Fresh berries are a growing market in Germany, as well as the rest of the world. To meet the growing demand, Baumann Vertriebs GmbH & Co., a berry-growing and -packaging operation in southern Germany, has expanded its production and packing capabilities in recent years.
This season, the company began distributing fresh fruit trays made from rPET. Instead of using a snap-on lid, these trays are sealed with a thin, peelable top film using a SEALPAC A6 traysealer. Baumann CEO Annika Baumann offered insight on this new part of her company’s production.
A brand-new packaging system
Two years ago, Baumann was required by food retailers to save on plastic in its packaging by June 2020, among other things by switching to tray sealing. At that time, the company delivered its berries in plastic trays that were manually fitted with a snap-on lid. The entire production was tuned and optimized to this process, which is why the company at first did not see a reason to modify.
“Nevertheless, we started working on change,” Baumann said through a press release. “Starting this season, we have been packaging our berries in plastic trays made from resource-saving rPET. The trays are sealed with a top film in a fully automated manner. The implementation of this brand-new packaging system has significantly changed our process and brought a number of sometimes unexpected advantages.”
In 2005, Baumann purchased a first-generation SEALPAC SP350 traysealer for packaging asparagus. The company is still successfully using this machine and quite happy with it. Based on the existing partnership with Sealpac GmbH, a request was submitted for an additional traysealer to package berries. Using Sealpac GmbH’s expertise, especially in understanding the market and available materials, Baumann decided to purchase a medium-output SEALPAC A6 traysealer.
Important questions had to be answered: should they start with the equipment, the tray or the film? Is a protective gas mixture required? Should the packaging be reclosable? What additional equipment is required for weighing and labelling? As an example, the companies jointly traveled to the FRUIT LOGISTICA to get an overview of the various options in terms of materials. This led them to the rPET tray, produced from collected, cleaned and shredded PET, like from soda bottles.
Smooth production process
One of the special features of the new process is that the trays are filled with berries in the field. After arriving at the production facility, the trays are brought to their correct weight by means of a multi-head weighing system. After the weighing process, the trays are fed on a double lane conveyor into the SEALPAC A6 traysealer. The A6 reacts flexibly to the in-feed, as it cannot be guaranteed that the exact number of trays is always arriving on both lanes at the same time. This is why the lanes work independently, to ensure that all trays are reliably sealed.
The A6 seals the rPET trays with a peelable top film, which has been pre-perforated, to allow for optimal exchange of oxygen and moist. Since most labeling systems only work single lane, the trays had to be converged after sealing. For reasons of space, this was implemented directly on the traysealer. The trays now run out of the machine in a single lane, to be labeled, collected and picked. The limited space at Baumann’s facility also proved to be a challenge in terms of efficiency. In the end, the line was tailored to the available space and designed in a U-shape without reducing its output. Although the SEALPAC A6 is regarded as a flexible traysealer for medium outputs, it is still capable of reliably sealing between 120 and 140 trays per minute.
The importance of hygiene
SEALPAC’s proven hygiene concept, initially designed for meat production, also works well for the packaging of fruit and vegetables. The traysealer is made entirely of stainless steel, whilst cleaning and maintenance take place ergonomically at working height. Tip up covers expose the entire machine, so that all components are easily accessible.
“Cleaning our equipment is an important topic,” Baumann said. “Being a processing company, we deal with completely different certifications than agricultural companies. Compared with other equipment, both the handling and cleaning of the SEALPAC traysealer are extremely operator friendly. Furthermore, the equipment has been approved by the renowned GS institute, which gives us additional security. Whenever I walk around with my checklist, I can tick off the A6 right away, making these formalities a lot easier.”
Benefits of sealed trays
The new trays have excellent stacking properties, not just for Baumann, but also for the retailers.
“We were able to further optimize logistics through an even more efficient use of our transport boxes, because these can now be filled with at least 12 packs instead of six,” Baumann said. “That will certainly be a topic for the autumn talks with our customers. Preserving resources is important to us as an agricultural production company, but is also a real buying incentive for many consumers that pay attention to sustainability. The fact that less plastic is used for the packaging is clearly visible, since we moved from a snap-on lid to a thin, but solid top film. The reliable seal ensures safe transport of the tray, where the top film can be easily removed from the tray by the consumer. Overall, we are very satisfied with our investment, which has brought many improvements for ourselves, our retailers and our consumers. We even opened up a new business area, quite unexpectedly, by operating as a contract packer for other producers that cannot yet keep up with the requirements of food retail.”
Sustainability in the future
“In the future, we want to differentiate ourselves even more in terms of sustainability,” Baumann said. “We plan to put our berries on the market in a sealed cardboard tray. We already know that the SEALPAC A6 traysealer is capable of processing these trays without compromising on reliability and is therefore well suited to implement this project. In addition, we will always keep looking for new ideas on improved freshness and shelf-life extension, for example by applying a protective gas mixture. The device that can do this is already available on our A6 traysealer.”
Source: Produce Processing.net