Fresh produce packaging - optimising presentation

Ensuring that fruit is kept looking at its best at the point of sale is the challenge being met by packaging manufacturers, Sally Drury reports.

Strawberry punnets: Holfeld’s K80 range meets requirement for top sealing and is laterally vented to reduce condensation - image: Holfeld Plastics
Strawberry punnets: Holfeld’s K80 range meets requirement for top sealing and is laterally vented to reduce condensation - image: Holfeld Plastics

The challenge: to get fruit from the tree, bush or cane to the consumer’s fridge with the minimum of damage and resulting in the minimum of waste. The problem: berries and other soft fruits are vulnerable and sensitive, making them difficult to transport. Damage and wastage can occur at picking, packing, during transportation and while being handled by the retailer and at the consumer level.

Some varieties will be more susceptible to injury than others, although over the years breeding work has done much to help toughen up some subjects. Differences in susceptibility are also seen with the stage of fruit maturity and at different times of the year, but generally pressure marks and juice leakage are common occurrences.

When packaged fruits are subjected to fluctuations of temperature during transport, the result can be condensation. Combine the condensation with air and fruit juices, and the perfect breeding ground is created for mould and bacteria. Having the right packaging and optimising warehousing and transport can do much to protect fruits and present them at their best at the point of sale.

Utilising technology

Thankfully the soft-fruit packaging industry has progressed tremendously over recent years, with new materials being used in the making of punnets and cushions that utilise technology aimed at reducing the occurrence of damage and waste between production and consumption.

For some time Irish fresh-produce packaging manufacturer Holfeld Plastics was recognised by retailers, growers, distributors and marketing desks as a small supplier of punnets to Marks & Spencer. Now, having extended its soft-fruit punnet range, the company sells throughout the UK and northern Europe, competing head-on with the biggest names in soft-fruit packaging.

Following investment in Holfeld’s manufacturing capabilities, new punnet ranges have been added to the existing portfolio. The K80, M81, K30 and K37 ranges are all available in a variety of depths.

Addressing consumer demand for promotional family-sized packs, the company has developed a new deep and wide family-sized strawberry punnet range. The K80 range, in sizes 56mm, 70mm and 85mm, meets the continued market requirement for top sealing and the punnets are laterally vented to reduce condensation and improve airflow, even when stacked.

The M81 range is available in depths of 30mm, 40mm, 50mm, 70mm and 85mm, with black or red bubble pads, while the K30 is available in depths of 34mm, 60mm and 75mm and is a super lightweight range yet robust enough to withstand the challenges of modern packhouses. Holfeld has also released the K37 Divide. Measuring 184x118x35mm, this punnet is available with and without padding for two fruit varieties.

McAirlaids is one company to have developed products to cushion the fruits within a punnet. The firm’s FruitPad 2.0 provides cushioning for the fruit within the punnet yet involves minimal raw material. Importantly, it also boasts intelligent fluid management and absorbs fluids — whether released naturally or from damaged fruits — through the surfaces and sides to reduce the risks of bacterial and mould growth.

FruitPad 2.0 can be individually adapted to every kind of packaging and is available in standard colours red and black, although others are available on request.

Causing a great deal of interest at the Fruit Focus trade show held in Kent last month (20 July), Sirane’s antimicrobial technology is seen as a major step forward in absorbent packaging. The product development-to-manufacture company is based in Telford and specialises in absorbent solutions.

"We’ve got the absorbent fruit pad range, including cushioned pads and ethylene-absorbing pads that can be supplied without the added antimicrobial technology. For fruits such as cherries we can supply absorbent cherry pads or a lower-absorbency crepe," says Sirane sales director Jeremy Haydn-Davies.

"For many fruits — in particular soft and delicate fruits such as berries of all types, stone fruits, grapes etc — we’ve got packaging solutions that can make a real difference, helping to protect the product from potential damage and positively impacting on the shelf life."

Ground-breaking work

Referring to the antimicrobial/antibacterial absorbent fruit packaging solutions, Sirane managing director Simon Balderson says: "For many years Sirane has been at the forefront of research into shelf-life extending technology for fruit in particular, and this latest product development combines ground-breaking work with existing technologies to create another major step forward. This really is headline news for the fruit-packaging world.

"Many companies have tried to deliver antimicrobial packaging, but this is an effective way of delivering the technology from within the pack right to the heart of the problem. Fruit often travels vast distances before it ends up on a supermarket shelf and there is so much that can be done to help everyone in the supply chain reduce the amount of waste."

Sirane’s new Dri-Fresh ABV pads contain a blend of natural bioflavonoids and organic acids that work together to naturally enhance the fruit’s own protective defences. Combined with the absorbency within the pad, they claim to offer an outstanding level of protection.

The technology can be supplied as standard absorbent pads or incorporated into Sirane’s Dri-fresh SoftHold pads — absorbent cushioning designed to prevent damage to soft-fruit during transport. The technology is activated by moisture and functions only when needed.

Balderson says: "Shelf-life extension within fruit, particularly the soft-fruit world, is a big deal throughout the industry, and even just a few extra days make a big difference. Soft fruit has a short shelf life, meaning additional shelf life is very valuable. It has little in the way of protective skin, so is vulnerable to fungal and bacterial degradation. As it is soft, it is also vulnerable to damage during transportation, which can often be a long way.

"This is a completely natural solution to those problems. It is very effective. What we’re doing is effectively taking the fruit’s own natural defence mechanism and supplying it when needed in a concentrated form. The results so far have proven to be very impressive.

"The combination of flavonoids, which are antioxidants and antimicrobial, with organic acids including citric acid and ascorbic acids is harmless because all the elements are found naturally within fruit. It is clean, simple and effective. Nature itself often has the answers.

"This complements our existing shelf-life extending technologies, including absorbent cushioned pads, antifungal pads, ethylene-absorbing pads and labels and more."

Fruit that could potentially benefit from Dri-Fresh ABV or Dri-Fresh Soft-Hold ABV include all types of berries — strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries — as well as other fruits that are vulnerable to damage, such as tomatoes, apricots, kiwi fruit, nectarines and grapes.

Global spread

Sirane’s Dri-Fresh Soft-Hold absorbent pads are already being shipped in large quantities to berry producers across North and Central America — some of the biggest soft-fruit growing regions globally — with the product starting to appear on supermarket shelves worldwide, including the UK. Dri-Fresh Soft-Hold ABV is likely to increase this demand, much of which will be supplied by Sirane’s new factory in Guadalajara, Mexico Balderson adds: "Absorbency and absorbent products is one of Sirane’s core strengths, and the company manufactures a wide range of customised absorbent products."

Collapsible GoFold Twistlock boxes

For large-volume retailers, grocers and growers, the new range of GoFold Twistlock boxes launched by were designed and made by packing solutions specialist CABKA-IPS. The folding boxes have a Twistlock mechanism that should appeal to major users because they can speedily and efficiently collapse the boxes on the shop floor.

Measuring 600x400mm, the boxes are available in three different heights to suit specific load requirements. The shallowest has 118mm sides and a storage capacity of 23.6 litres, the mid-range option, at a height of 173mm, has a 35.4-litre capacity and the tallest box, with 229mm sides, gives 46.8 litres of storage. In their collapsed state, the GoFold Twistlock boxes fold down to a height of just 28mm to save space in storage as well as transit.

The Twistlock mechanism is featured on the handles at both shorter sides of the boxes. All four sides have handholes for easy of handling. The consistent dimensions and rigidity of the boxes also makes them suitable for rapid order picking, secure stacking and use in automated handling systems.

Ventilation holes in the sides and base allow easy airflow, making the boxes suitable for storing fresh produce. Slide-in label holders enable clear and easy product identification throughout the supply chain. Optional features include corporate personalisation with a logo moulded on both sides and a variety of different colour choices in addition to the standard grey.

More new packaging

Produce Packaging has launched a new range of pre-pack vegetable trays. They are usually produced in 300 micron rPET in clear or black but can be made in a variety of gauges and colours depending on requirements. Tray sizes are 220x130 by 35mm or 25mm; 180x130 by 25mm or 20mm; 168x140x18mm; and 155x130x18mm.

Fresh-food packaging manufacturer LINPAC has added to its Freshware portfolio with a new range of vented pyramid packs to meet the changing demands of the consumer snacking and convenience trend, especially for the health-conscious consumer. The new pyramid packs have been designed for whole "mini-snacking" vegetables such as peppers, cucumbers and carrots as well as tomatoes.

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