Alex Henriksen discusses Tetra Pak’s part in decarbonizing the food system

Could you introduce yourself to our readers, giving us a brief overview of your career journey thus far and your role at Tetra Pak? 

I’m Alex Henriksen, and I’m proud to say I’ve been at Tetra Pak for 25 years, building my experience across several roles. I joined as an engineer, after studying marine engineering, and worked on ice cream machinery. After a series of product and account management roles, I became Tetra Pak’s Managing Director for North Europe in late 2020.

As Managing Director, I’m responsible for operations in ten key markets – Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden, and the UK.

Primarily, my role is to help the organization be as customer centric as possible. Our aim is to deliver the best-in-class experience for our customers, no matter how complex their packaging needs. More broadly, our goal at Tetra Pak is to improve food safety and accessibility, while simultaneously working to improve circularity and reduce the carbon impact of packaging.

What drew you to the role of managing director? How do Tetra Pak’s values and green ambitions align with your own? 

I have always had an interest in the climate and take the time to consider my own carbon footprint. Coming from an engineering background, I was passionate about joining an organization that wants to make a positive impact on society by continuously innovating. In my role, I bring a technical perspective as well as experience of working on the frontline, supporting management and wider teams as we seek to reduce the impact of packaging on the environment.

Is there one piece of advice – business-related or otherwise – that has aided your career? Could you share it with our readers? 

The best piece of advice I received was to focus on the detail. Especially working in the push towards a circular economy – because innovation in packaging requires so much expertise and a willingness to explore different options. It has helped me keep perspective and push forward with small changes, as I know they will contribute to something greater.

Could you tell us about innovation at Tetra Pak? How does this play a part in its wider sustainability strategy? And how important is new material sourcing and exploration? 

Innovation has been central to Tetra Pak, as a business, for almost as long as we’ve been in operation, and it’s something that we place at the heart of what we do today. We’re proud to have been involved with several ‘world first’ innovations across our history. For instance, the introduction of aseptic packaging, which is considered amongst the greatest innovations of the 20thcentury, has revolutionized the shelf-life and delivery of safe and nutritious food.

Today, businesses are facing a host of new challenges, many of which are linked to the delivery of safe food in a way that promotes circularity and reduces overall impact on the environment. Today’s consumers are increasingly environmentally conscious, and, as a society, we have far more information about the serious nature of environmental threats facing the planet.

We know that if we are to decarbonize the food system then we must work alongside industry partners, governments and customers. For Tetra Pak these efforts have included supporting local councils and governments to update their recycling infrastructure to include cartons. Alongside this, we have also conducted recent tests of a fiber-based barrier to replace the aluminum layer in our cartons, which will mark a huge step towards developing an aseptic package that is fully renewable, recyclable and carbon neutral. We have also worked on the introduction of plant-based tethered caps to reduce plastic littering.

You recently commented that “no single solution will lead to the decarbonization of our food systems today.” Could you go into a little more detail, and inform our readers about the kind of multi-pronged and dynamic approach you envision?

Today’s food systems are particularly complicated; a combination of environmental pressures and food waste is compounding the necessity to deliver safe and nutritious food to those who most need it. This means manufacturers need to consider how they can strengthen food systems by implementing high-performance packaging. However, this cannot be developed at the expense of the environment by increasing the amount of finite natural resources used, else we risk exacerbating issues further down the line.

Coupling decarbonization efforts with the strengthening of food systems, both domestically and internationally, requires collaboration across industry. What we can say is the industry is making important progress in co-creating innovative solutions for packaging. However, in order to build on this momentum, even greater collaboration between industry, policymakers, stakeholders and consumers is needed, alongside greater engagement between suppliers, processors, distributors and retailers. For example, Tetra Pak is working closely with policymakers to support the UK Deposit Return Scheme which includes cartons, extended producer responsibility (EPR), and consistent household collections.

By working together more closely to achieve urgent decarbonization goals, industry stakeholders will be able to better drive innovation, create renewable and recyclable packages that keep food fresh, and establish supply chain efficiencies.

What findings in ‘Food positive: driving change to decarbonize the UK food system,’ Tetra Pak’s recent decarbonization report, were most significant to you? Did anything catch you by surprise? 

What stood out the most to me was the need for collaboration. Almost a third (31 percent) of food and beverage managers, directors and business owners we surveyed believe the topics of sustainability and climate change can only be meaningfully addressed with cross-sector collaboration and support from policymakers. What’s more, over half (56 percent) of consumers said that the UK Government should do more in the next 12 months to raise awareness of sustainability issues and recycling processes amongst the general public.

It is clear to me that decisive action needs to be taken, and appropriate support must be put in place to achieve a circular economy. No single solution will lead to the decarbonization of our food systems today. However, with collaboration between the UK Government and industry, and keeping the consumer at the heart of decision making, finding a range of practical and effective solutions will be far simpler.

How will you and the company apply these findings? How will they influence behavior going forward? 

The findings solidified our commitments and validated our efforts. At Tetra Pak, through continued innovation, we have created a reality of not only being able to replace or reduce our consumption of foods which have higher carbon impacts, we’ve also been able to package these in a way that embraces renewable, low carbon materials.

In light of this research, we will strive to meet these expectations and pursue positive opportunities with accelerated determination to make the vital changes that our planet needs. We remain committed to helping our customers achieve their sustainability goals. We look forward to continuing to work together with governments and industry, to drive meaningful change and pursue a more sustainable future. We will continue to push for these changes and will strive to bring a renewable and customer-centric approach to our future plans.

What kind of future do you envision for the packaging sector by 2030? How realistic is that? 

Scientists say that we need to reduce emissions by 43 percent by 2030. For Tetra Pak, and the packaging and processing industry in general, this will mean pushing for innovation, collaboration and systems change to reduce our emissions and build more sustainable systems over the next several years.

We envision a future in which packaging relies increasingly on renewable and plant-based materials, and one in which businesses, governments, and consumers are united in pushing for more sustainable solutions in safe packaging. This includes initiatives mentioned above, such as our tethered caps and transitioning away from aluminum lining in our push to reduce litter, increase recycling and foster a more circular economy. Tetra Pak is dedicated to doing its part, by pushing innovation, fostering collaboration and encouraging dialogue between stakeholders.