Packaging technologies boosting shelf life of essentials

Making food last longer on the shelf has taken on an even more important role due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. As we abide to self-distancing measures, it means a lot of people – especially the elderly and those more vulnerable to the virus – don’t want to go out as much, including going shopping for food.

At the cutting edge of making longer shelf life possible – especially of meat products – is Sealed Air. The company has a range of packaging such as the Cryovac brand Darfresh vacuum skin packaging, which is designed to protect and make products last longer on the shelf, all while keeping food waste to a minimum.

Kevin Taylor, Sealed Air’s portfolio manager – trays, films APAC has more than 25 years’ experience in the packaging industry and said that Sealed Air is working with food processors and retailers to make the shelf life longer for these products.

“Processing, packing and distribution can consume three days of the available shelf life, even more for nationwide distribution,” he said. “For retailers, maximising shelf life means a greater merchandising period, less food waste and profit erosion. The likes of our Cryovac brand Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) formats have the capability of extending shelf life by up to 13 days, but this can be doubled via formats such as Cryovac brand Darfresh vacuum skin packaging.”

Extended shelf life also means greater product access and reduced waste, while hermetic seals and tamper evidence ensures food safety. The tray design ensures robustness throughout the supply and distribution chain. It is these qualities that make plastic a good option when it comes to packaging food. Plastic packaging sometimes gets on the wrong side of environmentalists, but it is one of the best products to use when packing foodstuffs, according to Coles’ senior structural packaging technologist Graeme Hawkes. Not only that, said the Adelaide-based Hawkes, plastic offers other properties that other packaging just doesn’t have.

“Plastic is the only product that you can recycle back to their original content base and recycle in a never ending loop. Nothing else in the world will do that – not glass, not metals. They lose integrity every time you recycle,” he said. “Another thing is, I’ve studied all sorts of different packaging for meat over the years, and the barrier properties of plastics can’t be beaten. The only way you could beat it is if you buy an animal that day and slaughter it, take it home, and use it within two or three days. That is the only way plastic can be beaten.

“The supply chain and packaging requirements we use now, are 10 times more important than they were 40 years ago. But we want it to be the same as it was 40 years. Consumers don’t see it that way. They go, ‘I want this, and I want that, and I don’t want plastic’. Realistically, without plastic, you haven’t got a product.”

Beyond shelf life, temperature control across the cold chain is critical for food safety. One such technology is Sealed Air’s TempGuard.

“While packaging plays its role in product protection and shelf life, this can come undone if temperature control across cold chain distribution channels are compromised,” said Taylor. “As we see a rise in more meal home deliveries, temperature assurance is essential to ensure product safety and solutions like TempGuard ensure temperature control for up to 48 hours.”

As well as shelf life and being a barrier to unwanted germs and other nasties entering the food chain, manufacturers like Sealed Air are well aware of the peripheral concerns surrounding packaging.

“Our 2025 Plastics Pledge is really driving our research and development efforts,” said Alan Adams, Sealed Air’s sustainability director, APAC.

“Beyond shelf life and product safety attributes of Cryovac packaging solutions, the sustainable packaging guidelines underpin all packaging solutions. This means they’re designed for efficiency across the supply chain. But it starts with being resource savvy, such as ensuring they are light weight and space efficient. It’s about design that enables processors to maximise throughput all while yielding less processing packaging waste and food waste.

“End of life is a key design consideration. For example, Cryovac MAP polypropylene trays are fully curbside recyclable and comprise 8 per cent post-industrial recycled content. TempGuard comprises 80 per cent recycled content and is fully curbside recyclable.”

“Solutions like HydroLoQ go beyond ‘reduce’ because the tray cell design has product purge elements, eliminating the need for the 750 million absorbent pads used across ANZ’s fresh protein space each year,” said Adams.

Plastics also have other areas where research is making headway. Hawkes said in the 30 plus years he has been involved with plastics, the biggest change he has seen is in the lightweighting, which is due to consumers wanting less plastic and manufacturers wanting to reduce costs. But is a plastic still doing its job if there is less of it covering a product?

“It depends on the polymers,” said Hawkes. “You have polymers that are good at being an oxygen barrier and you have some that are really good – manufacturers put an active barrier inside the polymers themselves that absorb residual oxygen to keep the freshness.

“There are some really fantastic technologies around some of the barrier properties around plastics. Thicker doesn’t always mean better. Thicker just means heavier which makes it better for a MRF. It doesn’t mean that it is going to be better for the product inside it.”

In the current climate surrounding COVID-19, these plastic barriers are important. Taylor is also aware of issues around getting food to market quickly, and also that Sealed Air is learning lessons as supply chain issues unfold.

“Supply chain reliability is crucial especially when we need to respond quickly to unprecedented supply volumes. A rapid response means a local response,” he said. “Think about the mince beef situation. When consumers hit the panic button, it affects the entire supply chain and without packaging, our food supply chain is compromised. Our Cryovac trays are locally produced in Tullamarine, Victoria so we’ve been able to react quickly and ramp up supply to our customers and interstate warehouses for next day delivery.

“While local supply chains are crucial, so is collaboration. We’ve worked closely with our customers and retail partners to ensure we are putting packaging resources into the appropriate areas to ensure we fulfil product demand.

“It’s a real example of the industry working in collaboration – all while keeping employees and communities safe.

“Mince trays have been our single biggest growth area. Minced beef is a high turner over product anyhow but panic buying saw tray volumes increase four-fold. We need to ensure we are prepared for the next thing and there will be lessons learned for the entire food industry, in particular, local supply. Kudos to front line workers and to all involved in Australia’s food supply chain. The provision of safe food and continued nutrition during this time is paramount and through strong collaboration and in a true Aussie spirit, we are ‘getting on with it’.”

Maximum taste, minimum waste as Australia takes home global award

Poultry brand ‘The Bare Bird’ together with Sealed Air’s CRYOVAC brand ‘Darfresh on Tray’ packaging received the “Packaging that Saves Food” – gold star award from the 2020 WorldStar packaging awards, given annually by the World Packaging Organisation. As Australia addresses food waste challenges to meet the National Food Waste Strategy 2030 targets, what’s there to learn from companies that have gotten it right?

There’s a reason the best of the best take home shiny gold trophies. It’s because from farm to plate, the entire product is designed with sustainability in mind. While industries shift to drive a circular plastics economy, food waste remains a challenge for all. Each year, it is estimated Australian’s generate almost 300 kilograms of food waste per person.

Growing from strength to strength, ‘The Bare Bird’ put another feather in its cap taking home the gold international World Star award for “Packaging that Saves Food”. The 100 per cent antibiotic-free, vegetarian fed, free range chicken offers consumers a healthy chicken choice and its pack, CRYOVAC brand Darfresh on Tray manufactured by Sealed Air  offers consumers extended freshness.

“Reducing waste, driving sustainability and being resource savvy isn’t a new thing, it has been a central focus of our family-owned business since inception,” said John Hazeldene, director of Hazeldene’s Chicken Farms, which supplies chicken sold under the The Bare Bird name. “We’re delighted for The Bare Bird brand to be acknowledged on a global scale.”

Hazeldene’s Chicken Farm is a poultry producer and processor located near Bendigo, in central Victoria and has been part of the industry for more than 60 years.

While poultry is less resource intensive than other proteins, it still requires significant volume of water.

“We have invested heavily in water saving and water recycling programs across our facility and achieve best-in-class water usage rates per bird for poultry,” said Hazeldene. “It’s great that packaging solutions that extend shelf life also serve to protect resources like water from going to waste.”

Beyond reducing food waste, the CRYOVAC brand Darfresh on Tray packaging system  is a zero-scrap packaging platform, which eliminates plastic processing scrap by 40 per cent. For a typical mid-sized processor producing 30,000 packs per week, this would avoid 3,070 kg being sent to landfill each year.

“The zero-waste Darfresh on Tray system is a great solution that aligns with our environmental goals,” said Hazeldene.

Achieving a 25 per cent improvement in shelf life has been a  win not only for The Bare Bird but also retailers and consumers.

Growth in production and demand for free range chicken meat has been particularly strong over the past five years (approximately 15 per cent of the total market) and this trend is expected to continue (according to AgriFutures Australia), so reducing resource waste is important for a more sustainable and efficient end to end supply chain. Longer shelf life enables wider product distribution and better market access. This year, Hazeldene’s is looking to take The Bare Bird to international markets.

With food waste having an impact on retailer’s bottom line, shelf life now factors more prominently into retailers’ product and purchasing decisions. As with retailers, food waste is also an important concern and purchase consideration for consumers, who contribute to more than half of our nation’s food waste problem.

“Around the world we’re working to be better than we were yesterday, and in times as extreme as this pandemic, the focus on bettering community health ranks high,” said Alan Adams, Sealed Air’s regional sustainability director. “Failures in our food supply chain will compromise food safety and that also means recalls, compromised confidence in our food supply chain and compromised community health. Packaging’s ability to enable food safety and reduce waste makes it an everyday super hero. It’s an essential material and consumers would benefit in knowing this.

“Consumers are the biggest contributors to our nation’s food waste, so with focused activities around consumer behaviors, we can collectively make a difference and we know education is the hook.

“With concerted efforts in these areas, together with our National Food Waste Strategy to halve food waste by 2030, a less wasteful supply chain is a requirement. It’s a time to undo waste and the beauty is we can all contribute to making a difference. Through education and a willingness to change often lazy, wasteful food habits, reducing the aforementioned 300kg per capita (annual) contribution to food waste should be front of mind for every single Australian. That’s how we’ll reduce waste and leave our world better than we found it.”

Four ways to less waste

It starts by connecting with your audience and sharing a common goal
COVID-19 has shown what’s possible when communities work together for a common goal. On pack, in-store and social media platforms can make a huge impact. How many of your consumers are aware of food waste and its impact on global warming? Teaching consumers is  important and in doing so, not only are you helping consumers learn more about avoiding food waste, but also increasing brand awareness for your retail product. Callouts such as “sealed for freshness” is a good  example currently witnessed across some retail channels but we need more.

Avoid confusion with easy to understand on pack dates
Through a better understanding of when food is actually no longer safe to eat, as opposed to its ‘packed on’ dates, consumers are likely to make  better food choices rather than disposing it prematurely. There are many examples of packaging solutions where it’s hard for consumers to even find these dates. For packaging providers and retailers, a quick fix such as more prominent date placement can enable better food management and The Bare Bird is a great example we can learn from.

Keep it chilled
The importance of temperature cannot be discounted. It plays a major role in food safety and freshness. Clear guidelines on how to store and freeze products will help consumers with efficient meal planning all while diverting less waste to the kitchen bin. Solutions like CRYOVAC brand Darfresh vacuum skin packaging are convenient freezer-ready options, but how many consumers know this if you’re not telling them?

Portion perfect
Portioned packs provide for accurate faster and less wasteful meals. They are ideal for households that prefer convenience, as well as the new generation of home cooks who have appeared in the COVID-19 crisis.

 

 

 

 

Packaging technologies boosting shelf life of essentials

Making food last longer on the shelf has taken on an even more important role due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. As we abide to self-distancing measures, it means a lot of people – especially the elderly and those more vulnerable to the virus – don’t want to go out as much, including going shopping for food.

At the cutting edge of making longer shelf life possible – especially of meat products – is Sealed Air. The company has a range of packaging such as the Cryovac brand Darfresh vacuum skin packaging, which is designed to protect and make products last longer on the shelf, all while keeping food waste to a minimum.

Kevin Taylor, Sealed Air’s portfolio manager – trays, films APAC has more than 25 years’ experience in the packaging industry and said that Sealed Air is working with food processors and retailers to make the shelf life longer for these products.

“Processing, packing and distribution can consume three days of the available shelf life, even more for nationwide distribution,” he said. “For retailers, maximising shelf life means a greater merchandising period, less food waste and profit erosion. The likes of our Cryovac brand Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) formats have the capability of extending shelf life by up to 13 days, but this can be doubled via formats such as Cryovac brand Darfresh vacuum skin packaging”

Extended shelf life also means greater product access and reduced waste, while hermetic seals and tamper evidence ensures food safety. The tray design ensures robustness throughout the supply and distribution chain. It is these qualities that make plastic a good option when it comes to packaging food. Plastic packaging sometimes gets on the wrong side of environmentalists, but it is one of the best products to use when packing foodstuffs, according to Coles’ senior structural packaging technologist Graeme Hawkes. Not only that, said the Adelaide-based Hawkes, plastic offers other properties that other packaging just doesn’t have.

“Plastic is the only product that you can recycle back to their original content base and recycle in a never ending loop. Nothing else in the world will do that – not glass, not metals. They lose integrity every time you recycle,” he said. “Another thing is, I’ve studied all sorts of different packaging for meat over the years, and the barrier properties of plastics can’t be beaten. The only way you could beat it is if you buy an animal that day and slaughter it, take it home, and use it within two or three days. That is the only way plastic can be beaten.

“The supply chain and packaging requirements we use now, are 10 times more important than they were 40 years ago. But we want it to be the same as it was 40 years. Consumers don’t see it that way. They go, ‘I want this, and I want that, and I don’t want plastic’. Realistically, without plastic, you haven’t got a product.”

Beyond shelf life, temperature control across the cold chain is critical for food safety. One such technology is Sealed Air’s TempGuard.

“While packaging plays its role in product protection and shelf life, this can come undone if temperature control across cold chain distribution channels are compromised,” said Taylor. “As we see a rise in more meal home deliveries, temperature assurance is essential to ensure product safety and solutions like TempGuard ensure temperature control for up to 48 hours.”

As well as shelf life and being a barrier to unwanted germs and other nasties entering the food chain, manufacturers like Sealed Air are well aware of the peripheral concerns surrounding packaging.

“Our 2025 Plastics Pledge is really driving our research and development efforts,” said Alan Adams, Sealed Air’s sustainability director, APAC.

“Beyond shelf life and product safety attributes of Cryovac packaging solutions, the sustainable packaging guidelines  underpin all packaging solutions. This means they’re designed for efficiency across the supply chain. But it starts with being resource savvy, such as ensuring they are light weight and space efficient. It’s about design that enables processors to maximise throughput all while yielding less processing packaging waste and food waste.

“End of life is a key design consideration. For example, Cryovac MAP polypropylene trays are fully curbside recyclable and comprise 8 per cent post-industrial recycled content. TempGuard comprises 80 per cent recycled content and is fully curbside recyclable.”

“Solutions like HydroLoQ go beyond ‘reduce’ because the tray cell design has product purge elements, eliminating the need for the 750 million absorbent pads used across ANZ’s fresh protein space each year,” said Adams.

Plastics also have other areas where research is making headway. Hawkes said in the 30 plus years he has been involved with plastics, the biggest change he has seen is in the lightweighting, which is due to consumers wanting less plastic and manufacturers wanting to reduce costs. But is a plastic still doing its job if there is less of it covering a product?

“It depends on the polymers,” said Hawkes. “You have polymers that are good at being an oxygen barrier and you have some that are really good – manufacturers put  an active barrier inside the polymers themselves that absorb residual oxygen to keep the freshness.

“There are some really fantastic technologies around some of the barrier properties around plastics. Thicker doesn’t always mean better. Thicker just means heavier which makes it better for a MRF. It doesn’t mean that it is going to be better for the product inside it.”

In the current climate surrounding COVID-19, these plastic barriers are important. Taylor is also aware of issues around getting food to market quickly, and also that Sealed Air is learning lessons as supply chain issues unfold.

“Supply chain reliability is crucial especially when we need to respond quickly to unprecedented supply volumes. A rapid response means a local response,” he said. “Think about the mince beef situation. When consumers hit the panic button, it affects the entire supply chain and without packaging, our food supply chain is compromised. Our Cryovac trays are locally produced in Tullamarine, Victoria so we’ve been able to react quickly and ramp up supply to our customers and interstate warehouses for next day delivery.

“While local supply chains are crucial, so is collaboration. We’ve worked closely with our customers and retail partners to ensure we are putting packaging resources into the appropriate areas to ensure we fulfil product demand.

“It’s a real example of the industry working in collaboration – all while keeping employees and communities safe.

“Mince trays have been our single biggest growth area. Minced beef is a high turner over product anyhow but panic buying saw tray volumes increase four-fold. We need to ensure we are prepared for the next thing and there will be lessons learned for the entire food industry, in particular, local supply. Kudos to front line workers and to all involved in Australia’s food supply chain. The provision of safe food and continued nutrition during this time is paramount and through strong collaboration and in a true Aussie spirit, we are ‘getting on with it’.”

Why send 750 million soiled absorbent pads to landfill if there is a better way?

Reducing the use of packaging materials is one of the aspects that will help lead to a sustainable future. When re-designing plastic trays for ANZ’s fresh red meat sector, Sealed Air Australia ventured beyond “reduce” and found a way to “eliminate” the need for absorbent pads. Sealed Air’s Kevin Taylor is the APAC portfolio leader for the company’s trays, films and absorbents business. Here, Taylor spoke to Food & Beverage Industry News about some of the new technologies behind the latest meat-packing developments from the company.

Why was HydroLoQ developed?
While absorbent pads solve the problem of retaining product purge, they can also be problematic for food processors and our planet.

HydroLoQ was developed to eliminate lost time associated with pad related issues for moist protein Modified Atmosphere Packing (MAP) applications that are estimated to contribute to three per cent of overall down time. Furthermore, pads comprise ‘end of life’ challenges. In fact, each year, more than 750 million absorbent pads used across ANZ’s fresh red meat sector end up in landfill.

Meat discolouration is also a challenge for retailers. Meat in direct contact with an absorbent pad is not experiencing the full colour preserving benefits of the surrounding modified atmosphere and thus can undergo product discolouration causing subsequent product mark downs.

Furthermore, the removal of the pad eliminates any risk of ingesting the contents of the pad if it leaks.

What were some of the issues when developing the products?
MAP technology has been used for more than 20 years. Forgetting what we already knew and addressing supply chain challenges with a fresh view was one of the biggest challenges. Understanding surface tension science and redefining absorbency requirements for MAP applications was critical to success.

The shape of the base design was important. Not only was it required to hold a specific volume of purge, but it could not leave any imprint or indentation on the protein which would lead to consumer rejection and product mark downs. This problem was overcome with some adjustments to tooling.

HydroLoQ is a recyclable pack. How hard was that to incorporate into the design?
All Cryovac polypropylene trays are recyclable in accordance with the APCO PREP tool. It was important in the redesign that the tray components did not compromise this. Also important was ensuring that the new design did not require the use of additional resin to perform suitably across the supply chain.

Sealed Air’s Cryovac brand food packaging is renowned for maintaining freshness and reducing food waste. Does HydroLoQ still enable this?
Yes. Cryovac HydroLoQ continues to deliver high oxygen barrier performance to keep proteins fresh across the supply chain. We all know extended shelf life means a less wasteful food supply chain. With HydroLoQ, the processor benefits by eliminating pad related downtime and product contamination due to pads breaking open during packing. Estimates suggest 500kg of meat is removed from the supply chain and down-graded to pet food every time pad related contamination occurs.

Is HydroLoQ 2025 ready?
Absolutely. HydroLoQ is fully recyclable and has no separable components that consumers need to work with. Each tray contains up to 8g of recycled resin that is recovered from Sealed Air’s “Zero Waste” tray making facility based in Tullamarine, Victoria.

How is the introduction of HydroLoQ impacting the Tullamarine plant, which also produces absorbent pads?
Sealed Air’s sustainability vision is ‘to protect, to solve critical packaging challenges, and to leave our world better than we found it’. In this case, developments such as Cryovac HydroLoQ changes the way we do things and allows our processors and supply chains to evolve. The sustainable advantages for our processors and planet are significant.
After all, HydroLoQ allows us to leave our planet better than we found it.

What has the feedback from clients been like?
Soiled absorbent pads dampen the consumer experience. Because consumers dislike touching a soiled absorbent pad, they avoid separating the pad from the tray and dispose of fully recyclable trays to landfill.

This tray is the first of its kind into Australia’s retail environment. Customer acceptance has been positive and Cryovac HydroLoQ can be found at retailers including Aldi and Coles. At this stage, retail acceptance has been limited to fresh red meats, but proteins including poultry and seafood are also on the radar.

Brand owners can also leverage a strong sustainability story by making the switch to HydroLoQ and meet consumers’ growing demands for sustainable packaging.

What makes these products different from similar offerings in the marketplace?
This tray design is new for ANZ, and padless tray formats have been used in Europe.
This is the first padless barrier tray used for ANZ’s modified atmosphere packaging market. The base design not only retains purge, but offers additional rigidity which is an important design parameter for our distribution chain. Rigidity is also important for packs using retail lidding film – get them both wrong and lid film energy can distort the shape of the tray.

Is there a limit to the size of the produce that can be used with these products?
We have matched the retention capacity of the base of the tray to the current retailer specifications for the products the trays are used for. Water purge for poultry is higher because it uses water chilling technology and subsequent tray designs will take this into account.

Does plastic get a bad rap?

Director of sustainability is an unusual title, one that is not common within a multi-national company. But not only is that Alan Adams’ role for plastic packaging specialist Sealed Air, he is also part of the leadership group for the company’s APAC region.

At a recent conference at FoodTech Queensland, the education director of the Australian Institute of Packaging (AIP), Pierre Pienaar, made the point that, “plastics are not going anywhere’. And he is right. The thin, mainly oil-based product has a multitude of uses in many industries including food.

“Plastic is, and will remain, in my view, really important within the industry,” said Adams. “In fact, it is probably more important than ever when it comes to reducing food waste, and enabling our lifestyle. What we have to do though, is drive it to a circular economy so we can utilise those resources.”

With China and other Southeast Asian countries declining to take Australia’s recyclables, sustainability is more important than ever. However, it is something that Sealed Air saw coming over six years ago. The then recently appointed (but now retired) CEO of Sealed Air, Jerome Peribere, knew sustainability was going to be an issue, and one that needed addressing sooner rather than later.

READ MORE: Plastic waste: why every gram counts

“Jerome came out with this idea that we should think about ourselves as a sustainability company,” said Adams. “That was controversial and confronting when you think we are predominantly a plastics manufacturer, so it didn’t necessarily resonate with the average person back then.

“However, his reasoning was sound because if you look holistically at our impact on the world, we have a positive impact on the environment. If you think what Jerome was thinking back then, it led to us redefining our vision and mission. Our vision became to create a better way of life and today this continues with our CEO Ted Doheny and our purpose statement that, ‘We are in business to solve critical packaging challenges and leave our world better than we found it’. And it is through enabling efficient supply chains for food and goods without damage, that we remove a lot of the wastage that can be created in many industries including food.”

These company ideas backed up the sustainability minded Adams’ thoughts on what the future would hold. Adams was already a member of the Bioplastics Association for Australasia and served as president for four years. The association introduced standards for compostable and home compostable packaging for Australia during that time. Adams not only talks the talk, he walks the walk.

“I have a personal zero food waste policy at home,” he said. “It makes for some interesting food, and it has gotten easier to make it zero since I started composting. But we had herb salads from time to time, and it’s questionable how nice they are. Plus we grow a lot more food of our own now.”

Adams believes that there is a disconnect between people’s perceptions of plastic and how it can also be a sustainable product. But that is because there are a couple of issues that need addressing. The main one being that the Australian recycling industry is still immature.

“The problem is we don’t have great infrastructure and sustainable recycling industry developed yet,” he said. “If you talk about what plastics are recovered and recycled in Australia – and turned into something useful, and not landfilled or shipped overseas – you are talking about 4.6 per cent of rigids and 1.2 per cent of flexibles. It is tiny.”

How can such a perception of plastics be changed? Adams believes it will take a change in mind-set. Too often, there is a myopic view, which is not telling the real story.

“Any supply chain, or any product has three big buckets,” he said. “First is inbound resources. What are the products made from? How are they made? How efficient is that? Then you have operational efficiency. Does it do the job? How well does it do the job? Does it deliver performance? Then you have end of life. What happens to it after it has been used? Equating sustainability just to the end of life is really missing most of the picture.”

This is why he thinks Australia needs a mature recycling/circular system in place. What has also changed is how much people now rely on plastics in everyday life, especially when it comes to the food industry. Adams grew up on a farm in the middle of the North Island of New Zealand. The lie of the land was a lot different back when it came to food waste. He remembers having a shepherd’s pie on most Monday nights because it was a left-over from the Sunday roast from the day before. People rarely eat like that these days, he said. It’s all about lifestyle, too.

“We had very low food waste back then,” he said. “Can we wind back the clock 30 or 40 years ago and live that way? No we can’t. People will not stand for it. We want to have the eating experience we want but also be able to recover those resources at end of life. Otherwise, you are asking us to unwind the lifestyle we really want, and that generally ends with quite a big consumer backlash.”

How does a company like Sealed Air develop sustainability around a product that is continually under the microscope? For a start, it develops packaging solutions that can help products last longer on the shelf, such as its Cryovac brand food packaging range. If product can last longer on the shelf, then there is less chance of it being thrown out before it is eaten. Adams also realises that the way people consume food is changing.

“We have to be creative in our solutions and the recovery of the materials we generate – and plastics is a big part of it – to enable us to efficiently have the food where we want it, when we want it and the size and quantity we want,” he said.

But do people want to eat food that is staying on the shelf longer. Hasn’t the public been told again and again, that fresh is best? Sure, said Adams, but not all foods. Back in the day, a butcher would cut the customer a piece of meat, wrap it in paper and it would be taken home to be eaten. However, new packaging technologies not only mean the aforementioned longer shelf life, but it can “fool” the meat into thinking it is still relatively fresh.

“The meat is dead when you have carved it and served it up and exposed it to the atmosphere,” said Adams. “It was as good as it was going to get at that moment. From then on, it is going to degrade. If, however, you vacuum pack it, the meat still thinks it is the bigger part of the piece of meat it used to be. Because oxygen is not getting to it, atmosphere is not getting to it so, it continues to age and continues enzymatic action.

“There are case studies that will show you that the eating experience of vacuum-packaged meat with a longer shelf life is better than MAP packaged meat. Certain cheeses like to be aged, too. In the past it has been wax coatings and wax papers and things that helped keep longer shelf life. So there are efficiencies in a lot of this as well as potentially eating experiences. It isn’t like that with all foods. I’m not sure vacuum-packing apples will make for a good experience a few weeks down the track.”

Adams knows that there is a long way to go, especially in the recycling stakes. Even though there are challenges, he knows Sealed Air is on the right track when it comes to sustainability – it is what drives him every day. “I think what is really important is that Sealed Air clearly understands – and many people don’t see this – that sustainability is everything. It’s an umbrella over everything we do,” he said. “If you look at our core values and drivers – which are about food safety and shelf-life along with operational efficiency, package optimisation and brand experience – all of those things are sustainability endeavours in their own right. But I am very aligned with it, which means I love my job and I’m very happy working towards those goals.”

Packaging designed to leave nothing behind

With the war on packaging waste, together with 2025 global packaging targets, it’s fair to say that the food packaging industry is busy finding new ways for smarter packaging. The strong media focus on “end of life” for packaging means consumer awareness and demand for green solutions is growing, along with the increasing concerns that packaging is ending up in our landfill and oceans.

While efforts to reduce end-of-life impact are certainly critical, the significance packaging plays in protecting food and reducing food waste is often underestimated. So, as we get busy finding new smarter ways for packaging, where exactly should we be focussing?

Designing food packaging for longer product shelf life and product protection is non-negotiable. Resources need to be optimised and end of life taken into account. Well-designed packaging takes the full life cycle of a product into account – end of life cannot be considered in isolation of the primary role of packaging.

Reducing, reusing and recycling are great ways to make a smart difference and certainly have their uses in the greater scheme of things. However, the best way is to embrace the opportunity to re-design, reinvent and change the status quo. For example, fresh proteins packed in a modified atmosphere tray lid configuration require absorbent pads to retain product purge. In fact, across ANZ’s fresh meat sector, more than 750 million soiled pads end up in landfill each year. That is a huge number. Rather than re-designing the pad to make it recyclable and therefore address ‘end of life’ concerns, a total rethink of the solution gave rise to a new sustainable way.

Sealed Air’s Cryovac HydroLoQ barrier tray is a new concept where product purge is retained by the purposefully designed cavities in the tray, thereby eliminating the need for a soaker pad. The recyclable tray offers extended product freshness and shelf life and with no soaker pad to dispose of, Cryovac HydroLoQ is designed to leave nothing behind.

Another example of re-design and reinventing is the gradual evolution from modified atmosphere packaging technology to vacuum skin technology, which offers a step change to Sealed Air’s food value chain. For example, Cryovac Darfresh is proven to at least double the shelf life of fresh red meat, enhance logistic and retail efficiencies and offer an enhanced consumer experience. Extended shelf life of this magnitude means less food waste, less packaging waste and it means better profits for our processors and this means better business sustainability. Not to mention, the best eating experience available.

Smart design means smart for everyone along the value chain, from processors to retailers and consumers. While down gauging (reducing) ticks one box, its benefits cannot be negated by poor operational throughput, down time and lost profits.

Cryovac OptiDure is an example where traditional barrier shrink bags have been re-engineered to use less material, drive improved abuse resistance, and improve operational efficiency and throughput. Its leading clarity and gloss characteristics drives stronger shelf aesthetics and that means greater consumer appeal. And once the product is opened, consumers can place the shrink bag into polyolefin recycling streams.

A holistic approach to packaging design will yield the best outcome, but a design around end of life only is a flawed approach. The noise around end of life alone should not dictate future packaging design and development.

Beyond saving food and delivering operational excellence, smart design must also take into account product and consumer safety. As we commit to including recycled content into “direct food contact” packaging, we cannot simply introduce a new recycled element into a re-design without proper validation. This is not an area of guesswork and must be validated from a regulatory perspective, ensuring it meets all necessary food law requirements.

While all of this logic may resonate across industry professionals, this is a story waiting to be told. In the minds of consumers, plastic waste is still perceived to be worse for the environment than food waste. According to a recent survey, ANZ consumers agree that re-sealable packaging is the best way to reduce household food waste. The findings also show that packaging has a reputational impact on the supermarket. More than 45 per cent of ANZ shoppers state they would react positively to a store promoting their food items as being packaged in a way that optimises food freshness.

Now is the time for education and B2C communication. Consumers need to understand how packaging contributes to a safer and less wasteful food supply chain. They need to know how it impacts food accessibility around the world and how it drives better business sustainability for local producers and processors. Brand owners have a role in telling this story. Without a story, consumers and non-industry stakeholders see packaging as unnecessary, simply adding to our waste piles.

To reduce is priority, but whether we design for reduce, reuse or recycle, the full product lifecycle must be at the front of mind when designing packaging. A smart design that yields a sustainable outcome for all of our value chain is a fail proof way of leaving our environment in a better place that which it was found. And, that’s a stronger story we should all own.

Part of the problem is that there are a few misconceptions out in the marketplace when it comes to the sustainability of food packaging.

Sustainable packaging is often met with the perception that it is green and environmentally friendly in that it is made from renewable materials and can be recycled or is compostable. Quite often, the focus on end of life and its disposal dominates. But, there’s a missing part of this story about packaging’s primary role in keeping food fresh and safe. If you consider the resource intensive nature of our food supply chain, packaging that can double shelf life offers immediate and substantial environmental benefits.

Longer shelf life and freshness allows us to consume products within a greater time period, enabling less waste. But, it also goes a step further. There are also peripheral benefits, such as not wasting the resources that surround the packaging of products, such as the water and energy required to produce an item.

Sometimes, damaged products, or spoiled foods, have a greater environmental impact than the products that protect them. For example, the carbon footprint of 1kg of beef is nearly 400 times that of the plastic packaging used to protect it during distribution and sales.

We need to remind stakeholders that sustainable packaging involves understanding the life cycle analysis of the whole package including the product, packaging and shipping. This is something some people do not consider when looking at the big picture. Cost sensitivity is a concern, but is often negated when processors and retailers realise the myriad of supply chain benefits. From reduced re-work and down time through to extended shelf life and product appeal, it’s easy to see how value sells itself. Again, while the initial outcome seems obvious, if you dig a little deeper, there are other considerations that need to be taken into account.

Sealed Air just doesn’t talk the talk, it is dedicated to the 2025 pledge and its packaging targets, and it does so by strongly supporting its research and development team. While efforts are deployed to meet targets, smart design underpins Cryovac innovation. It starts by efficient design and waste avoidance, ensuring packaging design provides efficiency and functionality.

One of the challenges is changing the mindset of the consumer. In the minds of many customers, plastic is still perceived to be worse than food waste for the environment. Let’s applaud the past three consecutive years where FMCG brands including Harvey Beef, The Bared Bird and Don KRC have been awarded gold for the Packaging that Save Food category at the Packaging Innovation and Design Awards (PIDA) using Cryovac solutions that extend shelf life and reduce waste across the supply chain. Brand owners have a great opportunity to leverage this and drive a sustainable brand story.

Sealed Air loves exciting the industry and we like to keep some things a secret. What we can say is that as we reinvent Sealed Air, we reinvent the way we make our products and solve our customers solutions. As an industry however, we know that education at store level and across consumer brands will drive better informed consumer buying decisions and thus we should start to see brands tell this story.

As mentioned, research shows more than two in five Australian and New Zealand grocery shoppers stated they would react positively to a store promoting their food items as being packaged in a way that optimises food freshness. But what they also said was that they would react positively to a store promoting that its fresh food items are safer to eat. The reputation and image of food brands and retailers is likely to be positively enhanced by participation in educating the public about food packaging and helping them to make more environmentally friendly choices. A store or retail brand being proactive in communicating about how to reduce food waste is likely to drive favourably among consumers.

Alan Adams, Sustainability Director, Sealed Air, APAC