French put accent on innovation at processing and packaging shows

Some 170,000 visitors from 124 countries converged on the outskirts of Paris in late November to view exhibits, swap business cards and -- being France -- break bread at IPA and Emballage 2000, Europe's answer to the Pack Expo/IAFIS double-whammy held earlier in November at Chicago's McCormick Place.

The Paris event marked the first time that IPA -- primarily a food processing exhibition -- and Emballage -- a multi-industry packaging show -- combined their events under a single roof, in this case that of the cavernous Paris-Nord Villepinte Exhibition Centre near Charles DeGaulle Airport.

Although exhibitors and visitors were from countries as far flung as China, Turkey and Brazil, exhibits and seminars at the two events suggested that most attendees were grappling with similar issues and challenges, regardless of geography.

For instance, current industry pressure to improve food product preservation was reflected in the increase of plastic films on display at Emballage this year, with 3M, Du Pont de Nemours, Mobil Plastics, Klockner Pentaplast, Sealed Air (Cryovac) and several others all present and accounted for at the five-day event.

In general, the beverage sector was well represented at Emballage -- and these days, where beverages go, plastics follow. Plenty of buzz surrounded the move toward multi-layer PET and other barrier techniques for beer. Estimates tossed around at Emballage suggested that the share of the beer market held by plastics should increase by 2 percent to 3 percent annually, and reach 5 percent by the end of 2002. It was noted that the first PET beer bottle, which was made of single-layer PET, was produced in Australia and had a shelf life of seven weeks.

Other food packaging trends gleaned at Emballage included:

  • microwave packaging with material that enables food to brown and crisp as it cooks. The current trend is to use aluminum deposited on a PET film, placed over a cardboard carrier.
  • biodegradable polymer for dairy products, multi-use food trays and film for wrapping perishables. Although widespread applications for biodegradable polymers are still rare, their environmental image is viewed as a key selling point in promoting packaged products.

Among other exhibits, 30 technical innovations were highlighted at the concurrent IPA event. Selected by French research laboratories and technical centers, the technologies were classified by themes ranging from texturization and process control/quality assurance to handling and slaughtering.

Specific technologies included non-thermal pasteurization by pulsed electric field, which treats pumpable products continuously and consists of two serial treatment chambers with a maximum capacity of 100 liters per hour. Also showcased was a pulsed light sterilization system that employs photothermal and photochemical methods to destroy micro-organisms on the surface of foods and on packaging. The method is especially effective against spore-forming bacteria, mold, viruses and protozoans.

Emballage likewise highlighted new and promising materials and methods with its "2000 Packaging Oscars," a 55-year-old program that annually honors scores of French packaging innovations. Entries were grouped by markets --including food -- and evaluated by committees of industry specialists and trade journalists on the basis of technical merit and marketability, among other criteria.

Among the winners:

  • Bottle caps for carbonated and non-carbonated beverages that bring together several performance features, including tamper resistance, light torque for easy application, unit control and no injection point.
  • G-polyolefin PET whose thinness is achieved with tubular extrusion technology. The material is used for packaging all kinds of candies, and provides high fold retention, twistability, and high yield per square meter.
  • Evian "on the run" -- a 75-centiliter bottle created in response to the developing "on the run" consumer trend. The bottle has a cap fitted with a ring, is ergonomic, easy to hold and easy to squeeze.
  • IPA attracted 1,200 exhibitors, 40 percent of whom were from outside France. Emballage hosted 2,500 exhibitors from 41 countries.

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