VDL Packaging is part of the Dutch VDL Group. It's been manufacturing vertical form, filling, and sealing machines for 50 years. In recent years, the fruit and vegetable sector has also become an increasingly important market segment for them. It could be a bag of carrots for McDonalds. Or a bag of mixed lettuce, fries, or mushrooms. Whatever it is, the company has a solution for many fresh products.
"We've always been active in primarily four market segments. These are snacks, pet food, and the frozen industry. As well as powdered products like coffee sticks and baby food. The frozen industry share has been increasing lately. Star packaging is taking off, particularly in the frozen segment," says sales and marketing director Martin Barthel. "As much as 90% of our sales are aimed at overseas countries."
"We have an office in the United States. But we have customers in Eastern Europe, Asia, and South Africa too. Local dealerships and our sales teams serve them. We're better known in some of those countries than in our own. We, however, don't neglect the Dutch market. That's why we have a new market approach - we want to improve on our brand awareness."
Doubled shelf life
VDL Packaging distinguishes itself by dealing with particularly difficult client requests. "Think of packaging with special shapes or difficult-to-process films. These sometimes also have to pass through machines at a specific speed. The right shapes, combined with a high processing capacity, is the crux," says Martin.
Recently, VDL has been working a lot with Perfotec's laser and gassing system. "We achieve high speeds with this and the products' shelf life improves. You can easily double a three-to-four-day shelf life. For vegetable processors, this could reduce production costs tremendously. They have to deliver on fewer days a week. Also, products with twice the shelf life reduce food waste."
Washdown VFFS machine
The company recently brought a newly developed machine onto the market - the washdown VFFS machine. "Machines must be cleaned, either with water or detergent. We further developed an existing machine, making it more suitable for cleaning. The new design makes it easy to clean machines. We opted to work with a closed system. Some people prefer working with an open machine. Then you can see everything that gets dirty," says Martin.
"But we always say, something that's sealed well doesn't get dirty. As few parts as possible become contaminated. These machines process relatively inexpensive products, especially in the fruit and vegetable sector. Stripping and cleaning then cost producers quite a bit. Say you only have to clean a fifth of the machine. You then save a lot of cleaning and change over time."
Plastic is the best form of packaging
Sustainability is a top priority for the company too. "There's a lot of talk about plastic reduction. But packers generally consider plastic to be the best form of packaging. You can very efficiently package products using a thin layer of film. That improves their shelf life. An increasingly important detail here is recyclability. The film you chose from a group of plastic should be 100% recyclable," explains Barthel.
"So, combined packaging, for example, trays wrapped in bags, is increasingly being phased out. Many companies want paper packaging for so-called high-value products. But fruit and vegetables release a lot of moisture. So, paper isn't ideal since it doesn't deal well with moisture. Using a paper/polyethylene combination is far less sustainable. Starch-based packaging works reasonably well, but only in the short term. It's less suitable if you're aiming for the longest possible shelf life."
According to the company, there are plenty of developments in vertical form, filling, and sealing machines for the fruit and vegetable sector. For instance, VDL developed a lettuce pack with a resealable zipper. And, recently, it designed a technique for a customer in Asia. The bag vacuums to become more compact.
"We always supply our machines along with well-known weighing and dosing systems, such as multi-head weighers. And we usually install the whole line ourselves. If so required, we do so in combination with other components. These include printers, labeling machines, optical sorting, and metal detection," says Martin.
Sourcing raw material is a global issue. This, however, isn't yet affecting VDL Packaging's production. "But I expect it will start to affect us in time. There are some supply delays already, especially in electrical components and controls. We do a lot of international work. So, we have to book slots longer in advance. That's to get the containers with our machines elsewhere."
When asked about the biggest threat to the company, Martin replied, "The current pandemic has reinforced the focus on being able to work remotely. That, while maintaining a local presence with good partners. I'm not worried about the future of vertical form and sealing machines. We have very good competitors, but we sell more machines every year. We operate a lot in the top-end segment. Local production in our selling countries has, therefore, not been an issue at any point," he concludes.