2021 FRESH Summit Summary

March 16, 2021

FRESH Food, Pacakaging and Sustainability Summit, Clemson University, Feb 24-26, 2021. Safe. Secure. Sustainable.Attendees from industry and academia attended the inaugural 2021 FRESH Food, Packaging & Sustainability Summit hosted by Clemson University in follow up to the 2019 Sustainability and Food Waste Summit sponsored by Sonoco in Hartsville, SC. The 2021 virtual Summit promoted the power of partnerships through illustrating connectivity among stakeholders to drive advances and send united market signals that will advance sustainability goals. The Summit began with a keynote address on the global challenges facing sustainable food systems, and over the next two days presented topics within food value chain verticals with input from stakeholders. Supply chain discussions provided overarching context for the Summit, with sessions progressing to issues specific to packaging that support safe, secure and sustainable solutions. The Summit concluded with two presentations emphasizing the importance of partnerships to drive innovation and a cohesive strategy to realize sustainable solutions.


February 24, 2021

World Food Programme
World Food Programme The 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.The FRESH Summit began with introductions from Jim Clements, President of Clemson University, and Howard Coker, President & CEOof Sonoco, giving attendees an in-depth look at the historic relationship between Clemson and Sonoco and the creation of the Sonoco FRESH initiative. The keynote presentation by David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme, underscored the importance of private sector engagement to achieve sustainable food systems. He emphasized three key global challenges: man-made conflicts, climate change and fragile governments as primary causes of the worsening of starvation, and projected that the pre -COVID-19 numbers of 80M – 135M people on the brink of starvation will escalate to 135M – 270M. Addressing issues with urgency will reduce mass starvation, the destabilization of nations and mass migration. Private sector efforts to help achieve food security and mitigate the environmental impact of food waste in farm to market are critical. Progress can be made through improved containment systems, storage systems and packaging.

Social Hour
Introduced by Clemson’s Dean for the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences, Sustainability chef Joel Gamoran demonstrated cooking sustainably at home and eco-travel expert Richard Crawford treated attendees to virtual travel experiences to eco-destinations – tracing grits from South Carolina to Peru. More tips and virtual experiences can be found at, and in Amazon Prime’s Leave No Trace series.

February 25, 2021

Lessons Across the Food Value Chain
Introduced by Clemson’s Dean for the College of Business, Deloitte Consulting’s sustainability and fresh food value chain leaders provided the framework for the Summit by highlighting trends that emerged during 2020 and trends that will continue and/or evolve in the foreseeable future. Included is the emergence of the “Contemporary Consumer” representing 40% of shoppers and characterized by an increased interest in cooking at home, with 75% willing to pay a premium for fresh food, 68% trusting instore shoppers to pick out the highest quality fresh food items and 64% valuing brand attributes. The overall outlook for 2021 is positive for consumer products and food. Revenue growth is the top priority for executives. Five ‘no regret’ moves for the food value chain in an environment of continued uncertainty include 1) resetting go-to-market strategies, 2) accelerating the shift to digital, 3) building supply chain resilience, 4) investing in tomorrow’s business foundations and 5) connecting purpose to profit as purpose becomes a driver.

Overcoming Supply Chain Disruptions in Times of Change
This panel of thought leaders from Aramark, Titan Farms, Lineage Logistics and SC Ports Authority was introduced by the Dean of Clemson’s College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences. The panel discussed the challenges and opportunities they have seen during the past year with significant disruptions attributed to COVID-19, and the increased demands on logistics providers – both globally and in the Southeast where Charleston’s Ports Authority doubled capacity and is positioned to meet new demands. Titan Farms shared its strategy for diverting foods from potential waste to working with a new USDA program to provide food to those in need.

IoT: The Power of Connected Packaging
Introduced by the Director of Clemson’s School of Computing and moderated by Rabobank’s executive director for supply chains, IBM’s blockchain platform and Digimarc leaders discussed advances in technologies. These technologies can be embedded into packaging to capture data to achieve safe, secure and sustainable results – highly valued by food producers, processors, retailers and consumers.  Opportunities to engage consumers with smart technologies and a future with broad adoption of technologies in multiple tiers of the farm to consumer journey were also discussed.

Going Bananas for Circular Solutions
Caue Suplicy, co-founder of Barnana, was introduced by Clemson’s AVP of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Caue shared the fascinating story of combining his passion for healthy food and the desire to reduce food waste to create a sound business model. Barnana has upcycled more than 100M bananas to date, while also providing economic well-being and educational opportunities in Caue’s homeland of Brazil. 

February 26, 2021

Designing and Delivering Cradle-to-Cradle Packaging Solutions
Moderated by AMERIPEN and introduced by Clemson’s Dean for the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences, the panel included industry leaders from Charter Next Generation (films), Tetra Pak, PepsiCo and TerraCycle. To frame the discussion, AMERIPEN provided a snapshot of the greenhouse gas emissions of multiple materials vs. rates of recyclability, and also shared that the global food system accounts for 26% of environmental impact. Organized to include stakeholders from across the packaging supply chain, discussions emphasized the critical need for a cohesive approach and well-coordinated product development efforts between all stakeholders. The on-going need for clear messaging to consumers on recycling protocols and recycled content was also emphasized.

Plant, Product and Planet: A Case Study Using Sugar Cane Fiber
Innovation partners Tellus Products and Sonoco shared their roles in developing a biobased material using upcycled sugar cane fiber and assessing potential markets and customers. The key relationships and distribution plans were developed to successfully place the Natrellis product in the frozen and chilled prepared meal market. Other tableware, such as bowls and produce trays, are also being manufactured.

Advanced Recycling Practices: What the Future Holds
With an overview and introduction by the Dean of Clemson’s College of Science, this panel was moderated by Sonoco and included panelists from the American Chemistry Council, Dow, The Kraft Heinz Company and Braven Environmental. Panelists focused on linking parts of the supply chain for more effective adoption of advanced recycling – including advocacy, materials needed for end markets, scalability and compliance. Braven Environmental treated attendees to a live virtual tour of one of their facilities. Key panel takeaways – buy and use recycled products, partnerships will be required to take resulting products to market, 3rd party certifications and dependable feed stock will be essential in driving acceptance and scale up and consumer trust that collected items will actually be recycled in tandem with communicating recycled content in package will be essential to success.

From Concept to Compost: How to Successfully Launch Sustainable Packaging Innovations
Moderated by BASF and introduced by Clemson’s VP of External Affairs, this panel illustrated the collaborations and commitment necessary to successfully execute a new concept with the goal of achieving compostability. The panel drew upon the KC Chiefs Extra Yard for the Environment initiative and engaged stakeholders from Missouri Organic Recycing, Mars, Printpack and Aramark. Motivation of the market is quantified by examining the top 10 US food manufacturing companies, of which 40% have compostable goals by 2025 and that 40% represents over $99B of total US food sales. The greatest hurdle in achieving compostable food packaging is in addressing the need for high barrier materials since aluminum cannot be used. Consequently, products with lower barrier requirements are first to market in this space. The timeframe for taking a CPG concept and translating it to an actionable product is typically 18-24 months and includes extensive testing to verify the safety to the consumer and the safety of the product; incremental changes also occur during this time. Ways to advance compostability were identified as establishing clear standards and 3rd party certification and using distinctive packaging when a product is “re-introduced” in a compostable package.

When Competitors Collaborate for the Greater Good
The CEO and co-founder of Closed Loop Partners (CLP) gave the final presentation and was introduced by Sonoco’s VP of Marketing and Innovation. Remarks underscored the messaging throughout the Summit on the importance of collaborative efforts to drive innovation and maximize the impact of circular solutions. Solutions enabled by CLP funds provide the foundation for solving problems that affect entire industries, sending unified market signals and accelerating advances. Issues are typically reframed beyond short-term to longer-lasting systematic solutions.

Student Poster Presentations
Clemson students were asked to submit poster presentations conveying research related to the issues associated with each part of the food value chain, from production through transportation and all the way to recycling. Dr. Chip Tonkin, Chair of the Graphics Communications program at Clemson and Director of the Sonoco Institute of Packaging Design and Graphics, introduced the 9 students who gave an overview of their projects and answered questions from the audience.

Closing Comments
Sonoco FRESH Executive Director Anne Barr summarized the themes of the Summit, highlighting the power of partnerships and the need for collaborative efforts that engage industry and academia – including students who represent the next generation of talent that will help innovate and drive the future of sustainability. Recurring themes throughout the Summit included the need for effective communication and collaboration across aligned food value chain verticals, understanding the “contemporary consumer” and addressing consumer trust through traceability, education and establishing third-party verification of sustainability claims. Summit attendees were invited to engage with industry partners and Clemson experts in advancing the important work of optimizing the food value chain – from production to consumption – to protect food and the environment.