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Home » World Food Day » In humanitarian emergencies, packaging is as important as its food contents

Claudia Feldgitscher

Head of Product Development, Mondi Korneuburg

Carole Manceau

Packaging Expert, World Food Programme

More effective and sustainable packaging is playing a critical role in helping tackle global hunger.

Food aid provides a critical lifeline for communities facing hunger and starvation. One key element not always recognised is the role of food packaging in ensuring food is safe and nutritious when it reaches those in need.

Packaging expertise

Poor packaging, explains Carole Manceau, packaging expert at the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), often leads to food waste because contents may deteriorate and become unfit for consumption.

Packaging that helps ensure long shelf life for food is crucial. It should be optimised for storing and transport and robust enough to withstand the challenging and diverse routes, temperature extremes and humidity often encountered along supply routes. Crucially, packaging should be sustainable and limit potential negative environmental impacts.

“Packaging plays a big role in the prevention of food waste, especially in humanitarian sectors, where we often face challenging supply chains because of long transport and storage times and uncertain climate and road conditions,” Manceau adds.

Reducing food waste

WFP supported 128 million people across 123 countries and territories in 2021. They recently entered a three-year partnership with Mondi, a global leader in sustainable packaging.  

As part of the partnership, Mondi supports WFP with expertise, knowledge and access to their industry-leading R&D capabilities.

Manceau says: “We are working to eliminate food waste and loss from defective packaging, with leakages or pest infestation as an example. We’re doing this by assessing different technologies and developing quality specifications to see if they can be applied to prevent food waste and loss.”

Globally, up to 345 million people across 82 countries face food insecurity.

Global hunger

Globally, up to 345 million people across 82 countries face food insecurity. Almost 830 million people go to bed hungry, with 50 million people in 45 countries teetering on the edge of famine.

“It is a huge concern for the global community, with figures increasing dramatically over the past years,” continues Manceau.

WFP has been highlighting that the world is facing catastrophic food insecurity and unprecedented humanitarian needs that are fuelled by conflict, climate shocks and the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic – all now compounded by the effects of the war in Ukraine.

Manceau says that, globally, a third of all food is lost. To counter this trend in its operations, WFP keeps food waste and loss across its supply chain below 1%.

Supply chain

WFP procures food from more than 600 producers globally and delivers it to communities in need around the world using a variety of transport methods including ships, trucks, trains and planes, often facing challenging routes and lengthy shipment times to reach some of the most remote places on Earth.

Claudia Feldgitscher, Head of Product Development, Mondi Korneuburg, supports WFP in improving packaging used in its operations while minimising environmental impacts.

She explains that the challenge lies in developing packaging to withstand all eventualities, journeys and climatic conditions. The manufacturing company’s expertise with high-barrier laminates and stand-up pouches that can protect food for up to three years have been pivotal.

Longer shelf life

In one specific project, WFP and Mondi are working to improve the performance — from an environmental perspective — of packaging used to protect high-energy biscuits (HEB). HEBs are nutrient-, fat- and calorie-rich biscuits often used by WFP during the early phases of emergency operations as an effective tool in preventing malnutrition. Selecting the right packaging material is essential when it comes to HEBs, due to the variety of storage conditions they are likely to endure and the shelf-life requirement of up to 18 months.

Feldgitscher, who leads the HEB packaging project, says, “WFP chose to partner with Mondi because of the wide range of expertise we offer – from high-barrier laminates to boxes and everything in between.”

“What is rewarding about working with WFP,” she adds, “is that we are helping ensure that the food people need in times of crisis is healthy and safe for them to eat.”

WFP does not endorse any product or service.

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