How Kashi worked with Dow's Pack Studios to design recyclable granola pouches

Bags of Bear Naked granola at the grocery store
ShutterstockDavid Tonelson

Earlier in this decade, Kashi customers — specifically, enthusiasts of the Bear Naked granola brand — began asking the cereal company to make its stand-up pouches recyclable. It took a close collaboration with Dow's specialty packaging unit to realize that vision alongside the many other initiatives that the food company's sustainability team is managing.

"Those of us who work in sustainability know that packaging is a smaller part of the overall environmental impact of a product, especially when you compare it to the agriculture, water usage and energy that goes into manufacturing a product," said Ashley Leidolf, North America end-use marketing manager at Dow Packaging & Specialty Plastics, during last week’s GreenBiz webcast on the roles of collaboration and innovation in sustainable packaging.

However, that nuance is not common knowledge to consumers. After consuming a product, they just want to dispose of the leftover packaging responsibly — and more are expecting consumer products companies to provide that option.

For context, Bear Naked already had a recycling partnership in place. As early as 2008, it partnered with TerraCycle, a social enterprise focused on recycling different forms of packaging, and encouraged its customers to use those services to recycle their packages. But Bear Naked wanted and needed to go beyond this effort because TerraCycle's services weren’t available for a chunk of its customers, as the program required signing up and saving the packaging to ship to Terracycle

Instead, Bear Naked had to change its packaging — using different materials — to meet the standards of the more convenient in-store plastic bag recycling drop-off bins in retail stores across the United States.

Responding to customers’ needs and attempting to reach more consumers who prioritize sustainability, Kashi's parent company Kellogg blessed the group's decision to change its packaging about three years ago. Kashi began working with suppliers to test new designs and ideas, but with each prototype over the course of about eight to 10 months, it ran into another challenge — the pouches wouldn’t seal (not acceptable for a food company) and the variety of materials didn’t work on its existing equipment, which was imperative for the project.

"It was very frustrating," said Shannon Moore, lead packaging engineer at Kashi, who noted that after these trials, her team decided to take a step back to figure out the cause of the problem. "We had to do a root cause analysis." 

Enter Kashi's collaboration with Dow's packaging division, which reaches back to 2017 when Kellogg began a strategic partnership with the unit. The two organizations discussed packaging technologies that were available, and Kellogg encouraged Kashi's team to consult Dow's packaging experts. 

Together, the teams forged a unique partnership — working beyond the typical supplier-customer relationship — that helped them accelerate packaging innovation. The breakthrough came in March 2017, when the Kashi team that worked on the Bear Naked brand went to Dow’s Pack Studios in Houston, the packaging company’s global network of labs and collaboration facilities. Over the course of two days, the two organizations refined the project's goals by considering these and other questions:

  1. What is the shelf-life of the product?

  2. What type of equipment would the package run on?

  3. What is the format of the bag?

  4. Did it need to be a stand-up pouch with certain aesthetics?

  5. What is the Bear Naked brand?

"That’s probably typically outside of our relationship with our materials suppliers, but it was really important to talk through why we had made choices on how the pouch looked, why we were in a standup pouch, what products we use, [how we protect] our food," Moore said.

Understanding all of these details is important for a materials supplier to be able to use the "right tools in its toolbox" to create the right solution, Dow's Leidolf said. From these discussions, Dow compiled a list of suppliers and manufacturers that it could partner with to turn the previous failures on the Kashi project into a success.

"We’ve seen that over the years when we do this type of work, when the materials supplier gets very involved with the brand owner and their requirements, and understands the needs and the trends of the final package, then we can actually develop better solutions as a materials supplier, to go into those final packages," she said.

Six months after its meeting with Dow, Kashi ran a full-scale trial and was able to seal its packaging — passing its integrity testing and sensory analysis, which assessed if the food and pouches met the performance of its current pouches. 

"That was a huge development for us to be able to go from three to four trials where we were having the same result in the matter … to be able to truly successfully deliver this recyclable package," Moore said.

This isn't just a pilot: In 2019, Bear Naked started converting to the recyclable packaging that consumers can put into store drop-off bins at retailers across the country. And now all of Bear Naked's product packaging is recyclable. As for the future of Kashi's packaging, Moore said that eventually, curbside recycling would be ideal.

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