Dutch firm Modiform has launched an environmentally-friendly and food safe pulp packaging range for the European fresh fruit and vegetable sector, following a successful link-up with UK group Cullen Packaging. PBUK finds out more about the solution that is claimed to tick all the boxes for retailers.
Eco-Expert pulp trays are made from 100% recycled paper or card, they can be 100% recycled again, 100% composted or biodegraded in landfill.
“It ticks every environmental box you can think of, and represents an eco-friendly alternative to traditional plastic designs,” Shaun Herdsman, Modiform’s divisional manager for retail and industry, tells PBUK.
“Retailers are definitely looking for more environmentally-friendly packaging. A lot are looking to switch from plastic or polystyrene to pulp packaging for fruits and vegetables. Some are even saying they don’t want to use any plastic in packaging at all in their stores.”
From a recycling point of view, Herdsman says the solution uses waste materials to make something new, which can, in turn, be recycled once discarded.
“Consumers can take this packaging and put it in the recycling bin or, because it’s biodegradable, it can go in general waste,” he comments.
“It’s also industrially compostable, and we’re confident it’ll pass for home composting too. It’s being tested at the moment.”
As well as being very environmentally friendly compared with plastics, Herdsman says Eco-Expert packaging offers a number of other advantages.
“Compared with some other products being used currently, this range is stackable, so you can get quite a lot on a pallet and ship a larger quantity per delivery, which is cheaper for the supplier.
“Also, moulded pulp has a low raw material cost and because the range is made in the UK there is a very competitive price differentiation for European customers under the current exchange rate.
“Plus the trays are food safe, they cushion the produce they’re carrying, and perform in a wide range of temperatures and high humidity.”
Suitable for any fruit or vegetable, the Eco-Expert line features around 35 different trays; ranging from a twin tray for apples or a triple pear holder, up to a tray with eight cavities.
The trays may have a hidden advantage for mushrooms in particular.
“Apparently Tesco did some trials with a pulp punnet for mushrooms, which increased the shelf-life by a couple of days because the pulp mulches away the moisture from the mushrooms,” comments Herdsman.
“Modiform is currently working with a mushroom grower in the Netherlands on our own trials. It’s still in the early stages so I can’t comment yet. But we’ve had enquiries from Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands.”
Highly perishable or ‘squashable’ produce also benefits from moulded pulp packaging, according to Herdsman
“In Europe we see that kiwifruit and avocados are prone to getting bruised in standard packaging, which renders them unsaleable,” he explains.
“Eco-Expert trays aren’t made from a thick material but it can be up to 2mm thick, which provides more of a cushioning effect than polystyrene for example. The soft surface means no scratching or abrasions either.
One solution that’s not being used on the market currently, according to Herdsman, is the Eco-Expert triple pear holder.
“This is a really clever tray,” he says. “Two pears stand up on the base of the tray while one pear is almost suspended upside down. Most pear packaging is flat but our tray can stand up on the supermarket shelf, which looks really nice. You can also transport more trays together.”
Thanks to their eco-friendly credentials, Eco-Expert trays naturally lend themselves to packaging organically-produced fruits and vegetables as well.
“Quite a lot of fruits and vegetables are organically-produced, and growers spend so much time and effort to ensure production is organic and environmentally-friendly, only to pack and supply the product in standard packaging,” Herdsman points out.
“With the Eco-Expert range, organic growers can both produce and supply in an environmentally-friendly manner.”
The trays are manufactured by Cullen Packaging in Glasgow and have been available on the UK market for two years via local distributor Produce Packaging. The product has been very well received, with sales rising to £2m.
Leusden-based Modiform, meanwhile, has the European distributorship. A couple of months ago the firm began selling the trays throughout Europe under the Eco-Expert brand.
“I think Modiform has bigger potential because the market in Europe is much bigger and we’re ideally located in the Netherlands,” Herdsman predicts.
“There are a lot of salad and mushroom growers, and the Netherlands seems to serve as a hub for redistributing packaging within Europe.”
In addition to distributing the range, Modiform is actively seeking customers who require new and individual packaging concepts in order to tailor Eco-Expert trays to the European market.
Herdsman says this is Modiform’s point of difference.
“What’s unique about us is we’re very open to developing new products,” he comments. “We’re new to the fruit and vegetable packaging business so we’ve allocated a certain budget to find the market and create anything that anyone wants.
“In the next year Modiform would like to develop a range of up to 30 bespoke products for individual customers in Europe,” Herdsman reveals.
If any company has a particular packaging requirement Herdsman says they should get in touch to discuss the details. Concept to delivery can take as little as four weeks.
“Tell us what product it’s for and what quantities you need,” he explains. “We’ll look at the dimensions and come back with a price. If that is agreeable we would provide a test sample, and if that is accepted we’ll manufacture the final product.”
Modiform has chosen The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference 2017 as its first trade exhibition at which to debut the new Eco-Expert brand and product range.
By Gill Mcshane