Giant Eagle reps urge Chilean producers to up their packaging game

A photo of a Chilean processing plant toured by Giant Eagle employees during a trade mission visit.

Eco-labels and effective messaging on recyclable packaging are big drivers of seafood at retail in the United States, according to executives from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.-based grocery chain Giant Eagle.

Giant Eagle, which operates nearly 500 stores in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions, surveys its customers every year to analyze their preferences and identify consumer trends. In its latest survey, more than 50 percent of respondents expressed a willingness to pay for a premium seafood product that is sustainable, according to Giant Eagle Sustainability Director Cara Mercil.

“This is an increasing trend for U.S. consumers, despite inflation,” she said, adding that the retailer had seen products deemed sustainable growing twice as fast as other products. “Consumers want control, and they want to bring that optimism home to their families.”

Speaking during a tour of seafood industry operations in the Chilean city of Puerto Varas and surrounding areas organized by ProChile, a branch of Chile's Ministry of Foreign Affairs charged with promoting Chilean goods and services throughout the world, Mercil said packaging sustainability is also becoming increasingly important to consumer purchasing decisions, echoing a finding previously identified by the Norwegian Seafood Council.

“In the United States, we don’t have recycling infrastructure capacity, so if the packaging calls attention but at the same time it is recyclable or reusable, it will be a better option,” Mercil said. 

Currently, most suppliers use plastic #4, or low-density polyethylene, in their packaging, which can be very difficult to recycle.

“Imagine making a grilled cheese sandwich from three different cheeses and then trying to separate the cheese after the sandwich is grilled – that’s what happens when different plastics are mixed, and it’s near impossible to separate and then recycle,” she said.

Mercil said urged Chile's seafood firms to switch to using mono-material plastic packaging. She pointed suppliers in the direction of U.S. NGO How2Recycle, which provides companies with guidance on how to assess recyclability on a package-by-package basis.

U.S. consumers are very concerned about sustainability issues, but their points of emphasis are different than those of seafood companies, Mercil said. While it's important for seafood producers to focus on their carbon footprint, reducing waste, and lowering their fish-in, fish-out ratio, U.S. consumers are much more concerned with companies ensuring the seafood they sell is safe and healthy to eat, she said. She encouraged the use of QR codes to give U.S. consumers the ability to trace the origins of the products they see in the supermarket through the suppl chain. 

“Think of it as a billboard,” Mercil said.

Mercil said there needs to be a closer relationship between packaging and sustainability.

“Chilean seafood companies have many possibilities and opportunities in the U.S. market, but they must take into account that product traceability is something that consumers are demanding. This can be done through packaging,” Mercil said. “On the other hand, they can create partnerships with supermarket chains to provide information on how to cook products at home or with restaurants – to develop new products because today's consumers are willing to try new things.”

Giant Eagle Seafood Merchandising Manager Dee Amarillo said eco-labels and other types of seafood certification play varying roles in the ...

Photo by Christian Molinari/SeafoodSource

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