Edible Packaging Slow to Make Inroads on Supermarket Shelf

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In the United States, a growing contingent of entrepreneurs and researchers are looking to cut down on food packaging waste by making packaging out of excess food—including mushrooms, kelp, milk, and tomato peels—although adoption has been slow.

A team at the US Department of Agriculture’s Wyndmoor, PA lab are using a material based on milk protein that can be used to line pizza boxes or create soup packets that can be dropped in hot water along with its contents. Although Peggy Tomasula, research leader, admits that at the current price point the material is too pricey for certain applications, the project could help the US deal with an oversupply of milk powder.

The Merck Forest and Farmland Centre in Rupert, Vermont, a non-profit that sells maple syrup, didn’t see the sense in getting organic certification for its product just to ship out orders in copious amounts of plastic and foam packing peanuts. The company has for two years been using Ecovative’s mushroom-based packaging material, which can then be composted by the consumer.

Biocopac Plus, an Italian company, aims to replace the Bisphenol A linings in cans with leftover tomato peels. “We extract a natural polymer from tomato skins, and using that, we produce a lacquer to protect food packaged in metal cans,” Angela Montanari, the head of packaging at the Experimental Station for the Food Preserving Industry in Parma, Italy tells Gulf News. “It can be used to pack tomatoes, peas, meat, fish, all kinds of foods that are canned.”

A British start-up called Skipping Rocks Lab has created Ohoo, an edible seaweed, to package water, juices, cosmetics, and other liquids. The product has yet to be adopted by large beverage companies, however.

Edible packaging is still in its early phases and often limited to niche applications due to cost and moisture susceptibility.

Mike Lee, founder of Future Market, says market development work still needs to be done. “Even though these products are important,” he said, “until someone steps up and says, ‘I’m going to use it on a big scale,’ they’re just science looking for an application.”

David Strauss, the head of packaging in Nestle’s US operations, calls edible films “gimmicky” and illogical, given that the packaging would then be competing with food.  “It’s no good to package our products in a packaging that could instead have been used to feed people,” Strauss said.