The IncrediPouch, which debuted May 29 exclusively on Gerber’s direct-to-consumer e-commerce website, answers a particularly stubborn challenge faced not only by Gerber but the children’s food industry at large to offer products that are safe and convenient but that also protect the planet for future generations.
When Gerber set its goal to make 100% of its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025, it quickly discovered that many municipal waste streams that are not driven by governmental intervention have not evolved with marketplace innovations, meaning they cannot breakdown many of the most commonly used single-use plastics, including multilayer pouches, Gerber CEO Bill Partyka told FoodNavigator-USA.
And yet, he added, “we also know that consumers are highly reliant on the use of plastics, in particular multilayer pouches for their convenience, their durability, their accessibility and their ability save and protect” the product inside.
This created a “dichotomy … that became the impetus for the development of these new packaging technologies – the most recent of which, of course, is the launch of the IncrediPouch, which is the first single-material film that is designed for the future of recycling,” Partyka said.
Creating the IncrediPouch in 18 months
While Gerber was able to usher the IncrediPouch from concept to final product in only 18 months, Partyka said the process was complicated and required teamwork and proactive, fast-paced dedication.
“I kind of break it into three parts. The first thing we had to do was put the stake in the ground. When we made a commitment to make sure all of our packaging is recyclable or reusable by 2025, one of the big questions was, ‘Well, what do we do with multilayer pouches?’” he said.
“Clearly, there was not a solution available on the marketplace and if we were going to meet our commitment, we needed to make sure we were developing new technologies for the marketplace as the recycling waste streams continue to develop in the US,” he explained.
To do this, during the second phase of creation, Gerber evaluated roughly 20 partners before teaming with spouted pouch manufacturer Gualapack with which it worked during phase three to “fast track this in the marketplace,” Partyka said.
Unlike other multi-layer pouches that sandwich aluminum between plastic to protect against oxygenation, the IncrediPouch, including the cap, is made from polypropylene, which can be hot or cold filled for a variety of products.
While Gerber is the first brand to offer the single-material sprouted baby food pouch in the US, the technology is not exclusive to the company and, as such, Gerber hopes other companies will adopt the packaging to improve the future of recycling.
Expanding curbside recycling
Gerber simultaneously is tackling the recycling challenge posed by pouches by also working with the research collaborative Materials Recovery for the Future to expand curbside recycling for its new pouch – and all baby food pouches.
Together, MRFF launched a pilot program in Pottstown, Pa., to test collection of flexible plastics as part of the curbside recycling program.
Parents in other regions where curbside pickup is not yet an option can continue to send their used pouches to Gerber through the manufacturer’s recently launched national recycling program with TerraCycle that collects hard-to-recycle materials.
As of June 1, the partnership has recycled 58,760 units of baby food packaging and has 1,970 participation locations, according to Gerber.
Partyka said “the usage is beyond our expectations – and we had pretty high expectations in the first place. So, it kind of reinforced how widely adopted it is by today’s Millennial and Gen Z consumers – so we consider that a very successful compliment to our commitment to make sure all our packaging is recyclable or reusable by 2025.”
The evolution of purchasing
Gerber’ decision to launch the new pouch exclusively on its e-commerce website before rolling it out to brick and mortar retailers reflects the evolution of how consumers are purchasing food and the current complications imposed by the ongoing pandemic.
“Purchasing behaviors continue to evolve in today’s COVID and post-COVID environment, so we thought an online launch is the fastest way to get a solution into the marketplace,” Partyka said.
He explained that Gerber’s commitment to e-commerce “has always been extremely high as we have seen today’s generation and the next generation of baby food consumers really prefer the online shopping experience.”
He added that “what we have seen in our own Gerber store reflects trends we have seen elsewhere in other ecommerce channels and that is basically the doubling of business year-over-year for a number of years. So, it is a very successful, very convenient option for consumers.”
He also cautioned that “if anyone in the industry isn’t investing in these platforms yet, they are already too late.”
Reducing plastic and carbon-use
The launch of the IncrediPouch is only one small aspect of Gerber’s overall sustainability commitments, which Partyka said the company is “making excellent progress” to achieve.
While he wouldn’t share how far the company has come or what it has left to do to reach its goal, he said Gerber has made significant strides to reduce the use of plastic and its carbon footprint.
“We also work directly with all our largest key customers to find other ways to take miles off a product and reduce the carbon footprint associated with the value chain,” he said.
For example, he explained, “we are shipping directly from our factories rather than going through a distribution center to save money in the value chain and reduce the carbon footprint associated with delivering in the market.”
Give the progress Gerber has made so far, Partyka is confident the company will achieve its goals and continue to be an “industry iterator as it has been from day one.”