We set out on this oaty journey a little over a year ago, bristling with enthusiasm at the prospect of doing good for New Zealand. Our north star as a company has, and always will be to push back against big dairy, create a channel to connect Kiwi farmers to a fast growing global consumer group, and subsequently diversify land use. Basic stuff right. Along our product development journey we have met countless walls and T-junctions, where we have had to choose left or right, forward or back. Unbeknown to us, a packaging solution for retail was going to be the hardest decision we would have to make. We have chosen aseptic liquid paperboard packaging (ALPP). It’s made up of 75% paper pulp, is light, virtually unbreakable, and has the highest food safety record of all the options we explored. While there are lots of positives, the pain for us using ALPP is the current end of life options (or lack of) in NZ. We are in the background working furiously with partners to push through the implementation of a recycling plant that can turn ALPP into upcycled alternative materials. This is our commitment to creating better all-of-life packaging options in NZ, consistent with our mission for positive environmental impact.
Our product journey
We launched the brand with our 5 Litre 'bag in box' solution which was our way of getting low footprint kiwi oat m!lk into cafes around the country in a packaging type that wouldn't end up in our landfills (the cardboard box will be accepted for recycling by virtually all NZ waste management companies, and the plastic bladder can go in the Soft Plastic Recycling scheme where it's available). We think we have succeeded on this front, and the 5L box has been adopted by cafes all over the country. We are also working with fellow Kiwi start up brand Glass Bottle Milk Co to get bottle refillery stations across NZ in bulk form.
These two options and sizes don’t work for everyone and we have been swamped with requests from all over the world to produce a 1L at home version to get Kiwi oats into peoples everyday lives. Over the past 6 months, along with the team at Go Well Consulting, we have done a deep dive into retail packaging solutions available to Otis, now and in the long term, and the environmental impacts attached to each.
What we found was surprising and opened our eyes to a very large elephant in the room. There are no clear packaging options that fit our requirements. You see, in order to deliver on our mission; diversifying land use and offsetting agricultural GHG emissions to help reach carbon zero as a country, we need to be exporting lots and lots of homegrown Kiwi oat m!lk to a very thirsty world.
If we cannot do this at scale we have failed the farmers and ourselves. Cue very difficult decision.
To put our oat m!lk on supermarket shelves around the world we have to either:
1. Keep the milk in the fridge (however refrigerant gases are extremely harmful and energy hungry from end to end); or
2. Use an ambient style of packaging, known as aseptic packaging (AKA TetraPak)
We also looked into glass, but found it uses high amounts of energy to make, is heavy to transport at scale, highly breakable, and requires refrigeration right through the supply chain. Glass has a use and is great at domestic small scale so our refillable tap system will utilise a glass bottle.
We also investigated PET plastic, but it is made from 100% fossil fuels and burns high amounts of energy to create. Add to this, the bottle then has to be wrapped in more plastic to keep the light out to ensure the product inside.
Aseptic liquid paperboard packaging. Modern UHT packaging, in the aeseptic (sterile) form we require, is unique. The vessel is sterile inside and packed so it is impermeable to light to maintain quality. It’s made up of 75% renewable resource in its paper pulp, is light, virtually unbreakable, and has the highest food safety record of the options we explored. On top of this, by being square in shape, is the most efficient packaging option when moved at scale, to compete with dairy. The beauty of this technology is that we can package a product that requires no refrigerating, is non fragile and has a long enough shelf that we can reach consumers we may otherwise not be able to, with minimal waste.
While there are many benefits, the biggest tradeoff for us using ALPP technology in NZ is the current end of life options (or lack of). You see while technically any packaging can be recycled, recycling largely depending on the economic viability of doing so (particularly in little old NZ). For our ALPP packaging, while each of the materials can be recycled on their own, the layer of aluminum and polyethylene plastic need to be separated from each other, a process that’s difficult and expensive to do.
What is Otis doing to address the current trade-offs of using ALPP?
Our hope and company quest is that in the long term, we solve the end of life recycling options for ALPP in NZ, like many countries have done overseas, and have confidence in the shorter term sacrifice we’ve having to make today in it going to landfill. As we have to keep reminding ourselves; progress, not perfection in achieving our Otis mission.
We are in the background working furiously with packaging and waste management companies to get liquid paperboard producers of New Zealand around a table to push through a recycling plant that can turn ALPP, into upcycled alternative materials. At the time of writing, NZ Government has announced investment of $124 million in NZ recycling infrastructure and have increased pricing for dumping in landfills.
This will make it more expensive for waste management companies to landfill what they collect and help force them to start looking for more recycling options. We are also exploring collection point services for our packaging across our cafe and retail outlets. All these things are a work in progress (we will be able to announce more on this in 2021) but we can promise as a brand, we are on it and committed to creating upcycling solutions to close the loop.