A forward-thinking brand owner that made a calculated move into an entirely new type of packaging for both the company and the condiments category also had the environment in mind. The intent for the launch was to squeeze more sustainable benefits from the packaging throughout the supply chain at the same time consumers could squeeze more product from the highly functional, breakthrough pouches.
Chicago-based cult favorite Uncle Dougie’s line of five distinctive gluten-free and USDA-certified organic barbecue sauces took a big eco-step forward into a smaller carbon footprint format in moving from the company’s standard glass bottles to category-changing inverted squeeze pouches.
The brand can now verify that it set the environmental bar higher as measured by an independent third-party lab using industry-standard Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) software in a category dominated by rigid glass and plastic bottles.
In partnership with flexible packaging supplier Glenroy Inc. (Menomonee Falls, WI) that pioneered the first-of-a-kind premade pouches, Uncle Dougie’s brand worked with the Natural Marketing Institute (Harleysville, PA) to measure the environmental footprint and sustainability of the 13.5oz pouches against typical glass barbeque sauce bottles. Results of the NMI study show that the packs reduce…
- Fossil fuel usage by 62%
- Greenhouse gas emissions by 75%
- Overall water usage by 80%.
“We wanted to understand our environmental impact from a holistic standpoint and look for ways to reduce our natural resource consumption as we launched these organic items,” says Rob Johnson, CEO of Uncle Dougie’s. “It’s important to make an impact where we can, and our fans expect us to do so. This package is a huge upgrade for convenience and usability, and proves you can bring meaningful innovation to consumers and do good for the planet at the same time.”
The comparative analysis conducted by NMI utilized COMPASS software, the industry standard in measuring environmental impact. COMPASS was developed in collaboration with the Sustainable Packaging Coalition in 2006 and is continuously updated to reflect new materials, processes and impacts. SPC is a project of GreenBlue Org (Charlottesville, VA).
The tool measures the impact of the raw materials, manufacturing processes, transportation and end-of-life disposition so that environmental performance criteria can be taken into consideration during package development and design.
‘Incredibly surprising’ results
Conducted post-launch to verify the brand’s sustainability assumptions about the pouch, the results were “incredibly surprising” in a positive way, Johnson tells PlasticsToday. “We expected a 20-30% improvement in most metrics, but we ended up confirming between 62-80% improvements across metrics like fossil fuel utilization and water usage. We couldn't have predicted how drastic the results would be—our surprise was only surpassed by our excitement that we're making an even more significant impact than we thought we could.
“We started this entire project knowing that we wanted to do something more sustainable than glass because everything we were reading was telling us that municipalities around the country were restricting or eliminating their glass recycling programs. We also knew that there would be tremendous supply-chain efficiencies in weight and space utilization with these pouches, so we went into the development of these new items with sustainability in mind. The study we did with NMI was to confirm how great the savings were and get some specific data from a respected industry source to back it up. It also gave third-party credibility to what we already suspected was a significant improvement in sustainability.”
Robinson says the assessment took a little over a month to gather inputs from a number of sources and complete the analysis.
Source reduction is #1 solution
“We commend Uncle Dougie's for spearheading this study and being a thought leader and change-maker in the category,” says Amanda Dahlby, Glenroy Marketing Manager. “The Environmental Protection Agency considers source reduction to be the single most effective method of waste management because it’s a true preventive measure and addresses pollution at its source. At Glenroy, we equally support this vision.”
The sustainable benefits also extend to reducing food waste and save consumers’ time. Dahlby had this to say in an article published March 2019 by sister publication Packaging Digest that centered on the product launch: “consumers can access and remove virtually 100% of the product from the StandCap pouch, which makes consumers feel like they’re not being cheated, and they’re getting their money’s worth. This also reduces food waste. The easy, utensil-free dispensing also saves time for consumers; this package is essentially a lifehack, and consumers are willing to pay for convenience.”
While the inverted squeeze pouches are not yet recyclable, the packaging is far more sustainable than glass due to its significantly lower carbon footprint and natural resource utilization. Dougie’s is in a unique position to immediately adopt such a solution when it becomes available.
“We did take recyclability into consideration, but glass recycling is becoming more and more difficult for consumers, and in a lot of cases it’s worse for natural resource consumption,” added Johnson. “Examining our sustainability practices from holistic standpoint allows us to make smart decisions that will more significantly reduce our carbon footprint and do better to leave the world a better place than we found it.”
Pouch LCA versus rigid plastics?
What would the LCA have shown versus rigid plastic containers?
“We wondered this, too,” Johnson responds, “but we wanted to limit the scope of the study to improvements we're making in our own business. Because we don't currently use plastic bottles for anything, we decided to study the impact of moving from glass bottles to pouches. It wasn't intended to be a ‘gotcha’ for other brands or packaging types in the category, although we hope these results will motivate others to take action to reduce their impact on the environment.”
However, Johnson isn’t afraid to share deductions that can be reasoned from the process and findings.
“Based on the results, here’s what we can assume knowing that a significant part of the impact we were able to achieve was based on space and weight efficiency in the supply chain. When they ship into our plant, the same number of pouches that fit onto a single pallet would fill an entire truckload if they were rigid containers whether glass or plastic. Essentially, we've eliminated the shipping of empty space/weight in our supply chain. Both glass and plastic rigid containers have this problem, so it’s likely that the results would be similar whether we're talking about glass or plastic.”
“Congratulations to Uncle Dougie’s for conducting the analysis and taking this tangible step toward more sustainable packaging,” says Diane Ray, VP of Strategic Innovation and NMI.