The ultimate eco-move: Food in edible containers

The ultimate eco-move: Food in edible containers

Consider this a serious first step towards the edible food container.

That is, if you can take things such as coconut-flavored chocolate frozen yogurt seriously.

On Monday, Stonyfield, the environmentally conscious organic yogurt maker, will take its first baby step towards ultimately eliminating the plastic yogurt container. It will roll out a product dubbed Stonyfield Frozen Yogurt Pearls at a handful of Whole Foods grocery stores in the Boston area.

This frozen yogurt doesn’t come in throw-away cup. Instead, in comes in a flavored, all natural edible skin — much like the skin on a grape. On the inside: organic vanilla or chocolate frozen yogurt. On the outside: an edible skin flavored like peach or banana or coconut or strawberry.

“This shows me that the dream is possible,” says Gary Hirshberg, co-founder of Stonyfield Farm, who has spent decades trying to figure out ways to eliminate environmental waste — including his company’s plastic yogurt cups.

Ultimately, he says, if this edible holder proves successful with frozen yogurt, he hopes to eventually use a version of it with his company’s organic yogurt. And more.

The eco-move by Stonyfield comes at a time consumers are increasingly enamored with environmentally friendly packaging. One of the top 10 global consumer trends for 2014 is a nation of so called “eco-worriers” who increasingly care about sustainability and the environmental impact of everything they buy, says research firm Euromonitor. “Consumers are looking to connect with brands that do not associate with negative environmental impacts,” the study says.

The key to the Frozen Yogurt Pearls, of course, is the skin. It protects the frozen yogurt from the outside and enables it to be washed, handled and carried without being damaged. The product is a joint venture between Stonyfield and WikiFoods. The edible, protective skin is bound via molecular interactions between its two key ingredients, organic fruit and natural ions. WikiFoods is developing other versions of the skin that could be used with anything from cheese to soups.

The “skin” concept comes from WikiFoods founder, David Edwards, who says his Cambridge, Mass-based company’s goal is to package foods about the same way that nature packages fruit. “Consumers will soon be able to choose the skin, shape, size and contents of their food,” he says, and at the same time, make the planet more sustainable.

Hirshberg says he’s wanted to replace the Stonyfield plastic cups for nearly two decades. He was at a 10K race in Boston in 1986, where Stonyfield yogurt was handed out at the finish line. He had driven off after the event and while sitting at a red light more than a quarter-mile from the race, spotted a tossed Stonyfield container sitting in a courtyard. Since then, he says, he’s worked on shrinking the yogurt’s packaging — and, he says, some day, eliminating it.

If the Whole Foods test is a hit, he says, “the next step would be a full commercial roll-out.”

This, he says, may be the beginning of the end of food packaging. “When cellphones first came out, they were pretty clunky,” says Hirshberg. “That’s where we are now with this — but the sky’s the limit.”

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