September 20, 2022

“Heat-and-Eat” Businesses Look for Sustainable Packaging Options

“Heat-and-Eat” Businesses Look for Sustainable Packaging Options

Hungry consumers are drawn to the many types of food delivery services that are available. In addition to delicious, nutritious food and heat-and-eat meal delivery convenience, a majority of people prefer meal prep businesses that take an environmentally conscious approach. In fact, 64% percent of consumers now say recyclability is the most important part of environmentally friendly packaging. That can be a problem for this industry. Meal delivery services deal with ingredients, food distribution, and fossil fuel usage—all of which have environmental impacts.

Today, we’ll talk about one challenge you might be able to do something about quickly: finding sustainable packaging for heat-and-eat businesses.

Misplaced Guilt

Because of the amount of plastic and paper packaging used to distribute these types of food to consumers, meal delivery and premade heat-and-eat food packaging is sometimes perceived as being environmentally unfriendly. However, it turns out this problem isn’t actually that much of a problem. According to a new study written by Brent Hears, a Ph.D. candidate from the University of Michigan, environmental guilt around food delivery services and eco-friendly packaging is misplaced.

In his study, Hears states, “When you zoom out and look at the whole life cycle, packaging is a relatively small contributor to the overall environmental impacts of a meal. What really ends up mattering is the quantity of food wasted through the supply chain.” The study’s results suggest that the streamlined and direct-to-consumer supply chains of heat-and-eat meals reduce food waste and reduce last-mile transportation emissions.

Hears continues, “This finding is sufficient to offset any observed increases in meal packaging. Additionally, meal kit refrigeration packs present an average emissions decrease when compared with retail refrigeration [sic].”

What does this all mean to the average meal delivery service consumer? Although meal prep businesses use more plastic than grocery stores, they generate less food waste overall. Further, the streamlined supply chain of meal prep businesses creates less greenhouse gas emissions associated with distribution. Traditional grocery stores typically buy more inventory than they are able to sell, as it is difficult to accurately predict demand. By skipping the brick-and-mortar preordering aspect, food delivery services ship directly to the consumer, reducing food waste and distribution emissions.

For businesses like yours, you can comfortably say that ordering from you is better for the environment than cooking at home or heading to a traditional restaurant. So don’t feel guilty about selling an environmentally friendly—or, at least, friendlier—angle to potential customers who might care about that.

All this is encouraging, but there are still improvements that heat-and-eat meal delivery companies can make to the packaging of their food.

Sustainable Packaging Materials

Meal prep companies can start by making sure their food packaging materials are sustainable.

Sunbasket has a great model for innovative and sustainable packaging. Here are just a few of the environmentally conscious practices the company communicates to its customers:

  • Boxes may be reused in a variety of ways or recycled.
  • Paper insulation, made from 100% shredded recycled packaging, may be used in several ways.
  • Ice packs are made from a gel consisting of 98% water and 2% non-GMO cotton, with a low-density polyethylene liner. This gel may be drained into a trash or compost bin and the liner dropped at an affiliated retailer who accepts these types of materials.
  • Denim insulation, used to keep food safe, cool, and fresh in the warmer months, can be reused in different ways or recycled.
  • Fiber trays and sleeves are made from upcycled sugar cane. These fiber-based materials may be put in a commercial composter to biodegrade or be recycled at home.
  • Meal bags made from paper may be disposed of or reused.
  • Jars and containers may be used for storage or to create a windowsill garden.

Customer communications should also discuss other relevant packaging materials, such as plastic bags. The meal prep business Purple Carrot goes a step further by numbering their plastics to make them easier to sort before recycling. Understanding that their meals will not add to landfills may increase customers’ desire to subscribe to meal delivery services—and it certainly won’t hurt to talk about them.

Acknowledging packaging concerns means also looking at processes like recipe development and ensuring they align with environmental business goals.

Sustainable packaging will impact your meal prep business’s revenue margin because environmentally sound packaging materials cost more than traditional packaging materials. However, offering eco-friendly alternatives may promote customer loyalty and ultimately create a positive model for the future—something some people are willing to pay extra for. Consider the impact on your bottom line and make the decision that’s right for your business.

Communicating Sustainability and Encouraging Responsible Consumer Behavior

Meal prep businesses who are making efforts to use sustainable packaging should communicate with both existing and potential customers about their eco-friendly process and packaging. They can include sustainability information with their meals (and on their websites) which informs consumers about any packaging that can be composted or recycled—and if other eco-friendly decisions are being made behind the scenes.

This information may be something as simple as a sustainability tab on a website that gives customers instructions on how to recycle and compost different packaging materials from the meal prep delivery.

The meal delivery service Sunbasket offers a great example of this direct-to-consumer communication. On its website, the company affirms its commitment to lower its environmental impact through less greenhouse gas emissions. Sunbasket also offers ideas on how customers can reuse their boxes, recycle their paper, or compost their fiber trays—all the packaging materials customers receive during the meal delivery process.

Moving Forward

Today, finding innovative ways to address the ongoing need for sustainable food practices is essential—and a wise way to differentiate your business from your competitors. Are you considering how your food delivery service achieves sustainability while increasing sales and revenue? You might want to bookmark our library of MealTrack videos, which are designed to provide more information on ways you can grow your company.

Take what you learned and go scale your business with pricing that works for you at MealTrack.

View MealTrack Pricing Options

Related blog posts

“Heat-and-Eat” Businesses Look for Sustainable Packaging Options
September 20, 2022
“Heat-and-Eat” Businesses Look for Sustainable Packaging Options

Hungry consumers are drawn to the many types of food delivery services that are available.

Heat-and-Eat: Meal Prep Businesses Deliver High-Quality Food to Consumers
September 14, 2022
Heat-and-Eat: Meal Prep Businesses Deliver High-Quality Food to Consumers

Meal kit services—where customers must assemble ingredients based on a recipe and cook the meal themselves—experienced an uptick during...