“There’s been a lot of interest from people about food packaging, “ says Bigham. “And to be honest, I’ve been uncomfortable selling our delicious, wonderful food in plastic packs. The people who buy our products don’t like packaged food. That’s why they pick Bigham’s: hand made; fresh; quality ingredients.”
Bigham’s manufactures “ready-to-cook” meals, retailing at high-end stores like Waitrose, Ocado and Booths. The elements have to be divided, the sauce sachet-ed, so how do you do away with packaging?
“Well, you can’t. Not completely. But we’re looking at different solutions. There are some plastic substitutes made of corn starch for example,” says Bigham.
The big move has been towards cardboard boxes. “Plastic is derived from oil, which is a finite resource – we’re going to run out,” he says. “Trees are not finite, you can replant. Sustainable forestry is possible. And at least trees suck the bad stuff out of the air.”
This isn’t a radical decision. Pret a Manger has been using paper and cardboard packaging for years now, and even Waitrose and M&S recently made the switch to cardboard for their sandwich selections. But in the ready-made meal industry, no one else has made the jump, as yet.
Cost could be a factor. The switch to cardboard has cost the £14m-turnover company £100,000 – that includes tweaking the machinery, as well as the per unit cost increase. “The upfront investment is substantial,” says Bigham. “But over time, cardboard will be no more expensive than plastic.”
Will this mean prices go up?
Bigham laughs. “We don’t want our customers to pay through the nose. They want to have their cake and eat it, just like everyone. Besides, the move ties in to what our food’s about. It’s part of moving the company forward.”
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