Case Study

Paper-based Tray for Food

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VP Editor Emeritus, Packaging World
REWE Group, one of the biggest retailers in Austria, is offering the premium cheeses in its organic brandJa! Natürlichon patented paper trays that reduce the use of plastic by 70%.

Mondi Fibre Packaging is the developer and supplier of the new perFORMing line of tray material, which is shipped as rollstock to REWE’s dairy producer Salzburgmilch. There the material is fed into a highly automated packaging line from GEA that thermoforms the trays 8-up, robotically loads the slices of cheese with Weber pickers, evacuates ambient air, backflushes the tray with CO2, and applies a clear lidding material.

The Austrian retail stores BILLA, MERKUR, ADEG, and Sutterlüty—all part of REWE Group-- are all offering the organic cheese slices on these new paper trays. In Austria, these can be recycled as waste paper because they’re made of 80% virgin fiber and only 20% plastic. The new packaging reduces plastic consumption by 70% and carbon footprint by around two-thirds compared with the previous solution,according to Mondi.

The natural brown paper of the new cheese packaging is produced by Mondi Frantschach, Carinthia, predominantly from Austrian wood. Rolls of paper then go to Mondi Styria, about 30 miles away. Here the paper is given an extrusion coating of EVOH. Once the coating is applied, the total weight of the paper is 290 gsm.

When the coated paper reaches Salzburgmilch, it’s fed into a GEA PowerPak form/fill/seal system. It includes three Weber robots that load the cheese into the thermoforms. Clear lidding material is heat-sealed over the cheese, but details on what that film is were not available. Once the individual packs have been cut from the web, they’re packed into corrugated secondary packaging.

“One nice feature of this material is that it performs on the same thermoforming machinery that is used for plastics,” says Falk Paulsen, Mondi’s Sales Director Extrusion Coatings. “Yes, there are minor adjustments to make, but it would have been unrealistic to expect food companies like Salzburgmilch to disrupt their entire f/f/s systems just to be able to run our material.”

After a nine-month test phase in cooperation with dairy producer Salzburgmilch, the new packaging is now being used for ​​cheese slices in the varieties Bio Alpkönig, Bio Gouda, Bio Emmentaler, Bio Butterkäse, and Bio Bergkäse. The new paper-based packaging solution will soon be appearing in national supermarket chains in France and Poland as well.

Switching from conventional packaging to paper-based solutions delivers multiple benefits. First, paper has the lowest carbon footprint of all packaging types,and second, it is recyclable, with paper recycling rates across Europe already at over 80%.The EU and consumers are increasingly demanding solutions that are more readily recyclable and more sustainable. According to a 2018 survey in Austria, around 50% of consumers seek to avoid plastic packaging as much as possible.It is clear that brand manufacturers and packaging companies will face huge changes in the future.

Martina Hörmer, managing directorJa! Natürlich, says,“Consumer expectations concerningsustainability in the food industry have changed dramatically over the last couple of years.Our customers are currently taking a keen interest in packaging. Brands such as Ja! Natürlichare expected to actin anenvironmentallyaware manner. Against this backdrop, thistopichas been extremelyimportant to usfor several years, and we have been gradually switching to more sustainable packaging alternatives since 2011.We arenow delightedto have found a solution,together with Mondi, which significantly reduces the product’s carbon footprint, curbs the use of plastic, and is capable of substantially enhancingrecyclability.”

Cost is always difficult to pin down since it can often depend on the diameter of the real of material supplied. But in this case, the upcharge over what was used in the past is 30 to 40%. This would certainly suggest that REWE and Salzburgmilch are willing to invest when it comes to meeting their sustainable packaging objectives.

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