St Hubert, a food company that mainly sells margarine, is committed to nutritional improvement and is the first signatory of a charter of voluntary commitments to nutritional progress as part of the National Nutrition and Health Program. They aim to offer to their consumers products that are of high quality, tasty and responsible.
To do so, they recently designed a new packaging which is better for the environment than the basic plastic one. Thanks to the 70% substitution of plastic packaging by cardboard - which is made from wood from sustainable forests exploited to be renewed - this innovation has helped to reduce St Hubert's carbon emissions. Thus, they achieved SDGs 12 and 13, which are the use of a more responsible consumption and production system, and the addressing of climate action.
Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU)
The innovation is a technological one since the goal was to find a more environmentally friendly way to pack fats than the basic plastic way. This technological innovation consists of working with a packaging supplier to find a way to get as close as possible to a 100% cardboard packaging. After conducting research, St Hubert's R&D team and one of their suppliers concluded that it would be possible to only use a small layer of plastic (composed of a mixture of five plastics) and stick it against the cardboard, which would isolate it from the fat and therefore preserve the margarine as long as if it were packaged in classic plastic.
This innovation emerged from a joint effort between St Hubert and a supplier of cardboard packaging. An important thing that they had to take into account in the implementation of this new packaging was the conservation of the product which had to remain the same. In addition, St Hubert’s teams had to ensure that it wouldn’t present any risk for the consumer and that the new packaging wouldn’t deteriorate the quality or the taste of the product, while being better for the planet.
A better packaging for the environment
As explained by Mireille Besson, St Hubert's Purchasing, Supply Chain and Sustainable Development Director, "the carton jar already existed before, but only for some types of products, not for fats ones. The real innovation was to succeed in packaging margarine in a cardboard jar and to keep it for several months. The idea appeared following the new expectations of the consumers. Indeed, they want less and less plastic, they are aware of the need to use more sustainable packaging which are better for the planet thanks to a lower carbon footprint. Hence, the idea was to find a packaging that would reduce the carbon footprint and satisfy the consumer."
This innovation is interesting because it can be used by the supplier for other brands since he is the one who developed this technological innovation. Indeed, he has the possibility and the right to resell this packaging. St Hubert was the first to launch this technology on fats product in France. Since then, other butter brands have launched this carton pack, such as the French brand “Payson Breton”. This innovation thus inspired other brands to use a more sustainable and environmentally friendly packaging.
This project took between one and a half and two years to complete internally. First of all, they had to work with the supplier to find packaging that would meet the quality requirements of the product and that would be more ecological and sustainable. Then, St Hubert had to work on the installation of these jars on their machines. To do so, the maintenance and production teams had to modify the machines and adjust all the settings to use this jar with a different shape and a different type of material. This innovation has had a significant impact on the company, including the company's production workshops.
Those who participated in this innovation were mainly the Research and Development team of St Hubert and their supplier, but also people in production and maintenance who work on the packaging machines. Indeed, the machines had to be modified to switch from oval shaped plastic trays to round cardboard cups. Since, unlike plastic, cardboard cannot be given any shape, marketing contributed to this innovation in order to adapt the product design to satisfy the consumer. The quality department also worked on this project since they had to make sure that the use of this new packaging preserved the quality of the margarine; in other words, they had to ensure that its taste and its conservation weren’t altered. Since the new shape of the margarine would not be packaged and displayed in the same way, St Hubert's sales team then had to convince their clients (the distributors) to buy this new jar and to sell St Hubert margarines with their new shape in their stores. Finally, the purchasing department took care of the negotiation part. Hence, this project mobilized all the departments of St Hubert.
Because St Hubert changed their packaging, they have been able to reduce the carbon footprint and satisfy the consumer. In fact, this innovation was intended to be better for the environment, but also to convince consumers to buy St Hubert rather than another brand. Indeed, St Hubert – which was forced to raise the prices of their products due to the increase in the price of their new packaging – aimed to achieve better sales in order to generate a higher turnover to compensate for the additional price of the packaging. Their goal was achieved as they managed to increase the number of sales since the implementation of this new packaging made with 70% cardboard.
The impact of this innovation on society was to encourage St Hubert's consumers to buy more ecological and sustainable products, which respect the environment. Moreover, it should be noted that cardboard packaging is 2.5 times more expensive than plastic packaging. Not only the use of the cardboard jar is a real investment for St Hubert, but it is also an investment for its consumers since the price of the products has raised due to the increase in the price of the packaging used by the margarine brand.
In terms of environmental impact, the implementation of this new packaging made from 70% cardboard has helped to reduce St Hubert's carbon emissions in order to achieve SDGs 12 and 13, which are the use of a more responsible consumption and production system, and the climate action. In fact, St Hubert's supplier conducted a comparative study between the cardboard’s carbon footprint and the one of the plastic jar. This study showed that the manufacturing of the cardboard jar saves about 40% of greenhouse gas emissions compared to the manufacturing of the plastic packaging. This is a concrete proof since St Hubert obtained the calculations made by the supplier which were carried using methods called “life cycle analysis.” These methods allowed to calculate the impact of the different packaging on the planet according to different criteria and the impact on the carbon emissions of the packaging proved to be the most beneficial for the environment.
Mireille Besson, Purchasing, Supply Chain and Sustainable Development Director and member of St Hubert’s Executive Committee
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Business Website: https://www.sthubert.fr
Year Founded: 1904
Number of Employees: 201 to 500
Founded in 1904, St Hubert is a French SME specializing in the food industry. Naturally combining pleasure and nutrition, their products are the result of a policy of continuous innovation since the company's creation. Their star products have become popular with consumers, such as St Hubert Omega 3 in the French margarine market, St Hubert Oats which has been present in the vegetable dessert market since 2021, and the Valle' brand in the vegetable fat spreads and pastes market in Italy.