Mars Incorporated is forging a more eco-friendly future by changing up its packaging in a new trial. The chocolate firm produces the world-famous Mars bar, and, while the sweet treat itself won’t be changing, its initial appearance to buyers may be set for a long-term transformation. Selected stores will see the first paper-wrapped bars drop this year in a bid to prevent tonnes of plastic from ending up in landfill. It’ll be an innovative move for the brand, with the trademark black wrapper design being invented back in 1977.
The Mars bars experiment will involve 500 Tesco stores, and the company is inviting buyers to let it know what they think of the new experience.
Mars is promising customers the recyclable wrapper won’t affect the freshness of the bars – but if buyers think so, they can get a refund or scan a QR code on the packaging to give their feedback.
At the end of the pilot, Mars will use the data it has gathered to inform other trials focused on different packaging options and may possibly roll out the new packaging, not just to other retailers, but also on other snacks such as Bounty and Milky Way.
Richard Sutherland-Moore, packaging expert at Mars Wrigley UK’s research and development centre in Slough, said: “We are exploring different types of alternative packaging solutions for our confectionery products.
“For Mars bar, the challenge was to find the right paper packaging solution with an adequate level of barrier properties to protect the chocolate whilst guaranteeing the food safety, quality and integrity of the product to prevent food waste.”
Adam Grant, general manager at Mars Wrigley UK, called this pilot project a “big step” that will give the company an insight into how paper-based packaging works in everyday life.
He added: “While challenges may impact the pace of progress towards our vision, we at Mars Incorporated are committed to scaling up viable solutions where recycling options exist, and to test, learn, partner and advocate where they don’t.”
The company is striving to reduce the use of virgin plastics by a third in the short term as part of its Sustainable in a Generation Plan.
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The new environmentally-friendly packaging will remind older fans of Mars bars of the wrapping used until 1977, when the product was still enveloped in paper by hand.
While the widespread adoption by major sellers of candy bars of recyclable paper wrappers would potentially spare the use of tens of thousands of tonnes of plastic, food companies need to strike the right balance between eco-friendly packaging and quality of product.
Plastic has so far been confectionary firms’ prime choice as, by keeping out moisture and air better than paper, it prevents the surface of chocolate from going white for years and boosts the product’s shelf life expectations. The new wrapper gives Mars bars a one-year shelf life, the company said.
The choice of plastic has also to do with the factory line, as prior to the new Mars bars’ packaging it was the only material able to sustaine the high-speed flow wrapping.
The new wrapper didn’t come cheap or easy, as Mr Grant said it took almost two years to find the right paper to adopt during the trial and to adapt factory lines.
The balance to find an eco-wrapper was finally struck when the company reduced the amount of plastic on its inside to the bare minimum, so that it is recyclable or able to quickly break down in landfill.
Plastic wrappers used for chocolate, sweets and crisps normally take between 20 to 50 years to decompose – but some can take even longer.