Del Monte is now converting its convenience produce, which had previously been packed in PET plastic tubs, to NatureWorks PLA packaging. Del Monte will offer fresh-cut produce in NatureWorks PLA to North American food retailers from coast to coast.
Developed and supplied by Cargill Dow, the material is a plastic packaging alternative produced entirely from annually renewable resources, such as maize, which competes on a performance basis with ordinary plastic material.
The move illustrates how food companies are attempting to present fresh produce as a processed offering, moving it away from the commodity end of the market. This strategy has given packaging a much more critical role.
"Del Monte prides itself on being in touch with the way families eat today, and consumers are becoming increasingly savvy about the food they eat, as well as how it is packaged," said John Loughridge, Del Monte Fresh vice president of marketing in North America.
"Innovative packaging like NatureWorks PLA is important for taking our fresh cut products to the next level of consumer value."
Lisa Owen, global business leader for rigid packaging at Cargill Dow, argues that consumers want to clearly see the colour and texture of fruit, in order to gauge its quality and freshness.
"What's exciting about NatureWorks PLA is that it provides the functionality of typically-used PET packaging at comparable economics - but has the advantage of coming from a natural source," she said.
"This brings products a sense of wholesomeness and quality that feeds into consumers' desire to do something 'good' for their families. It provides a real boost to fresh food brands."
Del Monte will use NatureWorks PLA packaging across its extensive fresh-cut produce product line that includes Del Monte Gold extra sweet pineapple, melons, fruit and vegetable medleys.
The material is produced using the renewable resource-based resin by 'harvesting' carbon from plants, such as maize, after it has been removed from the air during photosynthesis. This is achieved by tapping into the carbon stored in plant starches, which are 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. NatureWorks PLA is 100 per cent matter derived from maize.
Cargill Dow explained that the heat, energy and transport used in the production process involve fossil fuels. Consequently, the entire process uses between 20 and 50 per cent less fossil fuels than traditional thermoplastics.
Clear Lam Thermoforming is the packaging manufacturer supplying Del Monte with NatureWorks PLA containers. Clear Lam recently introduced a range of stock and custom packaging solutions in NatureWorks PLA for grocery retailers and fresh food processors.