Which plastics do supermarket buyers prefer?

Plastic Supermarkets

You’ve developed a product, sourced the parts or ingredients, quality-tested, nailed your marketing material and got the patents you need. The last to-do on your list is to choose a packaging material to help you bring your creation to market. Supermarket chains typically offer the highest chance of your product successfully getting off the ground by delivering the broadest exposure to your customers. But with more and more supermarkets (and their customers) looking for sustainably packaged products, what plastic should you pitch your product to them in? How do you know which plastics supermarkets prefer?

Plastic, in general, is a solid choice for packaging. It is lightweight, durable, tamper-evident, prevents water ingress, avoids contamination, controls oxygen and water transmission rates and can considerably extend the shelf life of items like food. It can easily be printed onto, allowing for branding, instructions, best before dates and recycling symbols to be displayed. But when it comes to eco-friendly properties, not all plastics were made equal. Plus there are so many types, where do you start if you want to get the seal of approval from supermarket procurement teams?

Don’t Lose Your RAG!

The key to your choice is understanding the RAG (Red/Amber/Green) systems that all supermarkets use, a traffic light status tool that details plastics they deem as preferred, passable or unacceptable. Red signifies no-go materials; those that are not easily recycled or are potentially harmful. Where these are already used for stocked product lines, supermarkets have been pushing manufacturers to phase them out. Amber denotes plastics that are currently accepted but only until scientific or infrastructure improvements can be made to replace them. Green is reserved for supermarkets’ preferred materials which are highly recyclable and have eco-friendly credentials. Ian Schofield, the former head of Own Brand Packaging at Iceland demonstrated this decision-making dependence on RAG when he revealed that ‘oxo-biodegradables used to be popular but have now gone red on the RAG list’ in a recent seminar on sustainability in food packaging. RAG lists differ slightly from retailer to retailer depending on their exact sustainability goals and can change over time but it’s clear that ultimately, meeting green RAG criteria is how you get the green light from supermarkets.

Plastic Pariahs

Which types of plastics are generally in the red? It’s widely known that black plastics are out of favour because recycling plants find them hard to detect. PLA (Polylactic Acid) is also undesirable because it’s a compostable for which no current recycling framework exists. Oxo-biodegradables are disqualified as they have been shown to break down into micro-plastics and PVC is blacklisted because of its toxic chlorine-based contaminant content. The take-home advice to be gleaned from the ‘reds’ is that plastics that are hard to recycle in our existing recycling streams, have toxic components or break down into micro-plastics should be avoided when you package your products.

Preferred Plastics

By contrast, there are many plastic options available, rigid and flexible, that fit the green bill. Your pitch will be perfect if you present a product contained in the following plastics: PET (Polyethylene terephthalate), PE (Polyethylene), HDPE (High-density polyethylene) and LDPE (Low-density polyethylene). Bio-sourced plastics and plastics with recycled content (with more than 30% in particular) that can be recycled are also favourable. The key feature across this group of plastics in contrast to the reds is their recyclability, as most UK supermarkets now conform to a reduce, reuse and recycle philosophy. Plastics that can be recycled are more sustainable, reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and lower CO2 emissions.

If you are looking for RAG-approved plastic flexibles that will help you bring your products to market in UK superstores, YPS can help. We have many customers that supply directly to every mainstream UK supermarket and we know a lot about the demands they place on manufacturer’s packaging. Our shrink and stretch films are all comprised of LPDE plastic which is 100% recyclable. Furthermore, we can supply fully recyclable bio-based films and fully recyclable films with up to 70% recycled content which will also get the buyers on side. If you’re looking for an entirely plastic-free wrapping alternative, YPS can also supply fully recyclable paper sheeting which sits firmly in the green category too.

For more information or a free sample of our packaging materials, enquire today!