The Bumble Bee Seafood Co’s sustainability success opens unexpected marketing opportunities

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Source: The Bumble Bee Seafood Co.
Source: The Bumble Bee Seafood Co.

Related tags: Sustainability, Packaging, Plastic, Recycling, Bumble Bee Seafoods

By replacing the shrink wrap around multipacks of canned tuna with paperboard cartons, The Bumble Bee Seafood Company not only achieved an ambitious sustainability goal ahead of schedule, but it also unlocked unexpected marketing, retail and consumer benefits.

Rolling out nationally, Bumble Bee’s multipacks of chunk light tuna and solid white albacore now are bundled in Forest Stewardship Council certified paperboard made from 100% recycled material with a minimum of 35% post-consumer content rather than single use plastic.

An “industry first,” the new packaging marks a significant milestone in the company’s commitment to keep plastic out of landfills and the ocean by making 98% of the brand’s packaging readily recyclable – a goal set two years ago as part of Bumble Bee’s Seafood Future​ sustainability and social impact program and achieved three years ahead of schedule.

The move not only reduces Bumble Bee’s reliance on single use plastics, but it also creates a powerful marketing opportunity that brings the brand closer to consumers while simultaneously providing increased flexibility to retailers, said Leslie Hushka, senior vice president, global corporate and social responsibility at the Bumble Bee Seafood Company.

She explained to FoodNavigator-USA that “consumers are really looking for companies and brands to make it easier for them to do the right thing – particularly around packaging. They’re looking for us to make it easier for them to help recycle their packages … and many have recycling at their homes or pick-up collection services in their apartment buildings.”

Likewise, she said, the new paperboard boxes feature “eye-catching graphics on them”​ that are easier to read than shrink wrap so that the product not only stands out better on shelf, but consumers can more quickly identify the products and attributes they want – a feature that gained importance during the pandemic when consumers wanted to spend as little time as possible in stores searching for products on their lists.

From a retailer perspective, the new packaging makes stocking the product easier because it can be placed both vertically and horizontally depending on available space and the barcode is easier to scan, Hushka said.

‘We’re looking at how can we modify the US recycling system’

Even as Bumble Bee celebrates achieving its sustainability goal of making 98% of its packaging readily recyclable, Hushka said the company isn’t going to rest on its accomplishments – rather it is aggressively looking for ways to lessen the environmental impact of the last 2% of its packaging, which is not currently readily recyclable.

That 2% includes products sold in popular flexible packages, which can be recycled in some stores, but which Hushka acknowledges only a small percentage of consumers are willing to do.

“That’s not going to be a solution for most Americans,”​ which is why Hushka said The Bumble Bee Seafood Company is working with other big brands that use similar pouches on a two-part solution that includes a package that can be recycled and a way to recycle those packages.

“We are looking at how can we modify the US recycling system, which is no small task, so that those things can be easily recycled by the consumer,”​ Hushka said. She added because that “requires a whole system change across the US and requires collaboration with recycling groups and other brands”​ it may be a years before a solution is available at scale.

Sourcing seafood sustainably

Bumble Bee also is making strides on other goals outlined in its Seafood Future program, including a goal of sourcing seafood more sustainably.

“We’ve really made some tremendous steps with our tuna over the last year – particularly in our albacore tuna line, which at the end of last year was either sourced from fisheries that were in improvement programs or [Marine Stewardship Council] certified, which is three years ahead of the schedule we set for ourselves,”​ Hushka said.

“We’re in the process now for skipjack, our light tuna, converting over to MSC certified, which you’ll see roll out over the course of 2022,”​ she added.

Ghost gear hunting

Another major accomplishment by Bumble Bee since publishing its Seafood Future program is a recently announced five-year $1 million expansion of its partnership with the non-profit Ocean Conservancy to find a collect from the oceans so-called ghost gear – or abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear, most of which is made of plastic.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, ghost gear is the deadliest form of marine plastic pollution in part because it is so difficult to retrieve.

Among the efforts undertaken by Bumble Bee will be using sonar scanning to find and remove what Hushka said is a large amount of ghost gear from several fisheries that may be affecting the viability of those fisheries.

“This is a big clean up effort, and we really excited to get that program going, and Ocean Conservancy has been a fabulous partner over the last couple of years,”​ she said.

While impactful, these are only a small sampling of The Bumble Bee Seafood Company’s efforts to improve its sustainability. A more detailed update on the company’s Seafood Future progress will be available later this spring or early summer.

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