Packaging films claimed to retain the freshly-harvested appeal of fruit and vegetables significantly longer than previously possible are targetting large-scale growers and exporters. These help to reduce freight costs, prevent product losses and better satisfy customers and end-consumers. As Joanne Hunter reports, Uflex has now entered this segment globally – from Australia to Brazil.
Already available to India’s fresh produce industry and marketed globally Uflex’s patented Freshflex technology is now being incorporated into liners and bags on every continent. The unique selling point of the new packaging film is seen as the ability to prolong the freshness of all types of produce, including those that are highly sensitive to transport conditions such as tropical fruit, prepared cut vegetables and flower stems.
Dutch PerfoTec technology
Uflex gives credit to its Dutch partner PerfoTec, whose technology has helped solve what it calls ‘the universal problem’ of condensation in packaged fresh produce. Uflex is using the technology under license in the Indian subcontinent. Siva Shankaran, head of business development at Uflex, speaking exclusively to Packaging South Asia, said Flexfresh gives the market a unique material that maintains consistent oxygen and carbon dioxide levels inside a liner bag, to stop fresh produce from deteriorating. “Till now, there was no film which can allow the product to breathe in hydrated oxygen and not have condensation-causing bacterial and fungal infections on the product,” he added.
Brazilian papayas and Indian pomegranates for Europe
This process in effect is ‘putting the product to sleep,’ explained Shankaran and as a result a consignment of produce will keep its freshly-harvested appeal during transit and distribution and while on supermarket display. He reported in April that Uflex was “in the very advanced stages of trials with potato growers” – in the final phase of product clearance in the UK and already approved by one of the largest potato growers in the Australian market. Meanwhile, a Brazilian grower was ready to use Flexfresh to export papayas to Europe, said Shankaran.
He also said that Flexfresh for table grapes does away with the need for sulphur dioxide treatment that in some people can cause an allergic reaction. Using Flexfresh horticulture companies and exporters can cut flower stems which can do without water for up to 30 days and have a further 10 to 12 days of life in a vase.
Uflex trials of what it calls Equilibrium Modified Atmospheric Packaging (EMAP) have allowed an Indian pomegranate grower to export over 100 containers to supermarkets in Europe reportedly, ‘with excellent quality upon arrival.’ A Dutch bell pepper exporter had similar success shipping produce to the USA by sea container, avoiding more costly air freight.
Uflex uses PerfoTec technology for measuring respiration rates and making micro perforations, which has led to a cooperative business relationship with the Dutch firm run by director Bas Groeneweg. In return Uflex supplies Flexfresh liners and films to Perfotec to market across selected geographies outside India. “Flexfresh is a proprietary Uflex formulation and Perfotec is representing this product in the Americas, Europe and Africa,” confirmed Shankaran.
Uflex chairman and managing director Ashok Chaturvedi says Flexfresh emerged as a promising solution for exporters when tests with mangoes highlighted that traditional polymers being used for extending shelf-life did not always deliver the best results. The technical team concluded that most polymers on the market were good barriers either to oxygen or to water but “it is critical to have a unique polymer which could offer the precise requirements of both oxygen and water barriers,” says Chaturvedi.
According to a Uflex market study, industry worldwide is grappling with the problem of water condensation inside the bag and seeking a solution for products with a high respiration rate, for which standard MAP systems do not work due to a high CO2 level inside the bag that can change the organoleptic properties and spoil the taste and look of a product. “Oxygen needs to be maintained to keep the product in aerobic conditions. During transpiration, humidity gets released and condenses inside the bag causing fungal and bacterial infections,” says Chaturvedi, citing botrytis and grey mould as examples.
Flexfresh aims to maintain the humidity inside the bag at around 98% while keeping the product ‘touch-dry’ without allowing condensation of the humidity. “This results in very low weight loss of the produce as it continues to breathe in hydrated oxygen available inside the bag. In several experiments on various products, it was observed that the ratio of oxygen and carbon dioxide has always been maintained at equilibrium.”
Environmental sustainability and global compliances
In addition the film is biodegradable by composting and complies with all international regulations for overall migration (EC 1935/2004), reach compliance (EC 1907/2006) and qualifies for biodegradation under DIN EN 13432 (2000-12). The Noida packaging plant of Uflex has commissioned two PerfoTec respiration metres to add new Flexfresh packaging formats, and work has begun on retail packaging for cut and whole produce and horticulture. Liner bags in 5 and 10 kilogram standard international sizes, flow wrap, form-fill-seal film and lidding film are already on the market.
Packaging South Asia is the cooperating media partner for drupa 2016 which is scheduled to be held from 31 May to 10 June at Dusseldorf, Germany.