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Dispensing with food quality concerns

Large, 7.5-L stand-up pouches for condiments rely on unique closures that help Van Dijk Food Products' Dutch foodservice customers meet HACCP quality standards.

The connector on this 7.5-L stand-up pouch functions as a closure in transit. When the pouch is placed in the dispenser, a nozz
The connector on this 7.5-L stand-up pouch functions as a closure in transit. When the pouch is placed in the dispenser, a nozz

Dutch food company Van Dijk Food Products, Lopik, the Netherlands, is angling for a competitive edge in the foodservice arena by introducing new bulk condiment dispensing packages.

The stand-up pouches, placed inside attractively decorated hand pump dispensers, help Van Dijk's fast-food customers to better follow their HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) quality programs. HACCP programs, which got their start in the U.S., are now being adopted in Europe.

"HACCP is a big issue at the moment," says Van Dijk's Karen Hoekstra, product manager. "That's why the dispenser system is such a big success. Customers have the feeling if they use this system, it's one less thing they have to worry about."

The key to this package is a special connector on the pouch that makes it easy for foodservice workers to connect and disconnect the dispenser's intake nozzle from the pouch without spilling any product. Exposure of the product in the pouch to light and air is kept to an absolute minimum, as well.

The pouches also reduce waste for the restaurants compared to the metal cans and rigid plastic containers they replace, according to Hoekstra. Finally, they reduce residual product waste that was previously trapped in the package. Less than 2% of the filled contents is trapped and wasted, according to Innovative Packaging Netherlands, which supplies Van Dijk with the pre-made pouches as well as the equipment to fill them. IPN is represented in the U.S. by Scholle Corp. (Northlake, IL).

The connector on the pouch, dubbed by IPN the Clean-Clic® Connector, is not technically a closure. Injection-molded of medium- to high-density polyethylene, it functions more like a self-sealing valve. The connector serves two purposes: product is filled through it, and product is also dispensed through it. In both cases, a specially shaped filling or dispensing nozzle locks into the connector for an air-tight connection. When the nozzle is removed, the connector seals itself, thus preventing the contents from leaking. (For a more detailed explanation, see photo, p. 28.)

In the restaurant, the pouch, with a die-cut handle, is suspended upside-down inside the dispenser body from a metal rod that is inserted between heat-sealed pinch points that make up the pouch's gusset. The foodservice worker then manually inserts the nozzle into the pouch's connector. When restaurant patrons press on a handle, the condiment is dispensed via the manually actuated piston pump. It draws the viscous condiment out of the pouch via a vacuum created by the moving piston. As product is used up, the pouch collapses naturally since no air can get into the pouch. The lack of exposure to air (as well as light) minimizes contamination of the remaining product in the pouch.

The pre-made pouches with connectors heat-sealed into place, filling machine and the restaurant dispensers are all supplied by Innovative Packaging Netherlands. IPN calls the pouch and dispenser combination its Sauceprof Dispensing System.

Two versions are used by Van Dijk: one dispenser takes an extremely large 7.5-L pouch, and a dual-pump version takes two side-by-side 2.5-L pouches. Van Dijk has been distributing the pouches, filled with condiments such as mayonnaise and cold sauces and dressings, to foodservice customers throughout the Netherlands since March. They are marketed under the Gouda's Glorie brand name.

Semi-automatic filling

As part of the package concept, IPN can supply fully or semi-automatic filling equipment. Van Dijk opted for the semi-automatic filler, which it operates at speeds of 3 to 6 pouches/min. An operator manually inserts the filling machine's nozzle into the pouch, triggering the automatic fill. The product is filled on a scale to a specific weight, whereupon the flow cuts off and the operator removes the nozzle. While specific fill accuracies were unavailable, Hoekstra did say that Van Dijk was satisfied with the fill accuracy. Pouches are given a manual squeeze and visually inspected for leaks.

Because the pouches are shipped flat, no air needs to be evacuated from the pouch prior to filling. And unlike other types of pouch fillers, these pouches don't need to be blown open with an air jet since they're filled through the connector. IPN concedes that there is 2% to 3% residual air in even a flat pouch, but it does offer a system that vacuums out the air before filling. Van Dijk, however, chose not to use it.

Because the connectors are self-closing, it is unnecessary to apply a closure. Pouches are packed in corrugated shippers and sent to foodservice customers.

The pouch material, from the outside in, consists of 12-micron (48-ga) polyester that's reverse-printed via gravure/12-micron (48-ga) metallized polyester/200-micron (8-mil) low-density polyethylene.

The economics of the new packaging versus the previous rigid plastic containers and metal cans, according to Hoekstra, are a wash. That's because Van Dijk specified a very tough structure to be safe. Later on the company might experiment with downgauging, she says.

Apart from the investment in the filler, the other cost was the investment in the restaurant dispensers. Each dispenser cost Van Dijk about US$175 for the dual 2.5-liter version, and US$225 for the 7.5-liter version. The company absorbed most of the cost though it does require foodservice customers to pay a one-time deposit for use of the dispensers.

How do foodservice customers like the new package? "Their response is that it is a very clean, hygienic package, has a high performance and makes a great product presentation," Hoekstra tells Packaging World. The new package is in the process of being rolled out to Van Dijk's customer base, with the intention of eventually phasing out the old package formats.

In turn, Van Dijk hopes to use the packaging to "win a bigger market share and defend our leading position," she says.

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