In the second half of 2004 Mexican food processor Del Fuerte made a transition from metal can-packed vegetables to all retorted cartoned vegetables at its plant in Los Mochis Sinaloa Mexico. Due to the subsequent market success of the new vegetable packaging Del Fuerte decided in the first quarter of 2006 that it would also convert its glass jar-packed sauces to this packaging style. Del Fuerte is using the innovative Tetra Recart packaging system from Tetra Pak (www.tetrapak.com) to package 380-g cartons (13.7-oz) of vegetables and sauces.
According to Del Fuerte marketing director Javier Ramirez use of the Tetra Recart system was viewed as an excellent opportunity to establish product distinction in a cost-effective manner. The processor estimates that for these particular products and market area the transition has yielded a 10-20% savings on packaging materials versus metal cans and glass jars.
However these cost-savings are very specific to this project. Savings probably will vary from product to product and market to market.
Installing the new packaging line
Several basic components were required to set up the Tetra Recart line—including compressors cooling tower new electrical connections nitrogen purging equipment additional vegetable and sauce processing/retorting systems fillers conveyors case packers and the Tetra Pak R1 form and seal machine.
The nitrogen purging equipment was manufactured and installed by Tetra Pak as part of the Tetra Pak R1 form and fill machine to help preserve and extend product shelf life. The Tetra Recart line supplied by Tetra Pak also incorporated two case packers to accommodate the new containers. The five static retort air-steam systems are manufactured by Getinge (www.getinge.com). The three piston and pocket fillers are manufactured by ZACMI (www.zacmi.it). And the conveyors are manufactured by Jorgensen Engineering (www.jorgensen.dk).
Line installation work began in March 2004 but it took a few months to achieve full-capacity start-up. Del Fuerte operations director Alberto Arce Valenzuela notes “Tetra Pak personnel were involved in both the installation and operator training over the course of about four months in total.”
How the Tetra Recart machine works
Preprinted carton blanks are made from a six-layer lamination that includes moisture-resistant paperboard combined with layers of polypropylene and aluminum foil barrier material as well as a lacquered outer layer to protect the printing. The Tetra Recart TP-R1machine erects the cartons for filling at 85-90°C. After filling it seals them. The cartons then undergo steam retort processing to achieve commercial sterilization and shelf stabilization of the product. The vegetable products are retort heat-treated for 20-24 minutes at 121 degrees C. The sauces are retorted for 40 minutes at 96 degrees C. Resulting non-refrigerated shelf life is 24 months—comparable to the shelf life of Del Fuerte’s retorted canned and jar-packed products.
The new line is capable of running at three different speeds—12 16 and 20 packs per hour. But the Tetra Recart system is prepared to accommodate 24 packs per hour when Del Fuerte increases its retort capacity.
Arce Valenzuela says “We are well satisfied with the high-speed operation of the packaging system. We also like the fact line personnel requirements are minimal due to the high degree of operation automation and the ease of cleaning and maintenance.”
“For these particular products and market area the transition has yielded a 10-20% savings on packaging materials versus metal cans and glass jars.”
Del Fuerte marketing director Ramirez points out that consumers like the convenience of the perforated easy-open carton top. No can opener is required and there are no exposed sharp edges that could cut consumers’ hands and fingers. To store unused portions of product the consumer can simply fold shut the carton top and refrigerate the leftovers.
Sometimes it takes a little period of adjustment for consumers to warm up to a new non-traditional packaging concept for old familiar products. But Ramirez reports “Consumer demand at the point of sale has been improving significantly over the last six months after an aggressive advertising campaign. And we are considering adding other Tetra Recart-packaged products to our line.”