Working towards a more sustainable future: The potential impact of metal pet food packaging

Ajeeth Enjeti
10 April, 23

The pet food industry’s contribution to packaging waste

Pet ownership in Europe is continuing to grow. According to FEDIAF, 90 million European households own a pet which equates to almost half (46%), with an estimated 305 million pets combined. So it’s maybe not surprising that pet food is the fastest-growing FMCG industry in terms of packaging unit sales, a trend that is being caused not only by industry growth but also by a shift to smaller pack sizes. According to the FEDIAF, which represents the European pet food industry, the annual growth rate of the pet food industry is 3.1%. For an industry already producing 10.2 billion tonnes of pet food products, it’s clear there needs to be a rethink when it comes to pet food packaging and its environmental impact.

Why metal works for pet food packaging

Other industries such as food and beverage are waking up to the benefits of metal packaging. As well as some products that you might traditionally associate with metal packaging such as soft drinks, now brands that make products such as wine, edible oil, and even asparagus are turning to metal as a sustainable packaging material too. And there are lots of reasons for pet food to join the trend.

Metal not only protects the contents it contains by preservation, but it also prevents oxidation thereby extending shelf-life, does not need refrigeration, and is very robust in its capability to withstand treacherous supply chain transits. This is important for the pet industry, where packaging is critical to ensure pet food is kept safe and retains its nutritional quality, and aspects such as portion control, weight, and consistency of product are particularly important. Indeed, for the growing number of raw and organic pet food providers that market themselves as makers of natural food free of preservatives, fail-safe preservation is key.  

As well as durability, the sustainability of packaging is now a key consideration for brands. The 2022 Buying Green Report shows that 68% of consumers have chosen a product in the last six months based on its sustainability and credentials and 57% of consumers are “less likely” to buy products in harmful packaging. In Europe, 60% of respondents considered plastic to be harmful and related plastic to ocean pollution. With 51% of consumers in this region saying they won’t buy products in packaging harmful to the environment, there is a significant opportunity for brands to tap into a wave of consciousness around sustainability.

Metal’s true circularity gives it a unique role in helping to protect the planet for generations to come. Aluminium can be recycled again and again. In fact, 75% of aluminium that’s ever been produced is still in use today. In the context of high numbers of pet ownership and pet food consumption, there is huge potential for sustainable metal packaging to make a difference.

Metal packaging in action

Some pet care brands are already making strides toward improving their sustainability. For example, Butcher’s Pet Care, a leading British pet food manufacturer, has replaced the plastic shrink-wrap packaging on its multipack cans with recyclable and biodegradable cardboard while retaining its commitment to metal cans. Noticing that reducing plastic waste is important for its customers, Butcher’s has also included it in its environmental pledge, which states: “…Our cans are infinitely recyclable forever. These metals can be easily and sustainably turned into new materials, like car parts, bicycles, or even more cans!”

Along with durability and sustainability, manufacturers are finding that metal packaging opens up new opportunities for marketing their brands. Packaging technology has advanced to enable the packaging to act as a canvas to advertise its content. With metal packaging vessels, it’s possible to print directly onto the product in a variety of colors and finishes, enabling brands to use the entire surface area. Advanced graphics and prominent colours can take centre stage without sacrificing packaging functionality or recyclability. Research suggests that one-third of consumer purchasing choices are based on packaging alone, so the opportunities for brand creativity can be a game-changer for sales.

Improving the sustainability of packaging is now ingrained in public consciousness, but many manufacturers in the pet food industry have yet to respond despite the sector’s size and contribution to waste. Manufacturers need to look at sustainable alternatives – not only to improve their green credentials but also to speak to the large proportion of customers that now put sustainability at the forefront of their decision-making and avoid being outmaneuvered by competitors who get there first.

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