Why glass is coming back in fashion for food makers

Glass bottles have long been the preferred package for many beverages and a few food categories, and today more food makers are turning to glass to appeal to consumers seeking more sustainable packaging options.

Ninety percent of consumers surveyed said they prefer glass to other types of containers for preserving freshness and flavor of food and beverages, according to EcoFocus Worldwide.

Food accounted for 20% of glass container shipments last year, and global sales of glass containers are on track to grow from about $57 billion in 2017 to more than $67 billion by 2022, according to Market Research Future.

At Zoup!, which sells its Good, Really Good Broth brand in seven varieties at supermarkets around the country, glass was the obvious choice for packaging a premium product it markets as broth you can sip.

Zoup! has its roots in a small spice business started by former lawyer Eric Ersher and his cousin, who sold their products to small restaurants. The business gave them a bird's eye view of the way soup was typically an afterthought for eateries. Often, chefs saw soup as merely a way to use up scraps or chose the lowest-priced alternatives just to have it on the menu, Ersher said.

In 1998, the pair launched a concept called Zoup! that made soup the star of the menu. Today, the Detroit-based restaurant chain has more than 80 locations in the US and Canada, selling salads, sandwiches and bowls in addition to its signature broths and soups.

Six years ago, the brand decided to launch its premium priced broth in packages for retail sale, opting for clear glass that lets consumers see the product for themselves instead of the typical opaque cans or PET packages that merely displayed a picture of the soup. 

“When we started this, we didn’t think the world needed another chicken broth, but did know the world needed one that was good enough to drink,” he said. “We were successful in creating a differentiated product and we wanted to show that with differentiated packaging.”

At the time, the fight against single-use plastic wasn’t a big deal yet. 

“The sustainability issue and peoples’ preference for glass, those are recent occurrences,” Ersher said. “We would love to tell you we foresaw that, but we did not.”

Instead, the company was focused on showcasing the product at its best, and in the years since it has become a beneficiary of the growing consumer preference for more sustainable packaging, he said.

Consumers like glass jars because, in addition to being infinitely recyclable, they can be reused for food storage over and over without deteriorating, and people see them as the best option for keeping food fresher longer because they don’t require plastic linings.

There are challenges – glass is heavy, breakable and can be less durable than plastic, PET containers and cans. Glass jars have rounded edges, so they don’t fit together in boxes as neatly as square-edged PET containers.

But for Zoup!, one of the biggest challenges was convincing retail category buyers in the soup section that the glass-jarred products would sell.

“When we first went to market, there was pushback from category buyers because they weren’t accustomed to it in the broth aisle,” Ersher said. “They were accustomed to certain kinds of packaging and this was new.”

Over time the product proved itself and these days the glass jars have become a selling point, he said.

The product’s popularity has even spawned a few copycats that have seen glass jars as a selling point, he said.

“It’s the business we’re in,” he said.  “We will continue to innovate and lead, and we appreciate the validation.”

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