Michael Okoroafor, vice president of global packaging innovation and execution, HJ Heinz, shares his secrets on the company’s holistic approach to sustainability, which reaches packaging, processing, innovation and beyond.
Under Okoroafor, Heinz has seen a number of packaging and sustainability accomplishments. In addition to developing the award-winning “dip-and-squeeze” single-serve ketchup packs, Heinz has partnered with Coca-Cola on the PlantBottle, which uses bio-based PET in a container that can be recycled in conventional waste streams.
Okoroafor told FoodProductionDaily Heinz’s mission is “to be the best food company, growing a better world.” This doesn’t mean, however, that sustainability initiatives should be purely altruistic—they should help the planet, and the company’s profits.
According to Okoroafor, Heinz has made a concerted effort to ensure that accompanying its messages promoting sustainability to consumers and investors are real accomplishments to back the claims up.
“There is no green washing with us,” he said. “It’s all real.”
Environmental drives can do far more than help the planet, Okoroafor said. Effective eco-friendly efforts are also a smart business practice.
“If you can save the planet and help your bottom line, than everyone should be for it,” he said.
Starting at the top
Sustainability frequently starts with the product itself. For example, Okoroafor said, Heinz ketchup doesn’t require a great deal of water, doesn’t need a flood of pesticides to grow the tomatoes, and very little product goes to waste in processing.
Many Heinz sustainability initiatives are borne from collaborations with other companies. The company has partnered with Coca-Cola on development and commercialization of the PlantBottle, a container made of bio-based plastic that can be recycled in conventional waste streams; both Heinz and Coke have products in the bottle.
The success in the alliance, he said, lies in the common goals and visions of member companies.
“If you see what we share with Coca-Cola—we’re both iconic brands, have a rich heritage, and shared values on integrity, collaboration, vision, results and innovation—these are key ingredients,” he said.
Additionally, companies working together on sustainability goals—sharing research power, tossing ideas back and forth, pooling resources, etc.—is far more effective than flying solo, he said.
“Not any one company can go it alone,” he said.
The PlantBottle on retail shelves is composed of 30% renewable materials; according to Okoroafor, the goal of the collaborating companies is to bring that figure to 100%. He anticipates they will bring that goal to fruition by 2018.
“The journey to a 100% renewable PlantBottle will not be easy,” he advised.
Now, the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance has seen Heinz and Coke joined by other companies across several industries (including Ford, Nike and Procter & Gamble) to increase sustainability in more than just food and beverage packaging. The member organizations collaborate to develop eco-friendly options. They share research and best practices in a non-competitive environment to bring about the betterment of all of their industries.
The company has also brought in the World Wildlife Federation, in part to ensure the group’s efforts are in harmony with nature as well as industry.
“We want to make sure we’re doing everything right,” said Okoroafor.
Heinz has made strides in increasing the packaging sustainability of its existing brands. For example, a redesign of its Heinz ketchup bottles lightweighted the container by 10% overall (the cap alone by as much as 30%), reducing resin use by approximately 2,500 metric tones.
Regarding packaging of its Smart Ones frozen meals, a redesign cut material usage, reduced resin usage by 240 metric tons, cut corrugated use by 168 metric tons, and increased shelf facing to boot. A revamp of the inner tray reduced weight by 15% and plastic consumption by 40% overall, all without compromising packaging quality.
“We’re improving quality, and we’re also impacting the bottom line,” he said.
The company also looks at ways to introduce operational sustainability. At its Brazil-based Quero facility, Heinz has essentially constructed a closed-loop system, with a company-managed water reservoir, internal waste water treatment center and biomass boiler to reduce energy usage, conserve resources, and reduce reliability on municipal water and power sources.
Okoroafor spoke at the Packaging Conference, an annual, three-day event focused on packaging for food, beverage and other industries. Sponsored by Plastic Technologies Inc. and SBA-CCI, the event is tackling a range of concerns, including sustainability, metal packaging advances, shelf-life improvement and more.