Traceability, renewability and environmental issues are of increasing importance in packaging, says Richard Hands

Consumers are increasingly demanding greater information about where their food has come from.

Despite the economic climate, products with clearly labelled food provenance responsibly or locally sourced, organic, free-range and Fairtrade remain popular. Retailers are responding with wide-ranging commitments, from sustainable sourcing of fish and higher-welfare standards for animals to expanding their Fairtrade ranges.

So how long will it be before one of the most pressing food issues on the nation's plate spreads to other areas of the grocery supply chain?

Research by the Alliance for Beverage Cartons & the Environment UK shows 97% of consumers believe renewability, not just recyclability, is very or quite important for food and drink packaging. Renewable materials, such as wood fibre from responsibly managed forests, can have a low impact on the environment because they are replaced at a rate comparable with use.

In fact, thanks to improved forest management practices, a greater yield of wood per hectare is being generated, despite a greater demand for wood-based products. Furthermore, increasing the share of renewable content in packaging is shown to be an effective way to lower carbon footprint.

Independently certified traceability of wood fibre, from finished packaging material back to responsibly managed forests, continues to be a key priority for the beverage carton industry. Responsible forest management uses methods close to natural forest cycles, reducing the use of pesticides and fertilisers and protecting biodiversity.

Within Europe, 100% of the wood in the paperboard used by ACE member companies Elopak, SIG Combibloc and Tetra Pak to make cartons comes from paper mills that have an FSC chain of custody. Globally, ACE members have increased purchases of FSC-certified and FSC-controlled wood fibre in a single year by over 700,000 tonnes (+60%).

Through this work, we enable brands and retailers to reassure consumers about the provenance of their packaging.

Richard Hands is chairman of the Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment.