Green cakes and excess packaging

According to a Local Government Association report released in October 2007, up to 40% of packaging used by leading UK supermarkets cannot be recycled. This includes leading names like Marks & Spencer (the worst offender) but also a big German retailer: Lidl, rapped for the worst wrapping on a “standard basket of 29 goods”.

I was surprised Lidl scored badly. Otherwise the Germans are way ahead of the Brits on environmental issues. Take the product below as an example, from Mr Kipling (“Exceedingly good cakes”) – possibly the English equivalent to Dr Oetker (“Denn Qualität ist das beste Rezept”).


Well, from a marketing perspective, this is a product manager doing a great job. Smaller packs to address smaller households and individual purchases by singles. They’ve thought about a) keeping the product fresh for longer b) presenting the product in an appealing (and visible) way c) hygiene: no dirty hands holding the pie.

But just look at all the packaging. Each little pie is in a plastic cup, with a heat-sealed foil lid, held underneath by an aluminium cup.


Of course in Germany this would be unthinkable – unless you’re such a premium product that you’re willing to pay a hefty “green dot fee” (DSD). For those not familiar with the system, each piece of added packaging (or material type) incurs an environmental charge, as someone has to recycle or trash it. It has caused controversy for years, but the pack above would score lots of negative points. “Deservedly so!” cry all the environmentalists. By the way: I know of one company that paid €20m a year on Grüner Punkt fees. Each product manager had hot-wired in their head that they should design products with as little packaging as possible.

For years this has been a millstone round the neck of innovative ideas and appealing packaging. Maybe that’s why so many packs look naff. But that’s history. And we can all learn from history. One day the European Union will also wake up to the fact that this is a notion worth supporting and imposing on all countries.

I predict as a result that, rather than these rules hindering German business, in the long term it will make them stronger and more competitive. They’ll be ahead of the game. Wasting less money in lots of areas and not incurring environment penalties. Germany 1, rest of Europe 0.

Finally, thumbs up to Tesco for their test results. The No1 UK retailer used the least packaging by weight. Maybe they also understand that packaging = added weight = added transport costs and much, much more.

See also: toothpaste packaging.

Alex Woodruff

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