Food Packaging: Recycled paperboard’s surprising strength
Quaker Oats oatmeal has been packaged in recycled paperboard for more than 120 years, and most cereal and snack-food manufacturers today use similar material for their folding cartons. But until recently, paper mills couldn't produce recycled board with sufficient stability and moisture resistance to extend applications into refrigerated and frozen foods.
That's beginning to change. Recycled board with improved wet strength, better temperature control and moisture resistance is coming onto the market. Improved performance and a bit of serendipity helped one type of recycled board score a success with Mayfield Dairy Farms in Athens, Tenn.
A division of Dean Foods, Mayfield has expanded ice-cream distribution in recent years throughout Alabama and into Florida. Wider distribution has meant more handling abuse in distribution centers, particularly for frozen novelties. Damage rates forced the dairy to consider alternatives to solid bleached sulfate (SBS) board. In-flute or small-flute packaging was the likely alternative, and the dairy contacted Rock-Tenn Co. to conduct block compression and crush tests comparing that type of packaging's performance with SBS.
Almost as an afterthought, an R&D engineer at Rock-Tenn's Norcross, Ga., lab suggested throwing Millennium Board into the testing mix. The material had been found lacking in earlier product tests, but equipment upgrades at Rock-Tenn's Stroudsburg (Pa.) mill resulted in better carton integrity, so Millennium Board was added to the test.
"To everyone's surprise, it outperformed the other material types, and it costs less than SBS," reports Alan Templeton, Roc-Tenn national accounts manager in Kimball, Tenn.
The recycled board offers comparable print reproduction to virgin SBS, Mayfield marketing manager Alan Owen says, and the stiffer material provides better insulating performance as well as support. "It runs slightly slower, but it's not slowing down our packaging line much," he says. "The fact that it is a recycled corrugated material has an upside in consumer perceptions."
In consumer research sponsored by the 100% Recycled Paperboard Alliance, Leflein Associates found that four out of five consumers feel they are "doing something good for the environment" when they buy products in recycled packaging, and 61 percent claim they are more inclined to buy those products.
Superior performance and cost savings mean a lot to refrigerated foods manufacturers, and that is raising interest in products like Millennium Board.
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