“Fig Food is about making a difference” by giving consumers heart healthy, plant-based foods that are in demand, on trend and convenient, but also in packaging that is more sustainable than cartons and cans, said Joel Henry, owner of the company, which currently is raising funds on the crowd-funding website CircleUp.
He explained that he wanted to use the most sustainable packaging that was light weight to minimize emissions during transportation and also produced the least waste. At the time Fig Food launched, Tetra Recart cartons were the best option available, but within a few years of launching, Henry realized the cartons were not the ultimate package for the company.
Fig Food switched to BPA-free pounces because it discovered that they were less wasteful than cartons and cans and, therefore, better aligned with the company’s mission as a B Corp dedicated to be the most sustainable, Earth-friendly company it could be, Henry said.
The switch to pouches cut in half the weight of the product and lowered the package to be only 2% of the total product that consumers took home, which reduces transportation emissions and end-waste, Henry said.
The pouches also were easier for consumers to open without spilling than the cartons and because the material is more conductive than the Tetra Recart carton paper, consumers can reheat the product more easily in the pouch and not dirty an extra dish, Henry said.
“Printing on the pouches also is a superior process to what you can do on the cartons” so the end-product looks more appealing to consumers, Henry said.
Retailers also like how the pouches do not dent or break when dropped like cartons or cans, which can be difficult to sell if they appear damaged, Henry said.
“If the pouch drops, it will smoosh, but you can still straighten it out and sell it. So, there is less shrinkage from falls,” and therefore, less lost sales, he added.
Switching to the pouch also made business sense because there are more providers and companies that make the filling machines than the Tetra Recart packages.
“At the time when we used Tetra Recart there was only one plant making the cartons and that was a big risk” because if something happened and supply could not be met then Fig Food would not be able to fill its orders, Henry said.
Challenges posed by pouches
The pouches are not perfect though, Henry admits.
“My only dissatisfaction with the pouch is that it is not recyclable” in the U.S., he said. However, he takes satisfaction in knowing that the waste created from throwing away the pouches is less than that of recyclable containers that enter the waste stream instead of recycling centers as intended.
Plus, he emphasized again, the pouches are lighter than cans and cartons and therefore produce fewer emissions during transportation.
Another downside to the pouches is that while they are eye-catchingly different from cans and cartons, they often are not shelved in retail stores at eye-level, which hinders sales, Henry said.
He explained that the pouches appear bigger than the more traditional cans and cartons so many retailers place them on the top shelf where there is more space. But “being on the top shelf is problematic because our primary consumers are women and the average height of women is 5’3”, so if the pouch is on the top shelf they can’t reach it,” Henry said.
Fig Food extensively researched the minimum heights of stores shelves, soup cans and cartons to design its pouch to fit where the cartons are stocked. This meant filling its pouches as much as 40% more than pouches with the same amount of soup from other companies in order to keep the height down, Henry said.
Fig Food also designed the cartons in which the pouches are shipped to double as merchandising cases to help retailers better display the soups and beans, Henry said. He explained the company worked closely with several retailers to ensure the cartons are easy to open and use. In addition, the cartons, like the pouches, use only as much material as needed to minimize waste and increase sustainability, he added.
Consumer confusion remains an issue
While the pouches successfully catch consumers’ attention because they appear unfamiliar, they also confuse consumers, Henry acknowledged.
“Since we eat, drink and sleep these pouches at Fig Food, we don’t think about them as being new, but they are to a lot of consumers,” who might not understand how to use them, said Henry, adding “there is still a learning curve at the consumer level.”
For example, he said, consumers often think they need to refrigerate the unopened pouches or that they are not as long lasting as cans and cartons.
Henry said he is working to educate consumers but that it would be easier if other companies that also use pouches could unite to create a council – similar to the Carton Council – that could educate consumers and address recycling concerns in the U.S.
Despite these challenges, Henry said the pouch “has a strong future” and is, in his view, the best option for the earth and his business.