Post-Pandemic Sustainability in Southeast Asia Beverage Packaging
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused massive disruption to lifestyles, industries and corporate sustainability priorities both globally and in Southeast Asia. The world has witnessed a short-term shift in attention from environmental (eg progress on sustainable packaging) to social issues.
COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns have had a negative impact on supply chains, business operations and short-term investments in green initiatives, while causing an acceleration of social action to help, protect and support local communities, employees and suppliers.
In June 2020, 62% of food and beverage companies prioritised social over environmental initiatives, 72% were supporting local communities and 75% helped their suppliers and other business partners, based on Euromonitor’s Voice of the Industry Sustainability Survey 2020. In contrast, many environmental initiatives were inevitably put on hold, especially those related to sustainable packaging, such as waste, recycling and development of sustainable products.
Amidst weakened consumer demand, many beverage players saw the short-term prioritisation of social issues relating to COVID-19 and community support as crucial in strengthening their long-term brand equity.
For instance, in Southeast Asia, the Philippines’ San Miguel Corporation, which includes major business units selling alcohol, temporarily repurposed its liquor plants in 2020 to produce disinfecting alcohol for healthcare facilities nationwide. Similarly, Heineken Vietnam donated 10 billion Dong towards COVID-19 efforts – funds that had originally been earmarked to be used as the marketing budget for the launch of its Bia Viet product in 2020.
In 2021 in Thailand, Coca-Cola teamed up with recycling giant Indorama Ventures to recycle collected PET bottles into fibres for the social cause of producing personal protective equipment for healthcare workers and hospitals in the fight against COVID-19.
What’s ahead in 2021? Expect greater importance attributed to sustainability in beverage packaging
While the pandemic has broadened the sustainability conversation, reflecting new social awareness, this is not expected to cast a shadow over pre-COVID-19 environmental concerns, such as climate change, with 71% of food and beverage companies expecting to keep their pre-COVID-19 environmental sustainability commitments, despite the unfolding economic crisis, and 59% planning to balance social and environmental initiatives as the crisis evolves.
Sustainability is now perceived by 88% of food and beverage players as extremely or very important to build resilience against unexpected risks, based on the Voice of the Industry Sustainability Survey 2021. As the COVID-19 pandemic turns into an endemic, forcing the world to live with and adapt to it, both social and environmental initiatives are required to speed up a sustainable recovery from COVID-19.
In 2021, there is renewed attention on environmental issues, with companies in Southeast Asia resuming and, in some cases, even strengthening their environmental initiatives. For instance, in August 2021, Coca-Cola introduced a new packaging design with its “Recycle Me” message on its label across its brands and products in its Southeast Asian markets. In Thailand, the company additionally sponsored the “Coke Recycle Me with Trash Lucky”, offering consumers who returned their empty bottles or cans a chance to win prizes.
Post-lockdown, environmental issues top the list of corporate sustainability investments planned between 2021 and 2026. Over 70% of food and beverage companies plan investments in areas related to the development of sustainable products, sustainable sourcing, recycling, waste and employee support programs.
Source: Euromonitor International Voice of the Industry: Sustainability Survey, 2021