From leader to laggard

September 1, 2011
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If there were a Miss Congeniality award for packaging, a food or beverage company would have been the odds-on favorite of judges for the 23rd DuPont Awards for Packaging Innovation.

H.J Heinz and Stonyfield Farm led a thin field of food & beverage honorees in this year’s Dupont packaging awards. Heinz created the Dip & Squeeze ketchup package for foodservice customers. Yogurt cups made of 93% PLA (below) had to overcome machinability issues. Source: Dupont Packaging & Industrial Polymers.

The industry traditionally has dominated the DuPont awards, fitting given that three-fifths of packaging machinery is used in food and beverage applications. Innovation always has been a key criterion in the DuPont awards, but in recent years, sustainability and cost cutting have separated gold and platinum from silver award winners. Among this year’s crop of 16 honorees, only five were for food or beverage companies, and none rated more than a silver award.

A dual-opening, single-serve ketchup pack from H.J. Heinz exemplified the close-but-no-cigar outcome for food packaging. A few milligrams shy of an ounce, the contents can be accessed via a laser-scored tip for squeezing or a peel-back top for dipping. Tripling the amount of ketchup in conventional squeeze packs means more product waste, however, and the DuPont judges take a dim view of waste. As one sustainability expert noted at the awards presentation, packaging material accounts for only 7 percent of a product’s resource inputs. Most of the rest is attributable to the product itself, and wasted product more than offsets any packaging material savings.

Designed to emulate the look of a ketchup bottle, the packet’s flexible film overlaps a thermoformed tray to create the appearance of a bottle neck. Heinz shares the award with Multivac Inc., which engineered and integrated a 1,500-units-a-minute rollstock machine with a Hinds-Bock filler and Videojet laser coding machine, along with its own vision-inspection system that rejects packets with seal-surface contamination. The project represents “years of hard work and collaboration between the engineering teams,” according to Jan Erik Kuhlmann, president and CEO of Kansas City-based Multivac.

In accepting the award, Heinz’s Michael Okoroafor, head of packaging R&D, suggested the greatest challenge was winning foodservice acceptance of the oversized packet. The challenge apparently was met: The first 67-ft. long packaging line was installed late last year at Heinz’s Fremont, OH plant. A third is expected to come online this fall.

Stonyfield Farm was another silver winner, for yogurt cups formed from polylactic acid (PLA) resins derived from corn starch. The biobased polymer blends 93 percent PLA with petroleum resins and elements such as Ti02 whitening pigment. Stonyfield switched from polystyrene after Clear Lam Packaging Inc., Elk Grove Village, IL, overcame PLA’s pliability limitations in developing a material that would machine at Stonyfield’s form/fill/seal machine’s 30 cycles per minute rate.

Roman Forowycz, Clear Lam’s chief marketing officer, thinks the DuPont judges hope to spur innovation and favor packaging “early on in the development cycle.” PLA’s 10 years of commercial use worked against the yogurt cup, though significant improvements such as higher heat tolerance, greater flexibility and improved barrier properties have improved functionality. “A few years ago, companies were looking for absolute solutions, and there are no absolute solutions,” says Forowycz. Incremental improvements are being made, however.

While the Stonyfield cup qualifies for USDA’s Biobased Product certification, the lidding material does not. Clear Lam’s engineers continue work on biobased lidding that is economically feasible, he says.

For more information:
Roman Forowycz, Clear Lam Packaging Inc., 847-378-1301,
Jan Erik Kuhlmann, Multivac Inc., 816-891-0555

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