AUSTIN, Texas — Whole Foods Market here has been testing a compostable tray for use in its meat, seafood and produce departments, in hopes of eventually replacing the traditional polystyrene foam trays that the natural food retailer currently uses, according to a recent post on the company's “Whole Story” blog. Compostable meat trays have been something of a holy grail for natural and organic food retailers in recent years, since compostable materials tend to start breaking down when placed in constant contact with moisture.
“Some of our stores have experimented with these trays with limited success,” store supplies and services specialist Jim McConnell wrote in the post. “The challenges we found: [The compostable trays] cost twice as much as their Styrofoam equivalent, are much heavier than Styrofoam, tend to begin breaking down (the ultimate desire) too soon, [and] are a color that does not have as much eye appeal as a black Styrofoam tray.”
McConnell went on to explain that Whole Foods has been trying to find ways to mitigate these issues with its compostable tray supplier, which makes trays from natural bull rush fiber. Gridded-surface trays have been developed that don't warp as easily under typical moisture conditions, and Whole Foods has sourced a compostable soaker pad that will absorb some of the moisture that has contributed to the trays' quick deterioration in the past.
“After making these changes, the manufacturer is now in the process of visiting our stores and delivering sample kits for inspection and further testing,” McConnell writes.
“We feel that most of our team members and customers are supportive of this type of experiment. Even if we are not able to support this particular fiber tray long term, we feel it is a positive step forward that can take us to the next level of responsible packaging with trays.”