Amazon has developed a new, more sustainable form of insulated food packaging that not only is made from recycled paper but also is easily recyclable. The packaging keeps ecommerce grocery orders in a safe temperature range for the duration of the cold chain.
The need is great for a workable sustainable packaging solution. Grocery ecommerce sales grew 300% from 2019 to 2020, as the pandemic helped prime the pump. Now that consumers are comfortable ordering perishables and other provisions online, sales will continue to flow. Mercator Advisory Group predicts online grocery shopping will make up about 22% by 2025, up from 10% of the overall grocery market in 2020. And Amazon expects its own online edible grocery sales to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13% from 2021 to 2026.
For now, Amazon uses the paper-based packaging for deliveries of frozen and chilled foods from Whole Foods Market and Amazon Fresh. Amazon rolled out the new packaging right before Thanksgiving 2021, in preparation for holiday food orders.
In contrast to previous generations of insulated packaging, the new format requires no bubble bags or plastic liners. And it can be recycled curbside, with other paper-based materials.
An Amazon blog post written by Stephenie Landry, VP of Grocery at Amazon, explored aspects of the new packaging and the considerations that drove its development. The five key criteria were:
• Maintaining the cold chain and assuring food safety.
• Creating compact, flexible packaging suited to the needs of Amazon delivery drivers.
• Easy recyclability.
• Scalability and inexpensive cost.
• Generating less packaging for consumers.
Amazon started a pilot with the new packaging in 2020 after conducting thermal effectiveness testing at internal and external labs in North America and Europe. The pilot phase included multiple cities and temperature scenarios.
For additional feedback on the package’s performance under real-world conditions, Amazon has used “secret shoppers.” In addition, the company has been attentive to consumer and employee feedback on packing techniques that yield the best results vis-à-vis temperature control.
The sustainability benefits of the new packaging are appreciable. According to Landry, “Moving to all curbside-recyclable insulation packaging reduces material waste and each year replaces approximately 735,000 pounds of plastic film, 3.15 million pounds of natural cotton fiber, and 15 million pounds of non-recyclable mixed plastic.”
She added that Amazon sources the new packaging regionally in the United States. Thus the company can deliver the packs to Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market locations “with fewer miles traveled across the supply chain.”