Nestlé has 700 chocolate bars sitting on shelves, degrading. If that seems like a terrible waste, consider the cause.
The 700 chocolates represent different packaging options. Another lot of chocolates is making the rounds, simulating exposures more typical of the actual transport and storage life cycle of the candy bars. The question: how little packaging can be used to keep the product fresh until the consumer finally lets it melt in their mouth?
In evaluating the need for better engineering data, two interesting points arise. First, and somewhat obvious, is the fact that without data, the people in charge of packaging choices will opt for too much packaging, building in an unspoken margin of safety.
The second issue is more complex: foods are generally required to have shelf lives printed on their packaging. Two years is a typical default shelf life. I don’t know how things work at your house, but no chocolate bar lasts anywhere near that long around here! And any market that isn’t turning over the wares on their candy shelf in weeks or months rather than years needs to re-read some literature on modern stock management techniques. The most important aspect of optimizing packaging for foodstuffs may be getting accurate, real-life projections on what a reasonable shelf-life should be.
The chocolate undergoes both sensitive lab tests and taste tests (job envy!) in the process of calibrating just how much packaging suffices.
Other important factors that must be considered, in a world where plastic accompanies every foodstuff to the shelf before it meets our stomachs, include identifying packaging that fits the waste systems where the product will be consumed: can recycling in that area handle this type of packaging? What are the consequences of biodegradability in packaging? And perhaps most important: where is the balance between packaging to protect the food from becoming waste and waste packaging itself.
We hope Nestlé, and other companies turning their environmental promises into science, will take a magnanimous approach to sharing their results. Many artisanal chocolate companies that cannot afford such tests could nonetheless implement the lessons learned.