This article previously was published in Cross-Border Magazine
Have you ever ordered frozen food online? If so, you can imagine how unsatisfying it would be to receive your frozen veggies completely defrosted? Keeping food products chilled or frozen is a challenge that lots of online food retailers struggle with. There are solutions like plastic, or expensive EPS boxes, but these do not meet the sustainable standards of today and tomorrow. To think about more sustainable alternatives, we talk to Dan Roumen, Product Manager Thermal Packaging at Ranpak.
The growing food market Food is a booming business. All day, every day, people are consuming food. As the market is this large, it is surprising to see that selling food online has grown at a much slower rate than markets like clothing and consumer electronics. In the last couple of years, the market has been catching up, and is now growing quicker than ever. Statista found that the current size of the world’s food market is expected to be $82,714m in 2018*1, which is expected to grow 10.7% per year, resulting in a market volume of $137,596m by 2023. The largest segment of the food market is the restaurant-to-consumer delivery market, with a total volume of $65.302m dollar in 2018. On a global scale, the Chinese food market is the largest in terms of turnover ($32,908m in 2018).
As the above mentioned research shows, the market is flourishing. However, there are some challenges both B2B and B2C food markets still face. One of these challenges is that a lot of food is distributed chilled or frozen. Therefore, packaging solutions that offer proper thermal protection are very important. According to Roumen, requests were filed to see if a more sustainable solution could be created. “These requests focused mainly on the question of how to keep products cold, while keeping them packaged securely. Paper is a very sustainable product which can be recycled completely and its strength makes it a perfect product to use in packaging. We created a hypothesis that paper could be used as an insulating material.”
In the past, solutions such as EPS boxes have been developed to keep food cold, however the boxes are far from environmental friendly. “With the knowledge that the demand for a more sustainable solution was rising, we started with our partner Antalis UK to perform research on an environmentally friendly solution. Our ultimate goal: reduce costs and create a sustainable, new kind of thermal protection that is easy to use, flexible and fully recyclable, while realising a cost reduction,” says Roumen. To offer such a solution, it is important to have a good look at all variables that need to be taken into account. “One of the most important is – obviously – the temperature profiles of the packed products. Secondly, transport and storage might differ, so these must be considered as well,” explains Roumen.
A third important variable is the “Phase Change Materials” (PCMs) and insulating materials that are being used. “We designed the tests that we wanted to perform to see if we could validate our hypotheses,” Roumen tells. “We designed WrapPak paper, a thick 70 grams waved-layers paper variant and performed temperature tests in climate chambers. While the paper was originally designed for cushioning purposes, it proved its functionality for this solution as well. Our test investigated the differences in temperature when filling the boxes with the products and one, two or three layers of the WrapPak paper as insulating materials, compared to boxes filled with foil bubble, liners, EPS panels or boxes. The results proved that the paper filling kept the products at least an equivalent period as cool or cooler for a longer period, while at the same it was more flexible and cheaper to ship the products. Regarding EPS solutions, the paper solution is much more sustainable, as it is completely recyclable, renewable and biodegradable. More layers of paper can be used to increase the insulating rate; in warmer periods an additional layer of paper can be applied.” The concluding results of the research Ranpak performed indicated that paper was a great alternative. It can be used combined with dried ice or with gel packs. “A big advantage of this paper solution is that it is easily adaptable to any size of box compared to traditional packaging techniques. It reduces the amount of filling materials used and the paper is fully recyclable, making it a cost-reducing sustainable alternative,” Roumen explains.
With a solution at hand, Ranpak started the implementation of their new solution. Diet Chef, a company that focuses on helping people who wish to lose weight by creating their meals for them, is one of the first to start with the WrapPack paper solution. “We created a machine to make the use of the paper even easier. Diet Chef now uses an ideal combination of box size and filling material which is provided by the machine in the exact amounts. It required decent training for all packers, but as the process is simple, they quickly knew how our solution worked. So far, they have provided us with extremely positive feedback,” Roumen concludes. ••