Key takeouts from the latest Tetra Pak Index reveal that Covid-19 has rewired consumers, creating a shift from concern to active caretaking and a desire to take action to keep ourselves, our food, our communities and the planet secure.

The global packaging giant's 2021 report reveals that food safety and security are top priorities too, with the pandemic shining a spotlight on health and highlighting weak points in our food systems. Concern about the environment is very strong, with pollution and plastic litter in the ocean as the joint top worry (83%) followed closely by global warming, cited by over three quarters (78%) of consumers across nine countries. This sits ahead of food waste (77%) and food accessibility (71%). Meanwhile, nearly half (49%) of the global population are now recognising the impact that everyday choices have on the environment.  

Andrew Pooch, Tetrapak Oceania
Andrew Pooch, managing director,
Tetrapak Oceania

Commenting on these findings, Andrew Pooch, managing director, Tetra Pak Oceania, told PKN: “The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the status quo worldwide, accelerated trends and created a new landscape of consumer needs and opportunities for companies to build upon. In particular, the industry needs to address the growing awareness around food safety and the environment, stepping up towards the twin goals of meeting the human need for food while protecting our planet’s ecosystem. This is where food packaging can play a strong role in bringing about that harmony.” 

Pooch said in Australia, there’s a huge focus on end-of-life for packaging. “From our perspective, total carbon contribution across the whole lifecycle is what we need to start discussing more if we are truly serious about environmental impact. A focus on recycling is important but recycling alone is not going to solve global warming.”

Responsible consumption becomes mainstream

The lack of freedom and choice over the last 20 months has driven consumers to regain control and demand action to change the status quo, in whatever way possible. They are proactively looking for ways to make a difference in their own lives, in order to improve their own physical and mental wellbeing – such as through dietary choices – and in the environment around them, by recycling more and reducing waste. For example, 62% of consumers pay more attention to the quality of what they eat and drink, while 54% are throwing away less food now than before the pandemic. Notably, 72% agree that ‘individuals like me’ need to act now, or they will be failing future generations.

Consumers are also looking to businesses to lead the way and help them stabilise the new habits they form. Over one-third (35%) are more frequently choosing brands based on their sustainability credentials than before the pandemic, while one in two (50%) say being environmentally friendly is a top need for food packaging and 61% expect food and beverage companies to lead the way in finding solutions. The use of environmentally sound packaging would make 84% of consumres more likely to consider a brand.

With more time being spent at home, the household waste “footprint” is more visible. In a bid to address this, consumers are adapting their routines. Over half (55%) are planning meals more carefully to avoid waste, while just under half (46%) are making a greater effort to sort materials such as cartons, glass and plastic properly for recycling since the pandemic. One in two (50%) also say they are likely to recycle more in the next year as part of their personal contribution to tackling climate change.

Rebuilding and supporting our societies
The pandemic has made people more thoughtful, with greater empathy for others. They have a new appreciation for meaningful connections with friends and family and beyond – and shared food and beverage experiences often play a key role in making these connections enjoyable and fun.

'Together out of home' consumption occasions have experienced the highest increase since the start of the pandemic, up by 56%, which is why it is one of the opportunities highlighted in the report within habits. Another is shopping locally and sourcing local products demonstrating the growing link between the environment and society. Beyond immediate family and friends there is also a concerted effort to rebuild societies, with nearly a third (32%) actively influencing their community to reduce waste – signalling a movement of climate champions. Indeed, in some regions such as the UK the environment has surpassed Covid-19 as the number one concern.

Consumers are looking for ways to transition from fragility to resilience. In their own lives, this translates to improving their own physical and mental wellbeing, through their choice of diet and ingredients. Since the start of the pandemic, consumers have experienced sweeping, rapid change, and made many sacrifices. What is clearly here to stay is that consumers are taking actions in their own lives to build a more sustainable future and expecting companies to do the same – as well as helping them in this mission.

“This year’s Tetra Pak Index reveals interesting insights around how consumers are adjusting their lifestyles in practical, everyday ways to make a positive difference, as they seek a more resilient and sustainable future. There is an evident increase in traditional ‘back-to basics’ values, including home cooking, eating with the family and minimising waste. From the choices they make at home, to which businesses they decide to buy from, the pandemic has reinforced responsible consumption as a key trend, with greater demand for action throughout society,” said Adolfo Orive, President and CEO at Tetra Pak.

“Responding to these needs and expectations requires long-term focus and a system-wide collaboration from all stakeholders. The UN has already called the 2020s the ‘Decade of Action’, emphasising the need to act now. As a purpose-led company and a global industry leader, we remain fully committed to play our part. We believe that the world’s food systems need to transform to meet the needs of society, improving food security while reducing the impact on natural resources. We therefore aim to focus on three key areas: increasing access to safe, nutritious food; reducing food loss and waste; and building more sustainable value chains,” he concludes. 

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