A Toulouse-based dairy, YEO FRAIS is proud of its strong local roots. Like the majority of food manufacturers, it has not escaped the need to think about its packaging in recent years. Claire Pelletier, the company's packaging and eco-design project manager, answered our questions.
Claire, tell us about YéO frais...
YéO frais is a yogurt and cream dairy based in Toulouse, France. We work mainly for private labels (Carrefour, Intermarché, etc.) and the catering sector (canteens, hospitals, etc.). We are also developing a local brand called YOgourmand, which we sell only in the Occitanie region. Similarly, we mainly process milk from Occitan farmers.
As you just mentioned, the notion of territory and locality is very present in the values of YéO frais?
Absolutely, especially with our YOgourmand brand, even if it doesn't account for the bulk of our volumes. But it is our showcase, our area of experimentation... Because we're based in Toulouse, we're determined to have a strong local presence.
Let's move on to a major challenge for manufacturers: packaging. What's the situation at YéO frais?
As with many SMEs in the food industry, there has been a real transformation over the last few years, with a growing awareness on the part of both consumers and manufacturers, and an explosion of regulatory issues. This has had a direct impact on our specifications. When I arrived at YéO frais 3 years ago, we first had to structure the packaging development activity and gather data in order to set up a medium/long-term roadmap.
3 years ago, the law had just been passed stating that polystyrene packaging had to be recyclable by 2025, or risk being banned. This meant switching to another material or setting up a recycling chain. However, all companies manufacturing dairy products form their own pots. At YéO frais , we have machinery worth several million euros based on this system, and a change of material would have meant switching to another plastic, which was not recyclable either! So we got together with the various stakeholders and set up a recycling channel with Citeo.
Have you changed any or all of your packaging since then?
After taking stock of our packaging, we set ourselves a number of objectives: firstly, to reduce the environmental impact of our products by using less packaging; secondly, to ensure optimum recyclability at the end of the product's life cycle; and thirdly, to consider the origin of the materials used, for example, cardboard or recycled materials.
Once this analysis had been carried out, our next question was: how could we improve our packaging elements overall? On the reduction front, we still had some cardboard packaging elements with limited, purely marketing functions, which we eliminated. This was a major project lasting over a year, and in particular led us to review our production lines... The other project was to push forward a packaging system called the "yoghurt fountain" of 1.5L with a smaller quantity of packaging.
"The evolution of reuse will depend on the ability of each player in the chain to reinvent themselves".
Another hot topic at the moment: reuse. Is this being studied for yoghurt pots?
That's one of the things we're looking at, even if we're facing a number of challenges in our sector. These are mass consumption products, which means that people eat a yoghurt every day, or every other day... So there would be a lot of empty pots to bring back. These are also fragile products, so there are major hygiene issues.
We really think that reuse is a collective issue. From an environmental point of view, it can work if we all have the same pots, and we've already defined standards. CITEO is now working with glassmakers who could manufacture them and on which we could position ourselves.
The second challenge is networking: we need people to collect these pots and wash them. We're talking to start-ups looking to develop this aspect in the region. And then, on our side, we'll have to make huge changes, since the agri-food industry has really been working on getting glass out of its factories in recent years, to reduce the risk of glass shards in products on sale. We face a whole host of challenges in making a replaceable jar.
What we have already decided to do, however, is to look into ways of reusing transport trays. Once ready, our yogurts are placed in cartons of 24 or 48 pots, which are our sales units to distributors. It's on these packages that there's the possibility of using reusable trays. We have set up a working group to look into the matter.
When it comes to reuse, the consumer also has a role to play...
If we want to change packaging, we have to challenge not only the way we produce, but also the way we consume. The evolution of reuse will depend on the ability of each player in the chain to reinvent themselves. Is the consumer ready to change, for example by deciding whether or not to buy 500-gram jars? Are distributors ready to stock all the empty packaging that will come back? And finally, will we be able to change all our production lines? When it comes to reuse, it's easy to make a mistake and implement something that will increase the environmental impact.
Let's look ahead: what will tomorrow's packaging look like at YéO frais?
It will be a recyclable PS pot, which will resemble our current yoghurt pots, but which will be integrated into an effective recycling chain. As for the packaging of the day after tomorrow, I'm convinced that we won't have just one packaging solution, but rather a range of complementary solutions.
For example, we've launched 400g cardboard jars, and I'm convinced that we'll be able to launch larger-volume fountains (3L, for example) for larger families... There are bound to be reusable jars in sectors where this can work from an environmental point of view.
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