The name change follows Cargill's decision to acquire The Dow Chemical Company's interest in Cargill Dow LLC, a 50:50 joint venture formed in 1997 to commercialise polylactic acid biopolymers. The newly named company will function as a stand-alone entity owned by Cargill.
Cargill is the original inventor of polylactic acid (PLA), a polymer derived from natural plant sugars and marketed as NatureWorks PLA. NatureWorks PLA is used in a broad range of packaging applications by companies seeking the benefits of plastics made from an annually renewable resource.
"NatureWorks PLA is the signature product for this revolutionary technology," said Guillaume Bastiaens, Cargill vice-chairman. "It makes sense to adopt NatureWorks as the company's corporate identity now as the company takes the next major step in its evolution."
NatureWorks LLC has gained considerable momentum in the past two years. Since January 2003, the company has increased production capacity by more than 15-fold, and reduced costs per pound to be competitive with petroleum-based polymers such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET). For the 12-month period ending December 31, 2004, sales rose 40 per cent over the year-earlier period.
Like PET, the corn-based plastic permits a multitude of varied and complex bottle shapes and sizes that draw the attention of the consumer. Monolayer bottles of NatureWorks PLA can be formed on the same injection-moulding/stretch blow-moulding equipment used for PET, with no sacrifice in production rate.
In addition, sensory panelling of several foodstuffs stored in NatureWorks PLA bottles show the corn-based material offers comparable organoleptic properties to glass and PET - confirming the suitability of NatureWorks PLA for food and beverage bottling.
But what sets NatureWorks PLA apart is the range of disposal options afforded by the plastic's natural source.
Indeed, many analysts believe that biodegradable packaging has a bright future. Growing environmental awareness and consumer power coupled with the inexorable rise in pre-packaged disposable meals means that food manufacturers and packagers are increasingly being targeted to improve their environmental performances.
Datamonitor statistics show that more than one-third of European consumers live alone and are spending €140 billion a year on food, drinks and personal care products. Single people spend 50 per cent more per person on consumer-packaged goods than a two adult household. Such trends underline why the environmental impact of food packaging has never been greater.
"NatureWorks has made significant progress in the development and commercial adoption of plastic made from annually renewable resources," said NatureWorks chief executive Kathleen Bader. "The company will continue to expand the applications of this new-to-the-world material in the marketplace.
"Customers are recognising the benefits of a polymer made from annually renewable resources that is competitive with fossil fuel-based materials on cost and performance."
NatureWorks PLA applications include rigid packaging and films, including containers for bakery, dairy, deli, meat, produce, disposable serviceware, cold drink cups and cutlery; water, milk and juice bottles.