Why Gousto’s Packaging Innovation Is A Huge Step Forward for Sustainability
Being able to offer homes a more sustainable meal is an essential part of our mission to become the UK’s most-loved way to eat dinner. Now, after more than a year in development, Gousto has rolled out a UK-first recipe box packaging innovation – the Eco Chill box.
Eco Chill is a plastic-free insulation box, made from recycled cardboard that keeps Gousto’s fresh food cold during delivery. Previously we had been using a biodegradable insulation product which required plastic wrapping. But with Eco Chill’s original design 74.5 tonnes of plastic will now be removed from Gousto boxes each year. To find out more, I sat down with some of the team responsible for making Eco Chill happen…
Q: The Eco Chill insulation box is a huge innovation in food-packaging, how exactly does a cardboard box keep food cold?
Andrew: Cardboard has really good insulation properties. What makes the Eco Chill Box clever is the many layers of cardboard to trap the air in between. By trapping air, we create lots of pockets of insulation that stop cold air from escaping. This keeps the temperature low and the food fresh.
Q: What inspired Gousto to create the Eco Chill box?
Karina: Gousto was founded on a vision to reduce food waste, so sustainability has always been really important to the team. In 2018, we turned our attention to reducing our plastic packaging, and that goal sent us on a two-year journey to making our packaging more sustainable and creating Eco Chill.
Q: So you had this goal of making your packaging more sustainable, where did you start?
Karina: First, we did a huge piece of work that measured exactly how much plastic we were using, and how it was being used. Once this was mapped out, we could clearly see where we needed to focus our time to make the biggest impact.
The beginning was difficult. We’re a relatively young company, and some of the problems we were looking to solve have never been solved within the food industry before. We were in uncharted territory.
Q: What new sustainable packaging options and technologies did you look into?
Andrew: We’ve looked at everything! Paper-based, bio-based, compostable, biodegradable, seaweed, chicken feathers, thistle plastic… even plastic made from crustacean shells.
There is no magic answer. The more you learn and look into a problem, the more you realise how complex the issue is.
One of my biggest inspirations was from Timo (Gousto’s Founder and CEO) when I told him of the cost increases in both the machines, expertise and time required to solve this challenge. He pushed the door wide open in his typical eco-warrior way and said nothing would make him prouder than to push the boundaries.
Q: What was the hardest part of reducing plastic packaging as a food company?
Oli: Understanding that some plastic actually serves a really important purpose. Plastics used to package food are often engineered with special properties to keep food from spoiling. Some plastics are engineered to stop moisture or light or oxygen getting to the food. Other plastics trap certain gases around the food to keep it fresh. It’s all really clever stuff, but unless you know what you’re looking for, it all looks the same.
Moving away from plastic without viable alternatives would mean increasing food waste, so the challenge is finding packaging which has all the benefits of plastic, but none of the downsides.
Q: What were the challenges of turning the idea of Eco Chill into a reality?
Karina: There was a lot of trial and error! We spent a year testing it in all weather conditions. The heatwaves last year, for example, were a great opportunity for us to run tests. We also recently invested in a temperature chamber and special temperature recording capsules to replicate extreme weather conditions and record what happens to the food temperature inside.
It was a tough process. But in the end, we found a design that worked exactly how we wanted it to!
Oli: Once we were sure our product was fit for purpose, we needed to build a brand new machine to create the boxes at scale. Unfortunately getting the machinery to work the way we wanted was a challenge in itself! In the end, we had to start all over again with our design. It felt like a disaster at the time, but ended up being the best thing that could have happened. Andrew ended up creating an additional design that Gousto has now patented.
Q: How was the second Eco Chill box design different from the first?
Andrew: The key difference is the lid. We needed something functional yet simple to use in production. It had to give a great customer experience and most importantly it had to be plastic-free and totally recyclable. We had loads of great ideas and went through dozens of complex solutions, but they kept leading to dead ends until, finally, everything clicked. Now we have two working designs.
Q: What’s the next big sustainability goal for Gousto?
Karina: It’s really important that other businesses and the UK government join us in making a positive impact by investing a lot more in recycling technologies. We’re committed to helping create the change we want to see with even more innovations like Eco Chill. Our next milestone will be to make all Gousto-branded plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by the end of 2022.