Positive flexible packaging18 August 2020
The flexible packaging sector already has the consumer on its side, so in order to ride that wave of positivity, it is coming up with ever-more innovative ways to utilise its capabilities. Emma-Jane Batey speaks to Alec and Jan Van Den Heuvel of VDH Packaging Creations, whose long-term sustainable solution is gaining new fans, thanks to its perforation and personalisation potential.
Flexible packaging offers a vast range of food and non-food solutions, with its light weight, easy transportability and practical filling capabilities making it an obvious choice for brands.
Consumers love it too, as it doesn't have the same negativity associated with other plastic packaging and is often used by trend-lead brands that make convenience cool. It's also a sterile option, giving parents valuable peace of mind for baby food products. With the common thread of sustainability justifiably running through all packaging substrates, manufacturers of flexible packaging are keen to highlight their added value by showing how additional elements can be integrated into their offer. In a sector awash with interesting add-ons, the competitive element means that ever-more smart ideas are commercially available.
For Belgium-based family-owned VDH Packaging Creations, its latest recyclable flexible packaging is building on its existing success as a sustainable flexible packaging producer. Founder Jan Lode Van Den Heuvel says, “Sustainability has never been as big an issue as it is now. We have been supplying packaging with recycled plastic for years, but this has never been communicated with the consumer. It is very important to respond to this, so we have developed a new range of recyclable packaging specifically for the fresh produce sector.”
Keeping it fresh
VDH Packaging Creations' marketing manager Alec Van Den Heuvel continues, “Effective packaging is crucial for companies in the fresh fruit and vegetable sector, with shelf life and the appearance of their products integral to customer loyalty. The consumer is increasingly choosing sustainable packaging solutions or is even trying to go packaging-free. We used this as the jumping board for our SQ-Doy Paper for fruit and vegetables; our I'm Green film is made from 85% sugar cane, making it totally recyclable and sustainable. While this type of film has been available for a while, it was not yet suitable for fresh food applications.”
Alec Van Den Heuvel explains how the business has been able to capitalise on its agility to maintain production during the coronavirus pandemic, with the changing consumer priorities well suited to its product portfolio. He says, “While obviously the crisis is not without its difficulties, we can say that it has not been bad for business. Before COVID, packaging was always seen as bad, a necessary evil, but now people are realising that we do need packaging in order to protect our food and maintain a safe essential supply chain. For us, that means that we can deliver on both counts, because our SQ-Doy Paper is sustainable yet also keeps a reliable protection of fruit and vegetables; you don't have to choose one priority over the other. Sustainability isn't just a 'nice to have' when you choose VDH packaging.”
Alec Van Den Heuvel also asserts that consumers like paper, so by creating a flexible packaging solution that essentially harnesses the appeal of paper with the protection properties of plastic means that 'there are many more possibilities' for application. He continues, “One of our biggest firsts was the development of paper packaging with a perforated and personalised window in the packaging. With our perforations you can create the same window effect as a net, making it ideal for fruit and vegetables that are commonly associated with this packaging, yet our solution can be disposed of in standard European paper waste.”
The perforations also offer a performance benefit, with the careful science behind the size of the perforations for different produce supporting shelf life. Jan Lode Van Den Heuvel says, “The perforations offer sufficient ventilation and a unique look and feel. Because the production machine for making the perforations was developed by our own engineers, any desired pattern or logo can be manufactured for all different materials and sizes of packaging. We have been closely working with major packaging companies who supply to international supermarket chains in order to understand exactly what is needed at every stage of the supply chain; retailers ask us to maintain prices for film, supermarkets are increasingly demanding bio and compostable packaging for fresh fruit and vegetables.”
Alec Van Den Heuvel shares how the different produce have varying requirements in terms of perforation size. He says, “We're big in potato packaging! Potatoes don't like light, so perforations in potato packaging have to be small as larger holes will reduce the produce's shelf life. We put an orange lacquer over the small perforations in our potato packaging, over the film, so that the light is kept out. We undertook lots of testing to get it just right, using different paper combinations...it was a technical challenge. Our SQ-Doy Paper flexible packaging for potatoes is just one of the ways in which our experience has boosted the performance for the brand; the look and feel of the packaging is the perfect tool for the product as it reflects the healthy nature of fresh produce while supporting shelf life and maintaining a positive brand image. Brands can share the recyclability and bio-elements of the packaging too on the pack, beyond the legal necessity, if they want, as it's a great tie-in, particularly for more health and wellness conscious consumers.”
The production performance is also integral to the supply chain's acceptance of new substrate variants, with the experience of the packers taken into consideration by VDH Packaging. Jan Lode Van Den Heuvel explains how working with its flexible packaging solution means very little changes for the packers, as it performs on machines in the same way as standard LDP film, meaning no modifications are necessary to their current equipment or processing lines. He says, “Basically nothing changes for the pacers, since technically the I'm Green film works in the same way as LDP. The packers do not need any extra investment as it can run on their existing machines. This SQ-Doy Paper, including the I'm Green film, is priced similarly to paper packaging with a PE layer for sealing as it's a mono material. Furthermore, our packaging runs relatively fast on the packaging machines and can be supplied on a roll or as premade, preformed doypacks. Packers can go in any direction with these packs, the possibilities are endless!”
As a small, family-owned Belgian company that operates worldwide through working with many well-known supermarket brands and the fresh produce producers that supply them, VDH has a factory in Poland where the majority of its packaging is produced. Jan Lode Van Den Heuvel says, “We are a small company with a big reach. As it is a nimble, family company, we can make quick decisions and be totally flexible. We have decades of experience in working directly with producers, with the whole supermarket fresh produce supply chain, and we see what is happening, what both consumers and supermarkets want. Everyone wants their produce to be fresh, of course, but the demand for longer shelf life without compromising on sustainability or increasing costs is what supports that. Our ecologically-focused flexible packaging solutions have been created with the consumer in mind, yet they tick all the boxes for the brand owners too.” As flexible packaging is a logical solution for products across the food sector, by adding further value in design and sustainability, innovative manufacturers like VDH are able to stay at the forefront of a highly competitive market. While the trend for increased convenience shows no sign of slowing down, the formats in which people are buying fresh food will likely evolve as people's working life shifts away from commuting in the short term; people are more acutely aware of how what they eat impacts on their general health and immunity, so eye-catching and responsible ways to package fruit and vegetables both for immediate on-the-go consumption and for cooking at home will certainly continue to see positive opportunities.
Alec Van Den Heuvel concludes, “My father started this company over 25 years ago and I have grown up with it, it's in my blood. I'm delighted to work alongside him and the VDH team as we see a new chapter of our business opening up; we have been in the fresh produce packaging background for many years and it seems as though there is a new opportunity for us to add value, to contribute positively to the sustainability story for healthy food through clever packaging. By harnessing our experience and our love of creating a business that delivers solutions, we are able to maintain existing connections and create new mutually-beneficial connections with brands that want to boost sales without costing the earth.”