"Sustainability is part of everything we do – including our packaging."
In conversation with Thomas Regenhardt, Head of Packaging at HelloFresh:
In the third quarter of 2020 alone, HelloFresh delivered more than 162 million meals to over five million active customers and we are continuously working on improving our product to win over even more customers. One of the many things that are on our agenda for continuous improvement are our boxes and any sort of packaging materials.
Thomas Regenhardt, Head of Packaging at HelloFresh, spoke to us about how his team deals with all sorts of challenges around packaging, their achievements and their plans for the future. Thomas has been with the company for five years and has been leading the International Packaging Team for just over two years – from purchasing, optimizing and creating our own innovations to academic research.
What is the philosophy behind packaging at HelloFresh?
Thomas: HelloFresh does not operate a standard e-commerce system in which packaging is used exclusively to bring a product safely to customers. Our business model is very difficult to duplicate. We have to select packaging under completely different conditions and aspects than other companies. Sometimes we even have to develop it ourselves. Our philosophy is to use packaging as sustainably, efficiently and consciously as possible. We focus on a mix of consistent quality, environmental friendliness and functionality. Especially the latter is a continuous development process because we need to transport fresh ingredients. From tomatoes, cucumbers, rice and pasta to various types of meat, both thermal and sensory properties must be taken into account to provide our customers with the best possible freshness for their HelloFresh recipes.
Another part of our philosophy is to constantly challenge ourselves. We question already existing packaging solutions and we experiment with new materials, to perfectly adapt all packaging to our innovative supply chain.
What challenges do you face when developing packaging?
Thomas: There are three basic challenges in packaging development:
1st Challenge – Dynamics: At HelloFresh we offer our customers different recipes and add-ons each week, which means that there will always be different requirements concerning packaging. In order to approach this in a data-driven way, we are currently developing our packaging configurator 2.0, which in the future will predict our packaging consumption completely autonomously and dynamically.
The goal is to optimize the configurator in a way that will enable us to predict requirements for packaging, even as our product portfolio grows.
2nd Challenge – Temperature: One of the most important requirements for food safety and quality is the thermal validation of our packaging. On average, our boxes are in transit for about 24 hours. During this time, the ingredients are exposed to many different environments, which might be refrigerated, non-refrigerated, cold or hot. It's a complex ecosystem where internal and external temperatures interact, and we have to ensure that the mandated core temperature for certain products is not exceeded. But vice-versa, the situation can also be a challenge: If the outside temperature in Canada is -30°C, then we have to figure out how to protect our ingredients from the cold. That’s why we measure, calculate and produce packaging for each market individually.
3rd Challenge – Insulation: Packaging doesn’t only insulate the ingredients from outside temperatures, insulation is also important to prevent leakage of liquids inside the box.
This is a real challenge, especially now that we are using more and more packaging made of paper. Paper packaging has a higher leakage rate compared to other materials. This is something that we are tackling.
What would you and your team like to do next? What are your plans for the future?
Thomas: Thermal management will continue to keep us busy in the future. It would be great to collaborate with an institute to analyize and optimize our thermal validation with regards to our ice packs. Ideally we can then implement this in our day-to-day business, by using ice modeling that can automatically tell us how much ice, or how many cool packs we need to ensure food safety. This will likely become very interesting in the next few years due to global warming – so having a theoretical framework and some initial practical solutions is one of our major goals.
Another topic we would like to further explore is paper packaging. After our successful Paper Pouch project, we are now looking into other products we can package in paper. First stop - developing primary paper packaging, for example for rice or pasta.
What trends do you see for the future of packaging?
Thomas: Sustainability is a trend that we are also confronted with in the packaging industry. I therefore see a large move towards monomaterial packaging and reusability – both topics have been on our agenda for some time. Monomaterial packaging can be recycled quite easily because it consists of a single material that does not have to be separated before disposal. This also makes the correct way of disposal more convenient for our customers.
We are currently working on solutions to convert all our packaging (including transport packaging) to mono-solutions. At the same time, the re-useability of our packaging is important for us and our customers. For example, our ice packs can be used to water flowers after delivery. Another innovation by our team is the recyclable HelloFresh box. We are currently testing this in-house development in several markets, including the Netherlands and Australia. I am already looking forward to developing further sustainable packaging solutions together with my team.