Mike Levis of Volm Companies and Wim van der Meulen of JASA Packaging discuss the latest trends in the packaging world.
“There clearly is a shift away from plastics. Consumers want a reduction in or elimination of plastics and their pushback drives retailers and packers to start a conversation with us,” says Levis. “We have industry-wide discussions to determine what better options are out there.” Van der Meulen adds that the investment in R&D of packaging companies is huge. At JASA, more than 15 percent of total wages are spent on research and development. “Usually, that number is closer to 5 percent,” he said.
The Volm team at United Fresh 2019. Mike Levis second from left and Wim van der Meulen third from left.
Room for both paper and plastic
Big investments are being made in shifting from plastic to paper packaging. Do we think this trend is here to stay? “People are a lot more focused and serious about renewable resources versus fossil fuel-based products,” answered Levis. “So, I do think that some of this is here to stay. About eight or ten years ago, we saw a shift away from plastics as well and it was a bit of a fad. However, today a lot more people are focused on it and interested in trying to develop sustainable packaging.”
“Nowadays, people know what to do with paper,” added van der Meulen. “It is easy to recycle, and people like to take it out of the string of plastics.” When it comes to plastics, many people don’t know what to do with a specific type of plastic as there are so many different types that require unique ways of recycling. He recommends the plastics industry to go to mono-layer materials that can easily be recycled. “It takes time to develop a system and to get the end-consumer used to working with those recycling streams. Once that’s in place, I think plastic has a big future because in the end, plastic is beautiful material. I feel there is room for both paper and plastic in the market.”
In the US, the recycling rate for plastic is about 12 percent. This is an extremely low rate compared to other parts of the world. “In Europe, the recycling rate is in the 80th percentile range,” shared Levis. “They have a system and a program while in the US there is a lot of legislation when it comes to recycling and it’s different in each community.”
One of the biggest packaging examples responding to the consumer’s request for a reduction in plastics is the recently introduced Bag-2-Paper. This completely plastic-free packaging was presented at the 2019 PMA Fresh Summit show and is a collaboration between Volm Companies and JASA Packaging. JASA developed the equipment while Volm is responsible for the development and testing on the material side, including labels, closing strips and adhesive. “All materials for this packaging are sourced in the US, and together, we offer the product under one umbrella,” said van der Meulen. The product is available worldwide, but in each country, JASA works with local distributors on the materials sourcing side.
Another example of plastic-free packaging is the Sleever. The development was driven by produce packers. They were looking for a plastic-free alternative for stretch wrap. “Stretch wrap is about the worst plastic you can have, and they wanted to get rid of that,” mentioned Levis. “The Sleever is very appealing and it’s easy to automate,” he added. “Another added benefit is printing opportunities,” according to van der Meulen. The Sleever is just starting to become available and retailers as well as wholesalers are learning what the possibilities are. “Several packers and wholesalers are looking into these sustainable sleever application for their packaging.”
Volm Companies also recently introduced a bio-based mesh bag which is for 96 percent made from sugarcane.
Small and convenient
Volm and JASA’s customers continuously provide feedback on the different types of packaging. “They prefer new, innovative and for sure smaller packaging. When looking at potatoes, today’s consumer prefers to buy the amount they want to cook for that day,” said van der Meulen. They want a portion size and not a 10 lbs. bag anymore. This trend is particularly visible in cities. The farther you get away from the city, the larger the quantities become. Convenience plays an important role as well. People want microwavable and steamable options as well as trays you can eat from directly. “It’s all about convenience.”
“What it comes down to is to do better with what we have,” finished Levis. Plastic is pretty versatile, and I don’t think we will ever get rid of it. However, the key is to do better with recycling, and make sure we have alternatives.”