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Coffee packer finds Virtues in thin film

By downgauging the film by half for foodservice coffee packs, Virtues of Coffee reduces material, energy consumption and labor costs. Structure improves machinability and even puncture-resistance, while maintaining shelf life.
FILED IN:  Machinery  > Filling/sealing  > Dry filling
A downgauged film is receiving rave reviews from Virtues of Coffee Livermore CA a two-year-old foodservice and specialty coffee producer. Virtues is reported to be among the first to use Cur-Lite3(TM) film for nitrogen-flushed bags of ground coffee. Curwood (Oshkosh WI) supplies the 1.4-mil film that includes 1-mil polyethylene sealant/0.05-mil glue laminant/0.35-mil Esterphane(TM) metallized polyester. Virtues began using the structure commercially in April '95 after about a year of structural tests with Curwood. Cur-Lite3 replaced a 2.85-mil structure also from Curwood. That film consisted of 2.25-mil PE/0.1-mil glue/0.50-mil metallized polyester. The change to the thinner material says Glen Virtue president "saves us $18 or about 15 percent in film costs." Material savings were precisely what prompted company founders Glen and Kristine Virtue to seek a film alternative. "By downgauging you can lose some of the qualities that make the film effective. But with the Cur-Lite film we maintained the
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product's six-month shelf life without changing filling speed. The newer film also provides greater puncture-resistance and machinability" he adds. Why Curwood? "I had worked with them back when I was employed by [San Francisco-based] Nestlé Beverage Company" Virtue recalls. "They produce all the components of this film. We tested the film and felt positive about it especially the polyethylene sealant layer because it allowed us to reduce film thickness. And the metallized polyester provides the barrier we need to keep the same product shelf life we had with the thicker film." Vf/f/s process Virtues packs coffee in sizes from a 1.1-oz pack to 50# bulk quantities on seven separate lines at its 12-sq' plant in Livermore. Last year the plant produced 1.3 million lb of roasted coffee. Estimated 1996 volume is 2.9 million lb. Annual plant capacity is 5 million lb. Virtues now uses Cur-Lite to pack 750 lb of ground coffee annually. That amounts to approximately 7.5 million individual "fractional" packs. (Fractional refers to premeasured packs in fractions of a lb.) More than 40 fractional pack varieties are sold in 1.1- 1.25- 1.5- 1.75- 2- and 2.25-oz sizes. Most of these packs are marketed for office coffee sales and national restaurant chains though gourmet shops and "tollpacking" customers are also starting to order them. "Tollpacking is basically a service contract where we roast grind and pack the coffee for our customer who purchases the raw coffee beans and the packaging materials. When we copackage we purchase the material and coffee." These packs are vertically formed filled and sealed on a General Packaging Equipment (Houston TX) Model 70A2C dual-tube machine. While the equipment is rated at higher speeds Virtues runs each tube/auger at 60 packs/min producing a total of 120/min. "For the most part the line runs continuously five days a week 12 hours a day" says Virtue. The thinner film enhances filling operations he says. "It allows us to reduce the hydraulic pressure of our sealing jaws from 320 to 290 psi. It also lets us reduce our seal temperatures from 240 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit to 215 to 220. That provides about $500 a year in energy savings." The film also helped reduce coding damage. "We Julian date-code the bags with a metal stamp printer" Virtue explains. "The printer is pneumatically driven so that as the rollstock unwinds the metal contacts the film to apply the code. In the past this process occasionally caused microscopic puncture holes in the film. We noticed these when our operators conducted regular quality assurance tests on the line. "The new film is more puncture-resistant" he says. "As a result we have virtually no leakers. This saves us about $8 a year in wasted film coffee loss and the necessary labor to rework product into new packs. Our rejects from leakers have declined from 2 percent with the earlier film to under 1 percent today." Future demands To date Virtue says customer response to the film has been positive. He tells PW "We're now testing the film with a refurbished Triangle (Chicago IL) machine to run our smaller-volume production runs that can be quickly changed over." This vf/f/s machine also uses two augers though Virtue says "It has separate fill heads and product hoppers that allow us to run two different products at the same time. That machine will run about 85 cycles per minute from each auger or 170 a minute overall." Virtue reveals "We plan to introduce flavored coffees that we'll also fill on the Triangle machine. These coffees will require a special barrier film that does not allow their aromas to permeate the bag and create potential problems in the warehouse when pallet load quantities [of varying flavors and aromas] are stacked next to one another." He explains that Curwood is now developing an appropriate structure.

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