Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
Dr. Andrew Hurley
Dr. Robert Kimmel
Dr. William Bridges
Dr. Duncan Darby
Packaged salads are becoming an increasingly popular segment of today’s fresh cut vegetables and salads market. This increased demand is leading to an increased need for packaging. This increase in packaging can lead to a potential increase in impact on the environment. With a large push for sustainability in the modern economy, this environmental impact is becoming more and more unacceptable. Several studies have been conducted to determine environmental impacts of packaging, but none have homed in on the salad packaging market segment in detail until this study. This study is also pioneering the way by pairing environmental impacts of salad packaging with consumer sentiment of salad packaging. Salads can be prepared in many ways, often containing numerous ingredients that differ in size, flavor, texture, and consumption methods. Some of the most popular salads like Greek, Tomato, Mediterranean, Caesar, Chickpea, Garden, etc. have many ingredients and can require lots of packaging to reach the consumer. In current retail stores, consumers can purchase and consume salads using four different methods for consumer preparation: purchase whole ingredients to take home and prepare themselves; purchase prepared ingredients and take them home to mix; buy pre-made salad kits that have all ingredients included or they can create a salad at an in-store salad bar. Due to an abundance of salad types, the scope of this study was limited to just one salad type to gain an accurate idea of the environmental impact of one salad segment. This study’s scope was narrowed to gain an understanding specifically of the Caesar salad market, given its popularity among consumers and limited number of ingredients. A retail audit was conducted in the Spring and Summer of 2021 to identify and index all packages containing Caesar salad ingredients. Individual packages were then purchased, and their materials were identified to be used in a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA). Concurrently, a national survey was conducted to explore consumer purchase behavior and consumer sentiment regarding Caesar salad packaging. This research shows environmental impacts for 26 unique Caesar salad packages across eight different impact metrics. Results show that larger, bulkier, and heavier packages have a significantly larger impact than smaller and lighter packages. The analysis suggests that dressings and parmesan cheese wedges should be packaged in flexible packages and flexible wraps for a minimal environmental impact. Data shows that for lower environmental impacts, romaine lettuce should be purchased as a whole head wrapped in a twist-tie wire, and croutons should be packaged in a multi-layer pouch. The “Whole Ingredients/Vegetables” salad purchasing method shows the lowest overall impact on the environment. This category aligns with how consumers choose to purchase salads, with most consumers (43%) choosing to purchase whole ingredients and vegetables to take home to cut and prepare themselves. Data from the national survey shows that consumers ranked “Fossil Fuel Use” the most important sustainability claim. Aligning this data point with the LCA data, an extrapolation shows what can be labeled as the most sustainable Caesar salad package, which consists of a whole lettuce head wrapped in a twist-tie, parmesan cheese packaged in a flexible wrap, croutons packed in a bag-in-box, and dressing packaged in a small, flexible pouch.
Stephens, Nathanael, "A Study on the Environmental and Societal Impact of Salad Packaging" (2022). All Theses. 3960.
Environmental Studies Commons, Food Studies Commons, Science and Technology Studies Commons