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Part two of our virtual roundtable discusses the critical questions retailers and their suppliers need to ask of packaging providers.

Progressive Grocer's Store Brands asked several packaging experts what retailers could do to boost efforts here on the store brand side. What follows is part two of our "virtual roundtable." (Part one appeared in our October 2011 issue, http://tinyurl.com/3vcn2dr). Participants include Danny Bolstad, director of R&D at Siloam Springs, Ark.-based Allens Inc.; Suley Muratoglu, vice president of marketing and product management for Tetra Pak, Vernon Hills, Ill.; Don Ryel, vice president of the product branding business team at FLEXcon, Spencer, Mass.; and Sabina Saksena, managing director with New York-based PricewaterhouseCoopers' (PwC) PRTM management consulting firm.

PG's Store Brands: What questions do retailers and their store brand product suppliers need to ask of packaging providers if they are to achieve packaging reductions?

Danny Bolstad: It's important to know how the packaging reductions are being achieved. What specific steps are being taken that benefit the environment? Also, be certain your packaging provider is making the consumer aware of these packaging reductions through conversations and overall commitment.

Suley Muratoglu: Packaging reduction is only one area retailers should be looking into when moving toward more sustainable packaging solutions. It's not enough to ask for comparisons on weight, amount of material and related cost-savings.

Retailers who truly want to achieve sustainable packaging efficiencies need to consider a package's full lifecycle. As such, retailers need to query the supplier about each stage of a package's lifecycle — from raw materials sourcing [and] design/development to production, transportation, in-store display, [and] disposal and waste — to clearly understand the benefits of a specific packaging type.

Don Ryel: Working with a label/ packaging provider to understand what options exist and to what extent are the first steps. It may be also helpful to understand how the supplier measures the reduction such as [a] carbon footprint reduction. And equally important is the assurance that the revised package will work for your product and allow the retailer to achieve their marketing goals for the product.

Sabina Saksena: Given the heightened sensitivity and scrutiny on the environmental impact of packaging, the industry has moved rapidly during the last few years to change their raw and production practices, embrace innovation and measure their product footprint impact. Most importantly, packaging suppliers are actively partnering with their customers around packaging sustainability across all dimensions. However, there are miles to go on both the supplier and industry sides. Within this context, packaging suppliers should be asked specific questions:

• Is there a formal sustainability strategy and program in place? As part of this, what specific sustainability initiatives are underway, and what certifications are in place?

• What sustainability case studies or examples can help customers reduce or replace existing packaging while maintaining product performance and business impact?

• What specific practices are in place to reduce carbon footprint and waste, conserve water and improve energy efficiency, and how are these practices measured? What are the scores on each specific product?

In addition, indicators and metrics that the GPP has defined can be used to obtain specific information for your products.