Innovative packaging options are appearing on supermarket shelves every day as manufacturers create methods to present fresh fruits and vegetables in ways that are attractive, safe and — especially in today’s world — sustainable.
“When it comes to trends in packaging, we definitely see shifts happening — from trying to reduce the amount of material being used, reducing the environmental footprint, designing for recyclability to finding new and more sustainable solutions,” said Jane Puggaard, group commercial director for Schur, an international packaging solutions provider based in Denmark.
Despite an onslaught of global legislation limiting single-use plastics, there’s “uncertainty and fragmentation in the approach undertaken by different markets that make the situation complex and challenging,” said Duncan Jones, senior marketing manager for Sinclair, a label manufacturing firm based in Fresno, Calif., and the United Kingdom.
That’s especially true in markets that export produce, he said.
“In this complexity, communication is critical to inform and help businesses and consumers understand which sustainable packaging solutions fit their needs best,” he said.
Those solutions are becoming more ubiquitous every year.
German-based Multivac, which has a U.S. headquarters in Kansas City, Mo., has introduced a Top Close packaging concept that enables labeling and sealing of fruit punnets or vegetable trays and is an alternative to clamshell containers, said Cem Yildirim, East and Central regional sales manager for produce.
“A self-adhesive label is applied to the top edge of the tray, securing the product and providing superior peel/reseal performance for the consumer,” he said. “Top Close can realize up to 30% reduction in plastic compared to a clamshell, while a paperboard tray combined with a paper label delivers a plastic free packaging format.”
Multivac also is a leading manufacturer of tray-sealing equipment that offers heat-sealed lidding for a range of fresh products and can use 30% to 40% less plastic compared to a clamshell, he said.
Customers of Watsonville, Calif.-based Sambrailo Packaging inquire about its ReadyCycle sustainable packaging that is a water-based coated paperboard alternative to single-use plastics, said Sara Lozano, who handles marketing and product development for the company.
Buyers also ask about the company’s 100% post-consumer recycled Mixim clamshells, she said.
This tray sealer developed by German-based Multivac, which has a U.S. headquarters in Kansas City, Mo., is an important part of the company’s Top Close packaging concept that enables labeling and sealing of fruit punnets or vegetable trays that are an alternative to clamshell containers, says Cem Yildirim, East and Central regional sales manager for produce. (Photo courtesy of Multivac).
Sambrailo has seen trends come and go over its 100-year history, Lozano said. But the topic that has generated the most interest for the past five years has been sustainable packaging options.
The Sambrailo team looks at sustainability through multiple perspectives and always has adapted to the needs of the industry, Lozano said.
“For example, when we are looking to optimize our operations to be most efficient for our production teams, we want to look at the project holistically and implement processes that are not only efficient but sustainable for our team, and how it benefits our customers,” she said. Or if it’s the company’s packaging products, Sambrailo looks to ensure that there are sustainable material components and that the products meet sustainability initiatives set by states, retailers or organic certifiers.
Yakima, Wash.-based Kwik Lok Corp. is examining ultrasonic welding technology as an alternative to glue to affix closures to labels, said Karen Reed, global director of marketing and communications. Glue can cause contamination when it’s placed into the recycling system, she said.
“Ultrasonic welding uses high-frequency vibration to create frictional heat lasting less than a second, which binds our labels and closures together,” she said.
The process is more energy efficient and results in less downtime and waste than using glue, Reed said, adding that it enhances recyclability.
“We are undergoing intensive customer field trials, and the feedback from customers about the strength of the weld, which is important for tracking and traceability, has been very positive,” said Ryan Towry, Kwik Lok vice president for engineering and innovation.
These laser onion labels demonstrate the ultrasonic welding technology used by Yakima, Wash.-based Kwik Lok Corp., as an alternative to glue to affix closures to labels, says Karen Reed, global director of marketing and communications. (Photo courtesy Kwik Lok).
The sustainable PLU sticker has been a project at Sinclair since the 2000s, Jones said.
The company now has several food-safe home and industrial PLU sticker solutions for use with its automated, high-speed labeling systems in packinghouses.
“Having certification for our compostable fruit stickers is a key product development goal when we begin a compostable sticker development program,” he said. “Having ‘OK compost’ certification for our compostable PLU stickers provides our customers and the industry concrete evidence that the end-of-life performance has been tested and can be trusted,” Jones said.
Sinclair is planning a new compostable PLU sticker launch during the first part of 2024, he said.
When Schur develops solutions for its customers, the company strives to think “end of life cycle” to create the best solution for customers and their products while bearing in mind that the impact and footprint of the solution should be as minimal as possible, Puggaard said.
“We are at the beginning of our journey of transforming into a circular economy,” she said. “This sets a strong foundation in our sustainability strategy 2030.”
Schur is working on initiatives to take its business toward that way of operating in the future.
“This ranges from everything from looking at how to optimize and make our operation and processes more efficient, working on reducing, minimizing and/or optimizing carbon dioxide emissions to working on general packaging optimization,” Puggaard said.
The company also will work closely with customers or colleagues from subsidiaries in Australia, Germany, Denmark and other locations to provide the most feasible sustainable solutions, she said.
By Tom Burfield