Shipping Dutch bell peppers to the United States, Mexican asparagus to Europe, or broccoli from Australia to Taiwan was, until recently, considered impossible for those in the fresh produce sector. However, thanks to a new technological innovation, it's now the order of the day.
The Dutch company, PerfoTec, has developed a unique biodegradable film that is naturally permeable to water vapor. Combined with PerfoTec’s Laser perforation technology it has the properties to optimize the atmosphere. "Compared to the earlier standard fossil fuel-derived films, we've gone from extending shelf life by a few days to over 40%. That gives producers an enormous cost advantage and it results in a considerable CO2 saving in the entire chain," says director Bas Groeneweg.
Red Bell Pepper
Left: Conventional packaging, 5% weight loss, day 18
Right: PerfoTec LinerBag and Laser Perforation, 2% weight loss, day 28
According to Bas, PerfoTec is unique in that the company offers a total package in all aspects of Controlled Atmosphere (CA) and shelf-life extension. "There are many companies on the market that do something with either ethylene, gas flushing, film, or laser perforation. We're the only company in the world that combines and masters all these aspects. Combining the material's special properties and the laser perforation ensures that products are placed in a dormant state. They usually 'sweat', resulting in all kinds of problems with mold and bacteria. Our CA-liner bag prevents that from happening."
Shelf life extended by two weeks
"The development took an incredible amount of preparation and research. We built up a database with respiration rates per product for both processed and unprocessed fruit and vegetables. This means we can offer responsible, sustainable sea freighting of fruit and vegetables throughout the chain. After all, with an extra shelf life of sometimes up to four weeks, you can virtually reach the entire planet. We can also extend the products in the PerfoTec LinerBag's shelf life by two weeks after arrival compared to other systems. We haven't yet finished with this development, but we do have a product the entire chain can use to become more sustainable."
Left: Conventional packaging, airfreight, day 13
Right: PerfoTec LinerBag and Laser Perforation, sea freight, day 33
"In the past year, we've sold a large number of LinerBags to Dutch bell pepper growers. Thanks to our packaging, they can bridge a 25-day sea freight, which is ideal for export to North America. Of course, the price must be right for export to distant destinations. But we've nonetheless proved that the products arrive in the same state as those flown in. That gives the sector an enormous cost advantage. Products like leeks and Brussels sprouts are usually sent by air freight, now we have a cost-saving solution for these too," says Bas.
Bas explains that all kinds of fruits and vegetables can benefit from the innovation with only Vine tomatoes still requiring further work. ”We have a proven method for all other fruits and vegetables. Everyone wants to see whether the technology works for their product first, and rightly so. There are many shelf-life enhancement technologies that have come and gone over the years and so people first want to establish if they work. That's why we offer users a low-threshold validation process so that they can witness the effects for themselves."
"The pandemic means that we started marketing the product primarily on the Dutch market last year. However, importers and exporters in the United States, South America, and Australia are very interested too." Bas has sufficient stock to deliver quickly. "People can order as many PerfoTec LinerBags as they need with a four-to-eight-week delivery, we've partnered with Oerlemans Plastic for that. We supply the laser perforation machine and extensive knowledge about the product's respiration (gas permeability). We've outsourced the liner bags' large production volumes to Oerlemans Packaging. They produce the packaging film according to the correct functional properties such as thickness and material composition. That means we can supply large volumes incredibly efficiently."
"There are other sides to the story too. Fruit and vegetables sent via either sea or air freight often have quality issues upon arrival. Rejection rates of between 5% and 20% are quite common. That often leads to stress and expensive procurement because additional products have to be sourced quickly. These costs are often not reflected in a company's annual accounts, it's written off as a purchase price reduction. There are significant CO2 implications from creating this level of waste, especially when you consider that the carbon footprint starts in the field and travels right the way through with the shipped product. Multinationals are currently being questioned about their carbon footprint and I think these inquiries will eventually be posed to other companies as well, including those in the fresh produce sector."
Left: Clamshell packaging, day 8
Right: PerfoTec C+ Film top seal and Laser Perforation, day 8
PerfoTec developed a new option for top seal packaging which has gained significant popularity in the retail chain in recent years. "Many top sealed products often have an inadequate protective atmosphere by the end of their shelf life. We've developed a top seal that works the same as our liner bags in partnership with the Israeli company TIPA. This method ensures a longer shelf life and freshness, maintaining the product quality for significantly longer. The result is less quality loss, thus less food waste. Producers and retailers save money too," continues Groeneweg.
Cut Iceberg Lettuce
Left: Standard gas flush method, day 10
Right: PerfoTec O2Control, day 10
O2Control Gas Flush System
PerfoTec has also developed a gas flush system called O2Control, primarily for processors. This system has a patented gas that can be used on all types of packaging machines. "This is a godsend for processors of, for example, iceberg lettuce and romaine for fast-food chains. Each package gets exactly the right percentage of oxygen it needs, which prevents discoloration. The advantage is that the system also helps increase packaging speed. We now work with vertical packaging and tray sealer machine suppliers. They see the system as an extension of their equipment and an added quality guarantee for their customers."
Will retailers eventually demand such shelf-life-extending solutions from their suppliers? "There's already an instance of this in the United Kingdom. But when you impose something, it's often met with negativity. We prefer producers to realize they can't avoid it. Of course, sometimes there are extra costs involved. However, it's good to see that retailers and their suppliers see that less wastage and better customer satisfaction more than make up for these costs. The entire chain's CO2 emissions are reduced as well. So, we expect, at some point, the sector should start considering these new techniques as a matter of course," concludes Bas ambitiously.