In May, Danone’s German division switched to a plastic made from plants (not oil) for its Activia yogurt packaging sold in Germany. The new yogurt pack uses a corn-based plastic called Ingeo from NatureWorks, Minnetonka, Minn. Vermont-based Stonyfield Farm converted its four-pack multicups to the same material in October 2010 (see Dairy Foods, November 2010).

In May, Danone’s German division switched to a plastic made from plants (not oil) for its Activia yogurt packaging sold in Germany. The new yogurt pack uses a corn-based plastic called Ingeo from NatureWorks, Minnetonka, Minn. Vermont-based Stonyfield Farm converted its four-pack multicups to the same material in October 2010 (see Dairy Foods, November 2010).

Andreas Knaut, the director of corporate communications, health and sustainability at Danone GmbH, shared with Dairy Foods how this conversion came about. Following is an edited version of an interview conducted by email.

Dairy Foods:Describe how Danone and NatureWorks worked together on this conversion.

Knaut: We’ve chosen to buy the Ingeo polylactic acid (PLA) from NatureWorks because of its high quality. That the corn used is free of genetic modification was of great importance for our cooperation with NatureWorks. Furthermore, we are working together to achieve the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC) for our new Activia packaging, which was a crucial reason as well.

The end result is a yogurt cup that is indistinguishable visually and performance-wise from its predecessor, while at the same time being better for the environment.

Q.What kind of testing did Danone perform on the new material before accepting it as the new packaging?

Knaut: In-depth material tests with Ingeo PLA were carried out to ensure the quality of the cup and a smooth production, as all machinery had to be adapted to the new material. For us, the technical tests and the ecological advantages are equally important. To make sure that we take into account all ecological implications, we intensively worked together with World Wildlife Fund. Finally the whole implementation process was completed by consumer tests.

Becasue PLA is hardly known, we’ve decided to launch a strong campaign (including television, online, social media and public relations) to meet eventual educational needs.

To make sure that our new material is environmental friendly, we’ve asked the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (Heidelberg, Germany) to create a lifecycle assessment, along the whole lifecycle of the cup, starting with the cultivation of corn to the disposal of the cup.

Additionally, the ISCC-certification (International Sustainability and Carbon Certification) process is running to make sure that the corn for the cups is cultivated environmentally friendly and according to social and ecological criteria.

Q. The first phase involves packs of 4 x 115 grams and 8 x 115 grams. What other sizes does Danone produce, and does it plan to convert these packages to Ingeo?

Knaut:We’ve also changed the 460-gram cup of the Activia yogurt. Each packaging has its individual requirements. Within the next few years, our plans are to convert other packaging to renewable ones. Since each packaging has its individual requirements, we have to proceed step by step. Whether we are going to use Ingeo PLA or other materials from renewable resources depends on the features of the individual packaging.

Q. What materials are used in lids, labels and seals? Are these recyclable?

Knaut: The labels are made of recycled paper or FSC-certified (Forest Stewardship Council) paper. Furthermore, we currently are working on converting the lids to paper-PET instead of aluminum to be realized by the end of this year.

Q.Is Danone forming the cups on-site, or is it buying preformed cups from a third-party vendor?

Knaut:Both. However, the majority is formed on site using form/fill/seal technology.

Q.Did the conversion require any new filling equipment or modification to existing equipment?

Knaut: The conversion to the production of the new Ingeo PLA cup indeed required modifications. There were quite a few tasks to be taken care of. Our suppliers had to adapt their production processes and learn a lot about this new material. We’ve had to make a few investments and adjustments with our machines in our own plants. The new material and its features are similar to the one used, though it isn’t completely identical.

Q. Where is the Danone processing plant?

Knaut: Activia is produced in Ochsenfurt (Germany), a small town in Bavaria, which is also our international pilot plant in terms of sustainability. So far, 24 sustainability projects have been initiated (including) a heat-and-power unit and  cooling with groundwater. We also only use green power.

Q. In May, Danone mentioned that changing the packaging material is “a first significant step in the packaging development of the future.” What other steps are in the works, and what can consumers expect to see next?

Knaut: Basically we have two goals. In terms of packaging, our goal is to convert all our cups to more environmentally friendly packaging made out of renewable resources.  However, the new Activia cup is only one part of our sustainability strategy.

We’ve already been committed to manufacturing our products in a CO2-reduced manner for many years. Our products undergo analysis “from the farm to the fridge” and through to the disposal of the empty packaging, in order to determine the exact level of CO2 emissions.

In 2002, we set clear goals. We did manage to reduce our energy and water consumption about 25% each until 2008, instead of the planned realization 2010. We also launched a series of short- and long-term activities and projects that all have one common goal - the reduction of CO2 emissions.

Other plant-based environmental protection projects include:

• Use of a works-based combined heat and power unit to generate electricity and steam from natural gas.

• Generation of electrical power on site.

• Reduction of CO2 emissions by around 7%.

• Investment in state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly truck fleet with a driver-training program.

• Dairy products are cooled in an environmentally friendly way with natural cold groundwater from a work-based well.

• This plant separates water from milk residues via physical and chemical means. The remaining protein mass is then processed into biogas.

Q. Is there a printed wrapper on the outside of the package, or is the logo, words, images, etc. printed directly on the cup?

Knaut: Each cup is wrapped with a banderole and four cups are wrapped with a wrap-around, all made out of recycled or FSC-certified paper. Here we have the chance to give more information on the new cup, for example with the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) logo with the additional claim, “Partner for more environmental friendly packaging” and the Ingeo certification on the bottom of the cup.

Q. Describe how Danone is working to create a market for recycled/re-used Ingeo cups.

Knaut:By talking to the different interest groups, exchanging knowledge and jointly working on the solutions.

Interview by Jim Carper, chief editor

Front Row Seating at 2011 Dairy-Deli-Bake Seminar & Expo

Often times when I attend tradeshows, I tend to skip the pre-show seminars and head straight to the showroom floor. It’s nothing personal. It’s just that I enjoy meandering from booth to booth, meeting new people and learning about new products versus sitting in a stuffy room listening to someone I don’t know talk about stuff I know nothing about.

However, the 2011 Dairy-Deli-Bake Seminar & Expo, which is hosted by IDDBA, Madison, Wis., and took place June 5-7 in Anaheim, Calif., is known for bringing the best of the best to the center stage to deliver presentations on everything from management and vision to supermarket marketing tips and brand positioning. This year’s conference was no exception to the rule. Between Condoleezza Rice, Guy Fieri, Sinbad and Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, to name a few, this all-star cast took turns wooing the crowd and driving home key remarks about life, business and the future of tomorrow.

Yes, even I succumbed to putting my handmade Excel spreadsheet of appointments and contacts on hold to get up close and “personal” with the “cast of IDDBA.”

On the last day of the show, I, like most of the attendees, headed in to the conference room early to score prime seating to see the most talked-about celebrity to grace the stage at this year’s show.

Mr. Joe Cool himself, Joe Montana. (Yes ladies, he is just as good looking in person as he is on paper and TV).

While strategically moving from row to row, I finally nabbed a front-row seat, perfect for taking pictures with my Blackberry and posting on Facebook (primarily to make the men in my life-husband, brother and father-jealous).

Halfway through his speech though, after the shock and awe wore off, I began to really listen to what he had to say. Montana spoke of the fundamentals of business, trust and preparation. He believes that “sports teach life lessons without saying words,” and that “people are more motivated by losing because winning is what you’re supposed to do.” I even learned that he’s turned down ABC’s Dancing With the Stars four times, saying that the show would need to be renamed “White Guy Dancing Ugly.”

While I was unsuccessful at tackling him for an autograph (or even a hug would’ve sufficed), I thought to myself, you know what, he’s right. Nobody likes losing. In fact, yes, we’re all programmed to do the right thing, and that’s win. Not the Charlie Sheen kind of “winning,” but being the best we can be at all times. As my late grandfather would say, “life is a game, play to win.”

That being said, I gathered up my chicken-scratch spreadsheet (and my composure) and headed out to the show floor to win at my own game, otherwise known as my job.

In addition to sparkling commentary and an outstanding host of famous faces, IDDBA 2011 was home to 1,500 exhibitors, more than 8,000 attendees and a 10,000-sq.-ft. retail merchandising center featuring new products, innovative merchandising ideas and action themes.

The show provided competitive insight on new products, packaging and services, enabled visitors to receive first-hand interaction with businesses and displayed the Show & Sell center, which encouraged attendees to seek out new ideas and products, create merchandising programs and teach retailers how to use these concepts to sell more products and satisfy customers. It’s no Joe Montana, but nonetheless, is still a pretty cool creation.

The expo also helped dairy processors introduce a slew of new flavors, packaging concepts and line extensions.

For example, Finlandia Cheese Inc., a division of Valio USA, Parsippany, N.J., presented Finlandia Lacey Swiss, which is an all-natural, reduced-fat cheese made with milk from cows raised without the use of rBst or other growth hormones.

BelGioioso brand Ricotta Salata cheese from BelGioioso Cheese, Denmark, Wis., now comes pre-crumbled and packaged in 5-ounce retail containers, perfect for adding to salads, pasta or other side dishes, or just for snacking. The Provolino line also now comes in an 8-ounce, already pre-sliced log of Mild Provolone, perfect for pairing with crackers or as a complement to most dishes.

Nicasio Valley Cheese Co., Nicasio, Calif., showcased its team of certified-organic farmstead cheese, including Formagella, a bloomy rind-table cheese; Loma Alta, a semi-soft cheese aged three to six weeks in 8-inch wheels to give a buttery, yet firm undertone; and Foggy Morning, made from fresh cow’s milk and perfect for sprinkling on pizza, pasta, salads, olive oil, fruits, jams and cracked pepper.

Heading overseas

International processors also displayed a flurry of new items.

Lye Cross Farm, Somerset, England, for instance, debuted new British Farmhouse cheese flavors - Mango Dale, which is a combination of Wensleydale cheese, juicy mango and papaya slices; Smoked Cheddar, which is classic cheddar cheese smoked over oakwood; and Pepper Red, a fusion of red Leicester cheese, red peppers and cracked black peppercorns.

The Ambriola Co. Inc., Caldwell, N.J., imports a full line of hand-crafted Italian sheep’s milk cheeses for its Locatelli brand, which come in whole and quarter wheels, wedges, grated and shredded pack sizes.

From the looks of the home-run attendance and the onslaught of new products, Mr. Joe Cool isn’t the only one winning. This year’s IDDBA was a hit all around, and yes, it even enticed me to see a few seminars along the way. I’d say, that’s winning.

Marina Mayer, Executive Editor

This article is adapted from Marina Mayer’s Marketing Musings, a weekly blog. See for other posts.