Although the global push to reduce plastic use in the food industry seems to have gone from wave to Tsunami in a very short time, one company has been innovating and promoting solutions for decades: PackNwood.
The wave started last July in Seattle, Washington. Starbucks announced it would eliminate single-use plastic straws from its 30,000 outlets – a billion straws annually – replacing them with plastic lids or non-plastic straws. Timing was perfect, for just a week before, Seattle had become the first American city to prohibit single-use cutlery and plastic straws.
The impetus grew quickly. In the past year, countless cities have acted to eliminate single-use plastics. The European Union voted to ban single-use knives, forks, spoons, coffee stirrers, straws, and even cotton buds by 2021. Worldwide, other communities have vowed to get rid of single-use polystyrene cups, Styrofoam and Styrofoam containers, plastic bags, even water bottles, in favor of biodegradable and renewable materials.
Enter PackNwood, whose roots in green, planet-saving solutions go back over 35 years.
PackNwood is the American and British arm of France’s First Pack, a well-known manufacturer of environmentally sustainable food service products. With its North American operations headquartered in New York, PackNwood is integrated in a global network which produces not just functional and kind-to-the-environment products for clients in the food industry, but beautiful ones too. This includes plates, cups, straws, bakeware, lunch boxes, utensils, and other tableware.
“One of our favorite things is to launch new products, so every year we come up with all kinds of new concepts,” says PackNwood’s Chief Executive Officer Adam Merran. “That’s really in the DNA of the company, and part of our culture and strategy since day one.”
Starting with about 200 products almost a decade ago in North America, the company today markets over 1,000 items. Introducing 50 to 70 new stock keeping units (SKUs) annually, PackNwood’s utensils, appetizer dishes, bakeware and other goods are made from bamboo, cornstarch polylactic acid (PLA, fermented starch), palm leaves, paper, wood, sugarcane, porcelain, glass, metal and other sustainable materials.
By some estimates, plastic straws account for four percent of the planet’s plastic waste. Realizing this, PackNwood recently launched a line of reusable bamboo straws. “That’s a really relevant one these days,” Merran says of the product, which will be joined this year by straws made from wheat. “Paper straws are great, but not for everyone. Some people prefer steel. So we try to come up with different solutions for people who want a different experience or higher quality, but we also come up with ideas for packaging no one requested, and create concepts around our ideas and designs to add value to things they hadn’t thought about.”
Experiencing increases in the sale of products such as paper straws and wood cutlery, Merran says many players in the food service industry want to eliminate plastic items. While it won’t happen overnight, Merran remains confident that the coming years will see massive supply chains move towards more eco-friendly products.
Aesthetics and innovation
Without exception, all clients in catering and hospitality, including restaurant chefs and bakeries, see functionality, design and presentation as vital. With the motto ‘Inspiration, Design & Eco-Friendly Solutions,’ PackNwood meets this need by creating products beautiful to hold and behold. For instance, instead of customers using Styrofoam balls to hold picks and skewers, the company has created attractive boards from bamboo to do this, and unique cone holders that are reusable, great conversation pieces, and better for the environment.
Then there are compostable plates and salad bowls made from natural materials like sugarcane; leak-proof, grease-resistant and biodegradable black paper meal boxes; wooden macaron boxes; and compostable cornstarch cutlery as “an alternative to environmentally unfriendly plastic and the more rustic renditions of PLA cutlery seen everywhere else.” Created a few years ago, Nature’s Party (www.naturesparty.com) is PackNwood’s retail line of eco-friendly party supplies, creative tableware designed to make a splash at any gathering.
Environmentally and socially responsible
To further minimize its environmental footprint, PackNwood strives to use only packaging made from natural, renewable sources. For example, PackNwood bulk ships product in simple, recyclable cardboard, or packaging made from cardboard and corn.
This year, PackNwood aims to become a Certified B Corporation. This certification doesn’t just evaluate a service or product, but “the overall positive impact of the company that stands behind it.” Administered by non-profit B Lab, B Corp Certification examines many aspects of a business, including the levels of public transparency, verified performance, environmental performance, and legal accountability.
Many well-known entities such as ice-cream company Ben & Jerry’s and outdoor clothing business Patagonia, Inc. have acquired B Corp Certification.
Currently, PackNwood is in the review process, which involves a lengthy questionnaire and determines environmental and social impact and more. The company has scored well. “B Corp Certification is very hard to get but it is interesting, because it makes you ask different questions about your impact on society in general,” Merran says. “It’s is quite an interesting process. There are other certifications that don’t feel right, but this is one that looks at what’s important for business to operate in the long term and to go in the right direction and have the right mindset.”
Merran says the certification is important to him and the company not only professionally but personally, as it is not solely about PackNwood’s sustainable products. It takes into account how the company operates, its long-term vision, the environmental impact on literally everything, how well it is working, its impact on society, and even the energy the company expends making green products.
On that point, PackNwood has been a CO2 neutral business for three years, annually calculating and offsetting the CO2 it generates with its products.
The future of green
Merran says the key factors setting PackNwood apart from its competitors include its unique product line and a combination of products that can create richly different and diverse settings for caterers’ events.
“That’s one of the big differentiators – our unique selection of products that create beautiful synergy for food service concepts,” he says. “We also provide very good, reactive service, and continually innovate with new products customers can use in their operations.”
With the release of its massive new 840-page catalog, PackNwood plans to be one of the top three green packaging companies in the United States in the next decade, and to keep bringing innovative, environmentally responsible products to the world.
“Any green solution is a great solution,” Merran says, “even if it only comprises a no-packaging, no-single-use concept. It means we are moving forward, going greener and being more aware,” he says.
“I also prize quality over quantity. It’s better that you use less – and that also applies to food packaging — and push toward things that are reusable. We are a young, dynamic company, and quickly adapt to coming up with ideas and launching new products. We’ll keep bringing new concepts to customers, even if it means going reusable, and why not? The future will be very interesting.”