The company exhibited its new environmentally friendly range, the 02 line, at the MIG ice cream exhibition in Belluno, Italy last month, The name 02 stands for 'zero consumption x zero waste,' referring to the nature-based material's reduced environmental impact.
The concept behind NaturalWorks is relatively simple. Cargill essentially "harvests" the carbon from corn, which plants remove from the air during photosynthesis and store in grain starches. This is achieved by breaking down the starches into natural plant sugars.
The carbon and other elements in these natural sugars are then used to make plastic, called polylactide (PLA), through a simple process of fermentation, separation and polymerisation. Packaging made from NatureWorks is therefore 100 per cent nature-based.
"Eating a homemade ice cream is always a pleasure, but we feel it is even more satisfying to enjoy ice cream in packaging from nature. This is a simple thing that everyone can do to be more sustainable," said Giovanni Pazzaglia, marketing manager for Alcas.
Alcas's 02 line includes five sizes of ice cream cups and tubs with matching lids, which come in an array of transparent colours - orange, red, green, blue, yellow, as well as crystal clear. Drinking glasses, straws and spoons all made of NatureWorks PLA complete the 02 offering.
Alcas trialed the natural cups earlier this year, and Pazzaglia says the market test returned good results.
"More than 100 ice cream shops in Italy purchased 02 cups, and they reported positive consumer reaction. We also saw demand from customers in Australia, the Netherlands and Finland," said Pazzaglia.
The NaturalWorks concept shows not only how the beverage industry is responding to growing consumer concern for the environment, but also how important packaging is in differentiating products.
This point was raised by Tim Greenhalgh, managing creative director of UK-based design firm Fitch, who identified a major shift in the last 20 years towards packaging as the key brand communication tool. He said that the public is both excited and saturated by brands, and that consumers think there is very little difference in the marketplace.
But NaturalWorks PLA packaging might resonate with the current trend towards ecologically sound production.
"We see this as a great opportunity for ice cream parlours to stand out from their competition, considering there is niche of consumers very interested in nature-based products," said Pazzaglia. "This is a chance to speak directly to the consumer and give them a concrete way to do something better for the future."