Fresh-produce packaging is now a thoroughly high-tech business, as customers look to suppliers to develop innovative ways of keeping produce in tip-top condition for as long as possible. "There is no substitute to working with the different parts of the supply chain to see results," says Sirane managing director Simon Balderson.
"We work with growers in many parts of the world and everyone has the same problem, which is shelf life. Many didn't realise these technologies were available, but now they've trialled them they are all over us."
Providing solutions to this has become Sirane's biggest development area, he explains. "There are a lot of parameters - climate will affect moisture composition, for example - and changing just one thing doesn't necessarily translate into an improvement. We are the only ones addressing the problem in a comprehensive way, looking at all the parameters at each stage."
Currently Balderson is involved in a major trial with growers in Mexico together with one of North America's biggest retailers, with Sirane representatives at both the packing station and at the retail end. "Trials should mirror the way customers actually use our products," he says.
Insights gained from such trials help to improve products such as Sirane's Dri-fresh Soft-Hold pads, he adds. "It's important for shelf life to cushion as well as absorb because skin damage can let the spores in. We also impregnate the pads with anti-fungal additives, which have proved very effective in trials, extending shelf life by several days."
Ethylene absorption is another property of the pads, he says. "If you can absorb ethylene, you can stop catastrophic ripening in the pack - it makes quite a big difference, even with strawberries."
Like grapes, strawberries have been thought of as "non-climacteric", meaning their ripening process is not governed by ethylene. But recent research appears to show otherwise.
However, Balderson points out: "We tell customers there's no point in just sticking in an ethlyene absorber on its own - there may be other things you should deal with first. We are also working to control the atmosphere inside the pack through the breathable properties of films.
"Ideally you want five-to-10 per cent oxygen and 10-15 per cent carbon dioxide. You can't go anaerobic - the berries absorb oxygen and release CO2, and below five per cent oxygen you get pathogen growth. Our Sira-Flex Resolve is a breathable film that allows the air inside the punnet to equilibrate at those optimum levels." Made from a natural biopolymer, it is also 100 per cent recyclable, he points out.
"Gaseous benign anti-fungal agents are also proving effective in extending shelf life," according to Balderson. "We will also be integrating these into the Soft-Hold pad, though not in time for this season in the UK. Though for us there is no 'season' - we are an international company now.
"Our main laboratory is here in the UK but we already have a factory in Turkey, which has become a massive growing area. We will shortly open a manufacturing operation in Jalisco, Mexico's main soft-fruit growing area. We have been doing very well there as well as in North America."
Meanwhile, Sirane's new website dedicated to packaging solutions for fresh fruit and vegetables has gone live. Thinking-fruitandveg.com brings together all its fresh-produce packaging solutions in a single, easy-to-navigate site.
The company's sales executive for fresh produce Gillian Carter says: "Sirane now offers so many fruit and vegetable packaging solutions that we decided to launch a dedicated website, where we will also be making technical information and data from trials available."
Holfeld Plastics is another packaging supplier investing in production and the firm has been increasing capacity at its extrusion business based in County Wicklow in the Republic of Ireland. Marketing manager David Riley says: "Our extrusion plant is now running 24/7 to maintain supply against a background of unprecedented demand."
The company's acquisition last September by the US-based Waddington Group "has given Holfeld a long awaited resurgence, instilled greater confidence and reassurance among its customers and opened up new opportunities for the company", he adds.
Vote of confidence
Holfeld site director Frank Coleman describes the investment as "a great vote of confidence for the site so early in the acquisition process, and a testimony to our dedicated and skilled workforce". He adds: "We invest a lot of time in materials development. We have vertical integration and are self-sufficient so we can control factors in terms of cost and time-to-market. We aim to become truly pan-European - our packaging can be seen on the shelves of major leading UK supermarkets and increasingly in continental Europe."
Kevin Ingram, managing director of Holfeld Plastics and its sister company Par-Pak Europe, says: "Our US parent is keen to see the growth and development they have enjoyed in North America replicated here in Europe, and the enthusiastic support being given to the current businesses is testament to this."
Among Holfeld's recent innovations is Hydrozorb, an offering specifically targeting the mushrooms sector. "Mushrooms are traditionally packaged in polystyrene or polypropylene, but these materials are not readily recycled through current collection systems and are therefore currently non-sustainable," says Coleman.
"The Hydrozorb can be made from up to 100 per cent post-consumer material, meets food safety regulations and has a low weight and also surface tension to avoid moisture build-up, as mushrooms are notorious for sweating in the pack."
In another development, Rockwell Solutions of Dundee has launched a range of laser-perforated or hole-punched peelable lidding film for the soft-fruit market. Available printed, Rocklid LT (Low Temperature) is sealable to any tray type and comes optionally coated with its unique PermaClear anti-fog technology. It is described as low-temperature because it activates from 100 degsC, allowing sealing of thin RPET without distortion affecting the strength of the seal.
Rigid pallet box promises reduced deterioration
Goplasticpallets.com has launched a perforated, rigid pallet box that has been designed to minimise deterioration of fresh produce during use and transportation.
The GoBox 1210 BBE grocery box has a perforated base and side walls that aid air circulation, product cooling and ventilation, while its rigid structure also provides strength and protection.
The ability to withstand extreme hot and cold conditions means that the box is suitable for use in hot and humid environments as well as cold storage in temperatures as low as -40 degsC.
Goplasticpallets.com managing director Jim Hardisty says: "Growers, wholesalers and supermarkets can achieve significant cost and environmental savings by switching from single-use corrugated packaging to returnable plastic containers.
"Our new GoBox 1210 BBE grocery box has been specifically designed to meet the hygiene and environmental requirements so strictly stipulated by the grocery industry and food processors."
Manufactured from virgin, fully recyclable high-density polyethylene, the 1.2m by 1m by 76cm grocery box weighs 37.5kg and has a capacity of 670 litres. Supported on three skids, each box can tolerate loads of up to 500kg and can be stacked up to nine boxes high, offering a total stacking load of 4,500kg.
Fully resistant to ultraviolet and infrared rays and 100 per cent water-resistant, the GoBox 1210 BBE can be stored outside when empty and can easily be steam cleaned manually or with an automated cleaning system. It is available in either grey or blue.