Could better packaging revive the milk industry?

By Beth Newhart contact

- Last updated on GMT

More than 61m gallons of milk are wasted by households in the UK every year, at a cost of £25m. Pic: Getty/Anon_Pichit
More than 61m gallons of milk are wasted by households in the UK every year, at a cost of £25m. Pic: Getty/Anon_Pichit

Related tags: Milk, Packaging, Milk production, light damage

A study commissioned by Noluma International, which offers light protection services and certification for CPG products, suggests that proper light-protective packaging could help stem the decline in fluid milk consumption.

Since forming in early 2018, Noluma has worked to provide light protection in food and beverage packaging, and to educate consumers that nutrient loss is common without it.

The company has focused on dairy specifically, determining that vitamin A, vitamin D and riboflavin levels in milk all begin to deplete after just two hours of unprotected light exposure.

New research conducted by Newcastle University, ‘Milk: Light exposure and depletion of key nutrients,’ was funded by Noluma to review the benefits of high-quality, light-protected milk.

In the report it’s noted that LED lighting is rapidly becoming the dominant lighting system in dairy retail cases because it is usually the best visual way to exhibit products. But according to the researchers, “high intensity LED lighting can drive detrimental oxidation processes which can accelerate loss of freshness of milk.”

“To meet the challenge of stemming the decline in consumption of fluid milk, the dairy industry must take a systematic approach to identifying and correcting for factors that negatively affect consumer experience of fluid milk quality and light degradation of essential nutrients.”

Competition in milk consumption

Authors of the report Dr Catherine Birch and Professor Graham Bonwick said more than 61m gallons of milk are wasted by households in the UK every year, at a cost of £25m. And, on average, adults older than 18 in the UK drink approximately 50oz of milk per week.

Georgia Kollias, VP of global brand development at Noluma, said, “Our surveys indicate that UK consumers are increasingly concerned about the light damage issue in brands they love and trust, especially when nutritional content is affected, as is the case when dairy products are sold in inadequate packaging. Many consumers would choose light-protected milk for their families if they had that option so we’re encouraging retailers and manufacturers to give them that choice.”

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The main nutrients lost from light damage are vitamin A and riboflavin (vitamin B2). The report says this deficit could affect pregnant women, young children, the elderly and those with eating disorders, who the researchers identify as the most at risk from low riboflavin levels.

Global cow’s milk consumption has been steadily declining for years, with more competition from alternative products like ultra-filtered milk and plant-based drinks. The report suggests that a bad milk experience could put consumers off cow’s milk when it tastes or smells sour.

Noluma said that when this is due to light pollution, it can be avoided with proper packaging, potentially saving customers from switching. Alternative milks typically have a longer shelf life and come in carton packaging, protecting the contents.

“While milk is just one component of a healthy diet, it is an important one, providing people with many essential nutrients including vitamins, protein and minerals. Many people do not realize that exposure of milk to indoor light can have a detrimental effect. The damaging effects of light can be influenced by the light intensity and time of exposure, so longer exposure to light causes milk to deteriorate faster,”​ Dr Birch said.

A sustainable mission

Noluma’s technology measures both a product’s packaging for exposure and the contents for quality change, before advising the right materials for optimal light protection. The company emphasizes its commitment to sustainability, including an interest in biodegradable and compostable packaging.

“Developments in composite bio-based materials have enabled the production of packaging with barrier properties and shelf-life performance that matches or exceeds older fossil carbon-based polymers,”​ Birch and Bonwick said in the report.

“The greatest challenge from an environmental point of view is biodegradable packaging. The main challenges for low waste materials are the durability of the packaging materials associated with product shelf life and safety of new bio-based materials.”

Noluma said, "We look to partner our light protection packaging technology with organizations that share our goal of improving the footprint on our environment, have responsible safety standards, and like us, look to better the lives of their end users. Our patented light protection measurement technology has no negative impact on the environment.

"We advocate for the reduction of materials, safer production methods, and energy efficiency in manufacturing throughout our process. Our aim is to achieve the least possible weight of a product while achieving an acceptable light protection capacity to protect content integrity."

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