How do you defuse the Easter egg arms race

How can we stop this “arms race” in terms of packaging Easter eggs? Each year, supermarket shelves are crowded with garish and unnecessarily large boxes that exploit our shallow desire for the prettiest-looking chocolate eggs.

More packaging means more plastic, cardboard, energy, and waste. More packaging means more cardboard, plastic, and power.

It’s a big business. In the UK alone, over 80m boxes of chocolate eggs are sold every year, resulting in around 250m PS in sales.

Packaging for food and drinks continues to be a problem. Packaging is a wasteful activity that uses resources. Since 1998, the weight of food and beverage packaging per person in the UK has not decreased. Packaging still accounts for 3% of British household’s total energy footprint.

In response to public concerns in 2008, confectionery producers made some progress towards reducing the Easter egg packaging in 2009. However, progress has not been tracked since then, and manufacturers are still stuck in unnecessarily eye-catching packaging. Sweets are often purchased as gifts or impulse purchases, but sales are still heavily influenced by their appearance. The sales of two identically sized chocolate eggs can vary. One with a bigger shelf “facing” is more likely to sell because it has a greater eye appeal.

Each package must be as large as possible to compete for shelf space. MikeyCC BY

Easter egg producers and retailers are now in a “race” to increase the space on their shelves. The larger the package, the fewer units that can be displayed on the shelf. This leads to lower sales.

Confectionery manufacturers are afraid that discussing and deciding standards among themselves will be perceived as restricting the competition. They don’t wish to violate competition law. The same is true for the buyers at the supermarkets. They can’t speak to their suppliers individually because it would mean losing sales, but they can’t talk to them collectively as they are afraid of the competition law.

Of course, Easter eggs need protection. It’s only a fragile chocolate shell, but poor packaging could lead to more waste due to damaged products that need to be thrown out.

It is important to use as little packaging material as possible without reducing the egg’s “standout.” Resizing the primary packaging, the part that customers see would lower the cost of cartons as well as transport costs for manufacturers. No one wants to pay a lot for space surrounding an attractive box. Retailers also don’t want to waste shelf space with cartons that contain a lot of air. Smaller packs would reduce the amount we throw away or recycle at home.

In 1963, Easter eggs were sold in shiny large packets. PA

Reduced packaging has been a big environmental benefit for manufacturers of deodorants, food and drinks, and detergents. Easter eggs are almost exclusively bought as gifts. Size and appearance are important.

The British manufacturers of large products have developed a code of practice for responsible packaging. Honesty is required. This code prohibits manufacturers from using “double-wall” packaging, for example, because any hollow space in between the walls could mislead consumers. This code also explains the Gifting Dilemma.

Packaging for a luxury or gift item may be more elaborate and complex than is functionally required. However, this does not mean it must be excessive.

Simple rules on packaging and product ratios could revolutionize the way that the system operates without any retailer or supplier being at a disadvantage to their competitors. A simple rule like this would result in less packaging, lower transportation costs, and less waste, and retailers could sell more per shelf unit. The consumers would be more confident when opening their Easter eggs.

This is a good example of how regulations from the government can benefit both businesses and consumers. The suggestions we make for Easter eggs are echoed elsewhere. From the change in supermarket displays to reduce energy usage to the calls from companies to have a carbon tax and clear, consistent regulations from the recent Climate Change COP in Paris. Other countries have found that sensible regulation works.

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