As well as being attractive, packaging should also protect the product or be completely recyclable. It should also function well during the entire cycle of use. Wageningen Food & Biobased Research knows the requirements in the chain and can offer advice on how optimal packaging improves the total chain performance.
Various stages in the chain have different, sometimes conflicting requirements for packaging. Packaging must bundle and protect products, fit into the logistic process and support the marketing of a product. We make careful considerations based on these differing requirements, using them to advise clients on which solution offers the best performance in the chain.
Firstly, packaging must allow efficient transport; for example, by packaging the product as compactly as possible without damaging it. Our research in this field can be illustrated by a client who asked for advice on making cut flower transportation more efficient. We recommended ‘dry transport’ in boxes in the right conditions, instead of in buckets with water which take up much more space. A single truck filled only with boxes can transport up to 60 per cent more cut flowers while preserving their quality.
Protecting products against the external influences before, during and after transportation is crucial for ensuring products reach consumers in a fresh and proper condition. We research and develop packaging with various protective options. Take broccoli, for example. People prefer to eat the cabbage variety when it is unripe and green. The proper packaging not only slows down the ripening process (the yellowing) but also prevents the cabbage from rotting.
For a broccoli chain with a range of less than 200 kilometres, for instance, packaging in shrink or stretch film will suffice as the trajectory from breeder to consumer is relatively short. The film does not need to provide much more protection than limiting dehydration during the sale stage. If the broccoli comes from further afield, however, the road to the consumer is so long that extra protection against loss of shelf life is needed. Initially this can be provided by a special ‘flake ice’ box. In addition, it is necessary to use a special flowpack bag with micro-perforations that provides extra protection against early decay. We have experience with a wide range of this type of product-market-packaging combinations.
Logistics is another important part of the production chain. Transportation options determine the costs and how long a product is on the road, and therefore affect the freshness of products. To make the right choice in packaging, we look at the selected transport option within the framework of the product requirements and the associated costs. With bananas, for example, the packaging must protect a sensitive product from damage and enable efficient loading of containers. An extra requirement is fast cooling. This resulted in choosing the option of boxes with holes that enable the flow of cooled air. But this is not all: the packaging must also protect the fruit from drying out and ensure that bananas do not ripen during transport yet continue to do so after arrival. If the period in the chain is long (over 30 days) this requires plastic bags with different barrier properties than when the chain is short. We look at multiple factors to determine chain solutions for the transport and packaging of products such as bananas.
Marketing & consumer
Ideally, packaging has a considerable protective function, an attractive look for consumers and comes at low production costs. We study how these requirements can best be combined to create a proper and attractive packaging option. An example here is the capsicum ‘traffic light’ in the supermarket - plastic packaging with a red, yellow and green capsicum. This type of packaging was partly based on marketing: it looks appealing and consumers purchase more capsicum as every ‘traffic light’ contains three. But that is not the entire story: plastic prevents dehydration, which makes the shelf life of the traffic light longer than the shelf life of a single capsicum. Meanwhile, the holes prevent condensation and, therefore, stem rot and fruit rot (mould), which would make the capsicum unsellable.
Quality, conditions and performance
Wageningen Food & Biobased Research believes that it is not the best quality products that outsell the competition but the best quality production chain. This is why we always approach the packaging performance from a chain-wide perspective. Clients with questions about new packaging materials to prevent product losses also, therefore, receive advice on the harvesting process, required quality, packaging dimensions and consumer communication. We do of course realise that not every company has influence on all the different links in the chain.