NEWS

2 December 2019

‘Testing shows that consumers approve of CIRC-PACK products’

As we near the end of the CIRC-PACK project, we put our prototype innovations to the test with consumers around Europe. For a rundown of what people thought, we spoke with Belén Ramos of Spanish consumer organisation OCU, the CIRC-PACK partner that ran the testing.

 

CIRC-PACK has produced new bioplastic products made from renewable resources. What are these products that we have made for market?

CIRC-PACK is working on packaging alternatives for several products.  That means producing renewable and compostable plastics for coffee capsules, single-use and multi-use plastic bags and shampoo bottles, as well as flexible film for sanitary pads, and even plastics for “food contact materials” such as trays that we use for fresh produce.

But we are also improving the design of cardboard boxes that contain (powder) laundry detergent – by replacing the inner plastic layer for a cardboard one that has similar barrier properties. There has been a lot of work done by our research and industry partners!

 

Consumer testing is obviously an important part of the project, one for which OCU is responsible. What did you test, how did you do it, and with whom?

To see what people think, we tested these products on consumers in six European cities: Brussels (Belgium), Kartal (Turkey), Lisbon (Portugal), Madrid (Spain), Milan (Italy) and Rijeka (Croatia). We selected 30 consumers per city; they were representative in terms of age and gender, and normally make the shopping decisions in the household.

What did we do? We showed them two types of packaging – conventional plastics and bio-plastics – for each product, without telling them in advance which was which. We asked them to rate features such as visual appearance, resistance, ease of use, the ability to compress (for recycling, of course), and which bin the packaging should be thrown in to. And with some of the products we did additional practical tests to find out what people felt about: ease of opening, smell and even the ‘readability’ of the label.

When testing products with consumers, you only reveal the composition/ type of packaging at the end of the interview. People were then asked which they preferred in terms of sustainability and whether they were even willing to pay more for bio-plastic packaging.

 

So what do people think of CIRC-PACK products versus the traditional plastics?

In general, alternative plastic packaging is well accepted by consumers, as you can see in the summary video. And indeed for many of the products, our new bio-plastics have better scores on appearance, ease of use and resistance. However, weaknesses were still identified in some prototypes – hence the reason we conducted these consumer tests now; so we could still make corrections before the end of the CIRC-PACK project. For example, the tray for fresh produce was thought to be less resistant than the conventional plastic tray. That’s something we have gone back to work on. As for the new coffee capsules, they were more visually appealing and perceived as more resistant. And in general, our consumers considered the two types of bio-plastic bags – multi-use and single-use – to be more resistant, while also being easier to open.

 

What does the consumer testing tell us about the future of bio-plastics compared with conventional plastic in the market?

People expect – or hope – that new plastics will have at least the same technical properties than the packaging they are replacing. When a bag made from bio-plastic is regarded as less resistant or more difficult to handle, this product will have less of a chance of success when marketed.

However, our testing showed us that consumers approved the CIRC-PACK innovations and, often, bio-plastic packaging was the preferred option when people didn’t know which was which. And when informed about the products’ environmental properties, the majority of interviewees chose bio-plastics over traditional plastics (indeed most of the time they were willing to pay a little more for the new packaging). But when there is not such a difference between the two types (i.e. the detergent box or sanitary pad films), we find that people are less motivated to spend more.

The summary video is on OCU's YouTube channel, with more information online (in Spanish).