Case study: Unilever revolutionises the Snack Pot range with a view to more recycling


Unilever is innovating with its new packaging for Knorr Snack Pots, where the company has succeeded in combining two completely separate materials to make them more recyclable. In this way, Unilever also avoids producing as much as 30 tonnes of plastic annually.

These are challenging times for packaging designers. On the one hand, consumers no longer accept that their packaging is not recycled and valuable raw materials are lost. On the other hand, both sorting and recycling technologies and the demands made of packaging are evolving at lightning speed. So multinational company Unilever constantly challenges its teams to innovate. Both to combat food waste and to prevent (non-recyclable) packaging waste. Their new packaging for the Knorr snack pots combines two fully separable materials to make them more recyclable.

Pioneer in packaging innovation

‘Consumers want more recyclable packaging’, says Axel Driegelinck, Knorr Brand Manager at Unilever. ‘We have always seen ourselves as pioneers and we want to achieve this ambition in packaging design, as well. For example, Unilever was the first to bring the compressed deodorant to the market. That made it possible to reduce packaging aluminium by 20% on average. We opened up this technology for the market and these days, almost everyone has compressed deodorants in their range. Now we want to do the same for the Knorr snack pots. We are certainly not the only ones operating in this category and we plan to stand out by the way we take account of recycling in the packaging design phase.’

This is the principle behind Design for Recycling. Fost Plus, too, is focusing sharply on this. After all, the aim is to offer a recycling solution for all packaging on the Belgian market by 2025. Packaging design with an eye to recycling is an important avenue here.

‘We note from our members’ annual declarations that some of them still bring a lot of problematic packaging to the market’, says Nicolas Egri, Sustainability and Prevention Manager at Fost Plus. ‘We help them with concrete advice to improve the recyclability of their packaging. The starting point here is always what is already on the market; our aim is not to develop new packaging.’

At Unilever they followed a workshop like this themselves, but at the same time they were already working on improving the Knorr snack pots.

hanks to thorough research and development, we have developed a packaging with two fully separable materials, and we save 65% plastic.

65% less plastic

‘We optimised the printed and coloured plastic packaging of the snack pots to produce a transparent packaging with a cardboard sleeve’, Axel Driegelinck explains. ‘Thanks to thorough research and development, we have developed a packaging with two fully separable materials, and we save 65% plastic. Moreover, transparent, soft plastic has more recycling applications.’

Initial consumer surveys indicated that 4 people in 10 sort the packaging properly.

‘The communication on the cardboard sleeve could be better. We were also the first in the segment to come out with this. Consumers still have to get used to it, but once they have worked out what to do, it’s quick and easy, it appears. Word-of-mouth advertising is an important driver here.’

The plastic packaging of the snack pots can be put in the New Blue Bag in communes where these have already been introduced. The cardboard sleeve goes in the paper-cardboard waste.

‘At the moment we bring more than 2.5 million snack pots per year to the market. Each pot that is properly sorted means a gain for the circular economy’, Axel Driegelinck concludes.