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New trends and end use-markets for controlled/modified atmosphere packaging.

New Trends and End-use Markets for Controlled/Modified Atmosphere Packaging

Controlled or Modified Atmosphere Packaging (CAP/MAP) has come a long way since the late 1970s when the system first appeared on supermarket shelves.

Growth has been phenomenal-300 percent since 1982-and the market has not yet reached its full potential. Future growth patterns will be influenced by several factors, including improved chilled food production and distribution systems, and changing customer demands.

CAP/MAP systems were first used for red meats, primarily beef and lamb. Further development soon produced the technology to package poultry portions, offal, sliced cooked meats and bacon, fish and pasta.

Tastes, however, are changing. Sales of red meats are static: BSE, bad publicity following the Chernobyl disaster and the trend towards white meats have all contributed to a drop in consumption. On the other hand, more people are turning to poultry and fish, the 'healthy' options. Forecasts predict an average annual increase of 13 percent in fish sales until at least 1995.

Convenience is another influencing factor. Increasingly, busy housewives seem prepared to pay a little more for fresh, prepared vegetables in pillow pack systems.

France, Spain, Germany and Scandinavia are ahead of the UK in this market, despite the fact that their systems do not have a satisfactory antimist treated material. The UK market is expected to grow, particularly as suppliers, such as LMG Smith Brothers, have excellent antimist specifications which not only improve the appearance of the product but also avoid reduction in shelf life through condensation problems.

As with conventional CAP/MAP systems, success depends on using a premium quality product, the right gas mix, correct temperatures and material selection. Vegetables are low cost items so, unless you add a lot of value to your product, economy of packaging is essential.

Single ply materials are often chosen because of this, and used in combination with vertical form fill and seal machinery for speed, simplicity and economy. The exchange of gas is not so accurate as with other methods, which places certain limits on the system.

By their very nature, vegetables present a number of problems to the packaging supplier. They are still 'living' when harvested, so continue to respire and emit carbon dioxide. Any material used has to be capable of accepting an antimist treatment, and have as high a CO2 permeability as possible to avoid packs blowing up like balloons if temperature control is abused.

Further growth in this market will rely not only on availability of films - LMG Smith Brothers' Freshcap 8 is being used successfully in this market - but on better production and distribution systems.

To achieve good results, vegetables must be prepared and packed in a clean, temperature controlled environment. Temperature controls must be respected throughout the transportation system.

Improvements in these areas are already contributing to the growth in fresh fish sales in CAP/MAP. As with vegetables, success depends on the observance of stringent packaging and distribution controls as well as on the suitability of the packaging material for the product in question.

Another predicted growth area is processed meats and bacon. There has been a growing movement away from vacuum packaging towards the twin web thermoform CAP/MAP format, which gives the additional advantage of allowing easy slice separation. Easy peel systems can add to pack convenience.

Bakery products also appear to have a future in CAP/MAP. The market is strongest in Europe and is growing: speciality morning goods and croissants are the likeliest applications.

CAP/MAP systems have already made significant inroads into the fresh pasta market, where an extended shelf life of 28 days can be expected. CAP/MAP has given producers the opportunity to market fresh rather than dried pasta, and convey a premium quality image.

Materials development during the next few years is likely to be affected by the increasing importance of 'Green' issues both at home and abroad.

Several countries have placed restrictions on the use of PVC-based structures in packaging, basing their argument on the fact that PVC gives off hydrogen chloride gas-a contributor to the acid rain problem - during incineration. Despite manufacturers' assurance that this is only a minor factor in the acid rain equation, and that its effects will decrease even further with increased use of scrubbing equipment in incinerators, some countries are calling for alternatives.

New specifications are being produced to match PVC performance via non-PVC routes. LMG Smith Brothers has developed a topweb of 12 micron polyester laminated to a multi-layer high barrier co-extrusion with antimist properties. The company's alternative basewebs are of amorphous polyester (APET) with polyethylene available in a range of thicknesses to comply with different draw depths.

However, environmental issues are seldom straightforward and the market is likely to call for both PVC and non PVC-based structures for the foreseeable future.

Consumer calls for greater convenience packs are also prime factors in future developments. There is still some debate as to the desirability of peelable structures but it is an option often required.

The increase in ownership of microwave ovens - current figures show that about half of UK households have one - is a further spur to development. LMG Smith Brothers has a dedicated microwave pack, Freshcap MW, which combines the CAP/MAP system with cook-in-pack convenience.

Freshcap MW has an additional inner web which supports and isolates the product. During cooking, the vacuum between the base and inner webs prevents pack distortion and acts as insulation - the pack remains cool to the touch, even when the product inside is hot.

Yet despite the number of technological developments, one of the most obvious changes in CAP/MAP packs on the supermarket shelf is appearance. There is a growing number of packs with coloured basewebs and/or printed topwebs.

Already common on the Continent, this type of pack is becoming more popular in the UK, particularly for branded products including pastas. The improved aesthetics help improve product differentiation and printed topwebs can be cheaper than printed labels.

PHOTO : Typical microwave Freshcap MW pack

PHOTO : Fresh fish sales gain growth from MAP/CAP technology
COPYRIGHT 1991 Food Trade Press Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Williams, Shirley (British politician)
Publication:Food Trade Review
Date:Mar 1, 1991
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