Interview with CEO Fran - 10 years plastic free
10 years of plastic free packaging! That’s what we are celebrating this year as part of #plasticfreejuly. But how did it all start and how did we get there? We lured our CEO Franziska in with some delicious raw chocolate and she spilt all the (raw cacao) beans.
Franziska, why was there the decision to change to plastic free packaging for our raw chocolate 10 years ago?
10 years ago, awareness of the plastic problem on our planet was there, but limited. I never would have imagined that it would have the platform today, which warms my heart. My first confrontation with the extent of the problem was in India in 2007, plastic everywhere. The problem already existed of course but, but nobody was really talking about it. We started Lovechock back in 2009 with three different bars, which we initially wrapped in aluminium foil. It was a super nice packaging and when I remember it now I am still sad that we don't have it anymore. (laughs) It was a really great unwrapping experience, you know? The aluminium foil had different colours depending on the taste of the bar. As I said before, people weren’t really aware that non-biodegradable waste is a problem on our planet. We wanted to substitute the aluminium with a renewable resource and not base it on petroleum or an exhaustive raw material. Also what happens with the aluminium or plastic when it is thrown away. Is it really recycled? And what is the impact on the planet? The answer to these questions led us to the realisation that we need to find a new way. That the environment will always suffer a bit from a aluminium or plastic packaging.
How did you come up with the idea of using compostable plastic-free foil as packaging?
We knew that somehow we had to find another, more environmentally friendly material to wrap our chocolates. That was in 2009/2010. We did a lot of research and finally came across NatureFlex, who produce compostable foil based on wood cellulose. The foil looks like conventional plastic, but rather than being made from petroleum, it is made from wood pulp and therefore compostable. I remember that it was a long and difficult decision. You have to imagine that especially back then and even now, the costs for such a specific, plastic-free packaging solution are extremely high. Why is this? This technology is relatively new, has a limited number of suppliers and uses renewable resources, where the unfractured is not set up optimally yet in the volumes that usually allow economies of scale (and lower prices). Lower volumes means for us a high cost. Even with these considerations, this foil seemed to us to be the only truly sustainable packaging, and worth the invest. Of course, we would prefer not to use any packaging at all, but we’re on a mission to help people understand the cacao can be enjoyed differently - raw, low processed, vegan and less sugar - and that does mean we need a place to share our message. It would be cool to not only be the first chocolate with plastic-free packaging, but to be packaging-free. (laughs) Unfortunately, we haven’t figure that out yet due to hygiene regulations, but almost all stores require a product packed ready to buy.
So we decided on the wood cellulose-based compostable and plastic-free foil. In the beginning, we didn't print anything on the foil, but we changed that three years ago when we were certified to use the plastic-free logo from A Plastic Planet. We had often heard from consumers that they didn't even realise that our packaging was plastic free, so we decided to take this step. It is now even mentioned on the foil that it is made of wood cellulose.
What was it like to be one of the first in Europe to package their chocolate in plastic-free and compostable foil?
Well, it is not just that we were one of the first. We were the first. I remember that there was one other brand of potato chips that also came in a plastic free packaging. And then there was us in the chocolate category. Compared to today, when the issue of plastic has received such a lot of attention, especially through Fridays for Future and all the climate debates in the media, it's incredible to look back and realise that we really were the first and only ones for quite some time! Amazing!
Of course, plastic soup already existed back then and was a topic amongst very environmentally conscious people. You could simply observe that these things don't disappear but become more and more. But I never imagined that this topic would reach the mainstream in such a profound way. I am absolutely overjoyed that awareness has grown so much in the last four years. And that we were able to play our role in raising awareness amongst consumers and helping them to change their behaviour towards a more sustainable future. I know we also inspired many new chocolate and snack companies, as well as established companies to follow in our foot steps.
It is wonderful to see so many brands, even big ones, using NatureFlex as a selling point – something we actually didn’t actively communicate in the beginning but just did. All we wanted to do was make delicious vegan raw chocolate from direct trade cacao while not harming the planet, we never even focused on telling consumers that our foil was actually compostable. But I am very proud that we were one of the pioneers and happy to tell the world about our story.
Have there been any challenges in the last 10 years since going plastic free?
Yes, there have indeed been a few tough challenges. In the beginning, when we first switched to plastic free foil, we were very concerned about guaranteeing the shelf life and taste of our raw chocolate. We also had to secure the supply of the material due to the limited use of it. Also the cost is considerable versus other materials.
We did review other compostable foils made from mineral oil but we wanted to use a material from renewable resources. An alternative could have been foil based on corn. The problem here is that corn is edible in nature, and is often cultivated in monocultures, also using valuable land space to grow a product not as food, which didn’t make sense to us. So, wood cellulose to us was simply the best solution. The only big challenge that remains is cost and the higher energy needed to produce this material. However the more evolved this technology becomes and the more that the food industry picks up on this resource, the lower price and environmental impact it will have. We are still convinced of our choice that it’s the only way not to pollute our environment through our consumption of chocolate. After all, we would like to stay true to our purpose which is to make a delicious, healthier chocolate that sustainably nurtures the well-being of people and planet.