US turns to Europe for packaging innovation

Related tags Natureworks pla Retailing Packaging Natureworks

North America's leading oriented polystyrene plastic packaging
producer Wilkinson Manufacturing has followed European example by
starting up the first US production line to produce thermoformed
containers made from NatureWorks' PLA.

North America's leading oriented polystyrene (OPS) plastic packaging producer Wilkinson Manufacturing has followed European example by starting up the first US production line to produce thermoformed containers made from NatureWorks' PLA.

European converters first introduced packaging made from NatureWorks PLA to retailers in early 2002. Since then, positive consumer response has led to additional European partnerships, broadening the recognition and demand of packaging made with NatureWorks.

Now, the trademark NaturesPLAstic will be used by Wilkinson​ in addition to that of NatureWorks PLA to market its line of packaging for the delicatessen and baked goods sections of North American grocery stores. Developed by Cargill Dow, NatureWorks PLA is a more sustainable alternative to traditional plastic due to its derived source - maize or corn.

"This venture brings Wilkinson full circle in the development of innovative food packaging",​ said Joe Selzer, vice president of marketing and sales. "Wilkinson was there when the concept of prepared food packaging was conceived in the early 1950s and actually produced the first aluminium TV dinner trays for Swanson Frozen Foods. Now the food industry is more complex but requires the same innovative thinking in dealing with complex issues to find practical packaging solutions. That's why using naturally derived resources makes so much sense - processors, retailers and consumers all benefit because the packaging material has more environmental benefits."

Initially, Wilkinson Manufacturing Company will duplicate its trademarked DisplayPie, Just Fresh and PartiPak products using 100 per cent NatureWorks PLA to target certain retail applications. All three product lines come in various sizes consisting of clear plastic bases and matching lids. The containers are designed for deli and bakery departments where consumer loyalty is key. Later this year, Wilkinson hopes to roll out food containers made entirely from NatureWorks to the North American "Away From Home" Foodservice Restaurant marketplace.

NatureWorks is said to offer performance attributes like high clarity and gloss, superior flavour and aroma barrier combined with strength. This combination of performance attributes makes food packaged with NatureWorks a more visually appealing product for consumers, the company claims.

"This marks the first opportunity for North American retailers to take advantage of a new marketing trend that many European retailers are capitalising on,"​ said Lisa Owen, commercial leader for rigid packaging at Cargill Dow. "European retailers are using NatureWorks to re-emphasise their efforts to bring fresh, prepared food to their customers. Retailers are telling their consumers that they are going the extra mile by putting fresh ingredients in natural-based packaging."

In Italy, top supermarket chain IPER switched to thermoform containers and heat-sealable film overlays for pasta using NatureWorks PLA last year. The retail chain worked in conjunction with Autobar Group's Veriplast Division, based in Middlesex in the UK, to develop the packaging. IPER has emphasised natural-based packaging for natural food and consumers have responded with increased sales and loyalty to the store's delicatessens.

Additionally, Italian converter Amprica is making thermoformed bakery containers using NatureWorks and Italy-based Ilip is producing fruit and vegetable packaging from NatureWorks. More converters and retailers around Europe are said to be poised to adopt the process.

NatureWorks PLA technology produces the renewable resource-based resin by "harvesting" carbon from plants, such as maize, which has been removed from the air during photosynthesis. This is achieved by tapping into the carbon stored in plant starches, which are then broken down into natural plant sugars. The carbon and other elements in these natural sugars are then used to make plastic, called polylactide (PLA) through a simple process of fermentation and separation. The end result is a process that can use 20 per cent to 50 per cent less fossil fuels than petroleum-based plastics.

Wilkinson Manufacturing Company located near Omaha, Nebraska, is a leading manufacturer producer of both aluminium foil and OPS plastic packaging.

Founded in 1997, Cargill Dow LLC​ is based in Minnetonka, Minnesota, US. It is the first company to offer its customers a family of polymers derived entirely from annually renewable resources with the cost and performance necessary to compete with packaging materials and traditional fibres.

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