Sustainable innovation for food packaging

The food industry is yet another sector shifting to a circular economy. Discover the Ecopack initiative and the Circular Economy Lab.

Ecopack and Intesa Sanpaolo: the challenge posed by sustainable innovation in the food sector

The project entitled "#Call4Circular Packaging - The value of vegetable fibres" is a circular open-innovation initiative established by the Circular Economy Lab for its client, the Ecopack Group. Start-ups, innovative SMEs and research projects are invited to submit proposals, with the aim of identifying innovative, plant fibre-based materials to use to create packaging and containers for the food sector.

Ecopack: from paper-making to the food sector

Ecopack is a family business run by brother and sister Annalisa and Francesco Ferri.

Founded as a paper-making company, it has grown and changed over the years to offer solutions centred around a joint-project approach with its clients. Today, it produces paper-based baking containers and moulds worldwide, adopting an increasingly conscious stance towards its environmental impact and reducing waste through innovation.

Now, the company wants to take its range of products even further, setting itself apart with the creation of innovative and circular packaging that is even more sustainable than before.

The challenge of making food packaging circular

In order to keep up with the ongoing changes and developments in the food sector and play a leading role in the shift to circular economy, Annalisa and Francesco have decided to explore new transformative approaches, including redesigning products and substituting plastic.

As such, they have begun searching for new innovative partners through an open-innovation project established in collaboration with the Circular Economy Lab - a centre of excellence led by the Intesa Sanpaolo Innovation Center and Cariplo Factory. What inspired them to make this choice was the desire to keep innovating to meet the needs of clients from all over the world and remain in step with developing consumer habits and current trends, like "zero waste".

"The perceived value of a product is becoming influenced more and more by all the sustainable aspects associated with it. The lifestyle values of new generations of consumers include an increasing awareness of how sustainable product packaging is", says Annalisa Ferri.

From when our business began, our grandfather and then our father saw paper as a practical and sustainable solution for packaging confectionery. Over the years, marked by growth and market changes, we came to realise just how cutting-edge paper was as a choice. In keeping with what we have learned from our family and its vision, we want to keep providing increasingly low-impact alternatives to plastic. 

Annalisa Ferri

Thinking outside the box: the value of working with the Circular Economy Lab

While specialising in providing efficient, standardised solutions allows you to establish a certain position and competitive advantage, there is a risk of continuing down the same beaten path without having the time to see how the sector is growing and changing from the outside and to identify fresh impetus.

This is where the need to organise the #Call4circular Packaging with the Circular Economy Lab arose: "We realised that we had to think outside the box to keep creating value and reinforce what makes us special. This partnership with the Circular Economy Lab gives us the opportunity to pursue new packaging solutions in a structured way, and to benefit from the support of those who, thanks to their way of thinking and processes, can give us the right guidance", says Annalisa Ferri. 

The Circular Economy Lab, which is a proven initiative, gives us the approach and breadth of vision needed to tap into a wider pool of resources, helping us to choose the right partners

Annalisa Ferri

Based on technical requirements shared first by Ecopack, the Circular Economy Lab organised an open-innovation programme. The project, which lasted around four months, involved the scouting, analysis, evaluation and selection of the most promising innovative organisations (e.g. start-ups) capable of satisfying the customer's innovation requirements.

Using the established methodology and strategic assets of the Circular Economy Lab, some 160 companies—based mainly in Europe—were identified. Subsequently, following an in-depth investigation and evaluation—with Ecopack—of the organisations’ corporate, technical and commercial aspects, around 10 solutions were selected for start-up/company pilot projects.

This call represents a huge opportunity to contribute to the transformation of the food industry’s packaging solutions by supporting and supplying leading international companies. Ecopack is the perfect company to implement Open-Innovation projects, as the projects are directly overseen by senior management, the operational team is multi-skilled, and the decision-making processes are clear and prompt. 

The innovative solution, which involves the ability to look beyond and come up with things that no-one has ever even thought of before, is what is important. The aim of this joint effort is not to tap into ideas that have already been certified or recognised, but to achieve a competitive advantage and sustainable results. 


Giovanni Bugnotto - CE Lab