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The Compostable Packaging Debate: Interview with Boulder Canyon’s VP Marketing Steve Sklar

It’s been a hobby of mine lately to follow the compostable packaging marketplace. As readers of this blog know, I’ve been conducting my own private experiment on the compostability claims of SunChips and Boulder Canyon, both of which claim to offer 100% compostable packaging for chip bags.

The SunChips bag is reported to be made from a corn starch base, so it has come to fame for its decibel level when opened or, well, touched. The Boulder Canyon starts with wood pulp, so it is softer and paper-like.

Just for fun, I contacted Boulder Canyon for some more insight into what makes a manufacturer of snack chips look to compostable packaging in the first place. I talked to Steve Sklar, senior vice president of marketing for Adventure Foods, which manufactures the Boulder Canyon brand.

Heidi: How did you come to start offering compostable packaging?

Sklar: For us, we started looking at it because of the brand connection. Boulder Canyon is an all-natural product made with sunflower & safflower oil. Seasonings are all natural. “Natural” has been our focus on that brand. With that in mind, we are always looking for things that connect our brand with consumers.

About two years ago, we started buying renewable energy credits (RECs). We also sponsor the American Rivers organization. We clean rivers ourselves and we sponsor clean-ups by giving away our product, coupons, and bags to clean up the trash. That was the beginning of our real move into sustainability and the environment.

The packaging suppler we use for the Boulder Canyon brand has been developing compostable packaging for some time. That was clearly the next level for us to continue the all-natural essence of the brand.

Heidi: What do you see as the big difference between your packaging and your competitor’s?

Sklar: Our products are wood-based—pulp-based. They always have been. When we made the switch, our goal was to keep our look feel, as well as the shelf life, the same. When we saw this product, we were impressed. Our bags are more of a paper finish. Most of the industry is using a plasticy finish and that doesn’t tie in with our brand. When this product was available, we jumped on it.

Heidi: Was it difficult to maintain all the performance properties (such as shelf life, moisture barrier, odor barrier) with a compostable bag?

Sklar: The bags have a number of layers. There are one or two that were the biggest issues. By changing the right layer, we kept the shelf life that we needed. We also maintained the high quality and overall look and feel of the bag.

In my next post, I’ll ask Sklar the intriguing question: Don’t major brand manufacturers do product testing? How could SunChips have gotten into so much hot water with consumers over its loud chip bag? Where did SunChips go wrong?

Written by Heidi Tolliver-Walker

Heidi Tolliver-Walker has been a commercial and digital printing industry analyst, feature writer, columnist, editor, and author for nearly 20 years. She is known for her meticulous research and no-nonsense perspective. In addition to having written thousands of industry articles for top industry publications, she and Richard Romano have been the face of the well-respected industry research firm The Industry Measure (TrendWatch Graphic Arts) for many years. In her more than 13-year tenure with the firm, she has written countless reports on digital printing, 1:1 (personalized) printing, Web-to-print, personalized URLs, and other hot industry applications. She is also a long-time contributing editor and columnist for Printing News, for which she writes two monthly columns, including "Personal Effects," which features monthly analysis of 1:1 (personalized) printing case studies. She is also the author of three titles for the National Association of Printing Leadership: Designer's Printing Companion, Ink & Color: A Printer's Guide, and Diversifying Via Value-Added Services. As a small, niche publisher (Strong Tower Publishing), she is active in utilizing these technologies in her own business, as well.

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