For food & drink and health & personal care brands, Christmas is the most important time of the year. Last year, consumers spent almost £1bn on groceries over the three months before Christmas whilst an estimated £1.8bn is spent on health and beauty every season. This resulted in a 10-20% increase in sales performance last year for many retailers across the country

However, shoppers have a slightly different mindset ahead of this Christmas, which may alter these statistics in 2019. In a year when Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion have put climate change in the headlines, consumers have become far more eco-conscious about their shopping choices. Many are now seeking out brands that are going the extra mile to make a difference to both the environment and their own wellbeing. Our own research at Ceuta Group revealed, in fact, that 30% of consumers would actually spend more on products that were labelled as “sustainable”.

Many brands in the food & drink and health & personal care sectors have made significant changes to how they package and sell their products ahead of this Christmas by, for instance, ensuring there are more meat-free choices, limiting the amount of plastic they are using, stating if their packaging is 100% recyclable, and being more careful about how and where they source their ingredients from. But one thing in particular that brands need to address this Christmas is waste.

How much will be thrown away in the UK this Christmas?

The huge demand for food and drink during the festive season often means there is increased supply. As such, Christmas facilitates a high amount of perfectly good food and drink that gets needlessly thrown away — not to mention the packaging it comes in. This creates a great opportunity for brands and retailers to take the lead on creating more sustainable options for consumers.

sustainable xmas infographic

At Ceuta Group, we decided to look into just how much gets thrown away by both brands and shoppers over the festive season. What we discovered was alarming.

  • 2,000,000 turkeys will be thrown away this Christmas
  • 7,100,000 pigs in blankets will be discarded
  • 5,000,000 Christmas puddings will get thrown in the bin
  • 5,000,000 litres of gravy will be poured away
  • 227,000 miles of wrapping paper will be used

Of course, it is not just the food itself that is being thrown away at Christmas. It is also the packaging. And this is not always recyclable either.

It is estimated that 370 million mince pies are sold in the United Kingdom every Christmas. Every mince pie comes in a small aluminium tin, each of which weighs 1g. Ceuta Group can therefore reveal that approximately 370 tonnes of aluminium are discarded every year because of our love of mince pies.

Aluminium tins are technically recyclable so consumers might think there is no environmental harm in enjoying mince pies this Christmas. However, that is not always the case. Aluminium can only be recycled if it is cleaned beforehand and contains no food residue as this would contaminate the recycling process. As such, as little as 12% of the material is recycled in the UK.

Meanwhile, in health and personal care, 225 million bottles of shampoo, conditioner and shower gel will be thrown away in the month after Christmas. National Geographic estimates that 91% of these will not be recycled.

How are brands already addressing sustainability this Christmas?

There are major names in the food and drink sector already making important strides to address food waste. Tesco, for instance, organises a nationwide drive every year which donates to charities that support people across the UK who are struggling to put food on the table.

Things are are also beginning to shift on the shelves of supermarkets when it comes to reducing the amount of packaging that goes to waste. Iceland’s Perfect Turkey Crown is now being sold in a recyclable paper wrap this Christmas, rather than a plastic bag, with just one plastic band seal. Many other Iceland items have also been given a minimal plastic packaging redesign including their stuffing and beef which are both entirely plastic-free.

Reducing plastic is also a cause which has been taken up by retailers John Lewis and Waitrose. Glitter and plastic toys are being phased out of Christmas crackers, wrapping paper and trinkets. Buyers at both of these chains are searching for new, more sustainable products to stock this season and into the future. 

We have also seen many iconic brands adopt innovative solutions to recyclable packaging over the last year, particularly Carlsberg’s paper bottle which went viral last month.

There are also challenger brands in the food & drink sector taking a radical approach to reducing the environmental impact from packaging. The brand YES! launched its recyclable paper packaging earlier this year and news of the breakthrough technology featured in 369 articles in the first week.

In the health & personal care sector, brands like Kinship have also won a lot of great PR by using packaging made from recycled plastics, paper, and cardboard. Meanwhile, a brand like La Mer only uses sustainably sourced sea kelp in its moisturising cream in order to preserve ocean resources. It also supports charitable projects in the Azores, Grenada and the East China Sea.

We all have a role to play in making Christmas more sustainable

Many shoppers, brands and retailers alike are already making important steps to reduce waste this Christmas. However, we can only hope that even more businesses in the food & drink and health & personal care sectors will continue these efforts for the Christmases ahead. 

Edwin Bessant, CEO of Ceuta Group, said: “It is everybody’s job to reduce our impact on the environment. Changes are already taking place in the food & drink and health & personal care sectors, and it’s great to see some of the latest brand innovation that are coming through to provide more sustainable options.”

“More needs to be done, however, and Ceuta Group is assisting its clients in the food & drink and health & personal care sectors to integrate sustainability into their business strategies. After all, from consumer choices to retailers and brand owners, everyone has a role to play to make their Christmas more sustainable.”


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