Hiring and retaining staff, the rising cost and availability of raw materials, soaring fuel and energy prices and the plastic packaging tax, aimed at tackling single use plastic waste, are major challenges facing the fresh produce sector. MPE UK Ltd’s Technical Director John Hodgkiss explains how the latest packaging equipment can help with sustainable solutions.
The current market for packaging equipment in the fresh produce industry is dynamic. Growers now have more choice of flexible, sustainable systems that reduce their energy costs, improve speed to market as well as emphasising environmental credentials.
Modern packaging technology can improve efficiency and productivity without compromising delicate soft fruit. Suppliers like MPE are delivering packaging machinery with growers in mind. Built like a tractor to withstand the tough agricultural environment of a pack house, tray sealers are reliable machinery and very robust.
Looking to upgrade your pack house? Then consider renting a tray sealer from a local supplier. This can be more profitable in the long run. With global supply chain pressures and staff shortages, a fully automated line that requires minimum downtime and reduced human intervention is the answer.
Fruit is very labour intensive because humans are better at picking and handling fruit due to the nature of the product. Packaging machinery suppliers need to develop working relationships with growers and manufacture versatile tray sealing machines that are designed to fit around the customer’s requirements, without being too complex.
In addition to speed to market and low maintenance backed up by 24-hour support, growers should also consider the increasing demand for more sustainable materials. Tray sealers can handle any pack formats to accommodate customers moving away from plastic wrapping in favour of eco-friendly and recyclable materials like cardboard and paper.
Behind the packaging material is the rise of all-electric tray sealers in the UK. This means a phasing out of pneumatics and air pressure dependency, bringing energy savings for the food industry and quicker payback on investment. It could also open funding streams through sustainability grants – especially useful for start-up businesses catering for the vegan or vegetarian lifestyle.
Pneumatics have been an integral part of packaging machines for decades but all-electric tray sealers are the future. They are faster and more efficient as well as reducing costs, complexity and parts reliance. Speedy changeovers, easy to operate and low maintenance are other factors to take into consideration when choosing a packaging system. There is flexible, high throughput technology which is capable of running large format trays, including cardboard and skin packs, while taking up minimal floor space.
Soft fruit is a highly competitive sector. Tray sealing is the most common – as well as the fastest – method of packaging items such as strawberries and blueberries, though heat-sealed punnets are an increasingly popular pack format for the growing UK apricot market as well.
As most growing facilities are run by farmers the latest high-quality tray sealer is straightforward to operate and designed so that someone with basic mechanical skills can maintain it. Its wrapping qualities also provide excellent protection for fruit during transit and storage – after all no one likes bruised apples and pears!
There is growing pressure on food packaging companies from governments and consumers to minimise plastic content in products. To concentrate minds on developing food-grade recycled plastics April 2022 saw the introduction in the UK of a plastics packaging tax. The tax applies to plastic packaging that is less than 30% recycled. We are seeing a growing shift back to cardboard to reduce the use of plastic as a result.
Cardboard trays are nothing new. They were being used decades ago in the fresh produce sector before plastic became popular with consumers – we are now going full circle. Evolving packaging trends can easily be accommodated by the latest all-electric tray sealers which can be standalone or incorporated in a line with conveyors and robotic packing systems.
Growers can also benefit from the latest tray-sealing machinery which has the deepest capacity at 200mm. The small footprint design of such high-speed models is ideal for smaller producers, saving valuable floor space, while the best models also offer efficient and rapid changeover between tray sizes.
Lead times for new, simple and ingenious tray sealing technologies can now be measured in months rather than years as the move towards more sustainable packs gathers pace. Resources need to be deployed as efficiently as possible. All-electric packaging equipment provides the fresh produce sector exactly what it needs to stay ahead of the packaging innovation curve.
It is crucial to keep pace with the latest packaging systems, which could hold the key to boosting profit margins for companies involved in this fiercely competitive sector. The flexibility of the latest robust tray sealers on the market makes them suitable for almost all packaging materials – just what the fresh produce industry needs.