

• “Healthy foods such as plain yogurt and high-grain bread are actually 8% less expensive than unhealthy foods.”

• Preference, “which is partly informed by education and nutritional knowledge, is a much more significant factor.”

• The disparity “is caused more by demand than supply.”

• “Introducing low-income populations to the same grocery shopping conditions enjoyed by high-income ones reduces nutritional inequality by only 9%. The remaining 91% of the nutritional gap … can be accounted for by differences in demand.”

I’m not saying the problem doesn’t need to be addressed. I’m saying that it can’t just be blamed on supply or price and more needs to be done on education and policy too.

May 3, 2018 / Richard Hall

Traffic light labelling boost

Debate about nutrition labelling started well before the obesity epidemic and even now it is hard to find a consensus.

Two new studies favour traffic lights.

Ecuador introduced traffic light labelling for processed food packaging in August 2014. Scientists from the Universidad San Francisco de Quito found that the scheme had increased awareness, changed attitudes and “modified patterns of purchase and consumption”, concluding that it was “an effective mechanism for communicating information about the fat, sugar and salt in processed food.”

Admittedly, however, the sample was modest and another study has showed limited benefit in less educated and poorer groups.

Dutch consumers have also expressed a preference for traffic lights in a recent survey.

The Netherlands already has a voluntary scheme, but it is being phased out by October 2018 because its healthy ‘Choices’ logo can be applied to some products which are high in fat, salt or sugar.

Given a range of alternatives, 51% of those questioned by the Consumentenbond consumer group opted for the UK front of pack traffic light display. 29% supported the French five tiered Nutri-Score system and 8% liked the Nordic region’s keyhole logo.

71% wanted nutrition labelling to be on the front of packs. Other majority views supported use across all products and by all manufacturers, with 74% backing supervision by an independent body.

Other findings were that a scheme should be time-saving and deliver information at a glance.

The weight of consumers is proving hard to reduce. The weight of evidence is shifting towards traffic lights.

May 1, 2018 / Richard Hall


Zenith has just completed a survey of US beverage businesses, asking about the challenges they face in exploring international expansion. The top 5 were:

Finding the right people 21%
Identifying product potential 21%
Lack of international expertise 21%
Finding the right partner 19%
Regulation 16%

Supporting clients in international expansion is the most common type of project we undertake at Zenith, even for multinationals – where they may be considering new market sectors or existing brand market entry priorities.

The great advantage Zenith has is direct local knowledge of most markets. My own travel programme this year already includes Brazil, China twice, India, Japan twice, Malaysia, Middle East, Singapore, United States 3 times and multiple European markets.

The challenges highlighted in the survey entirely accord with our own experience. Our response would be to establish 3 project priorities:

• The first is to set a clear strategy. What scale and return is required from what level of investment and resource ?

• The second is to decide on where, when and how to manage the expansion. Often it is more appropriate to target cities or regions rather than whole countries. Products may need to be adapted to local cultures. Trusted and experienced managers are always vital. Greenfield or acquisition will be appropriate for some companies, partnership or contract packing for others.

• The third is focus on implementation. International expansion requires director attention, alignment of incentives and capacity to troubleshoot.

If your company has as yet unfulfilled international potential, do email me at Let’s see if Zenith can help. That’s why our Twitter hashtag is #askzenith.