Baumann Vertriebs GmbH & Co. specializes in growing blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries. As consumption of fresh berries has increased in recent years, the firm has enjoyed steady growth. So about two years ago, management began re-evaluating its approach to packaging—specifically the amount of plastic involved.
At the time, the company, located just east of Munich, delivered its berries in plastic trays that were manually fitted with a snap-on lid. The entire production was tuned and optimized to this process, so naturally the company was reluctant to changing things up. But retailers made it clear that a change would indeed be necessary.
“Starting this season, we have been packaging our berries in plastic trays made from resource-saving rPET,” says CEO Annika Baumann. “The trays are sealed with a top film in a fully automated manner. The implementation of this brand-new packaging system has significantly changed our process and brought a number of advantages, some of them unexpected.”
When it came time to install the tray sealing equipment it needed for its berry operation, Baumann relied on an existing relationship it had from some years back when it had worked on tray packing asparagus with Sealpac GmbH. In short order, a request was submitted for an additional traysealer to package berries. Using Sealpac’s expertise, especially in understanding the market and available materials, Baumann decided to purchase a medium-output SEALPAC A6 traysealer.
Baumann was strongly supported by Sealpac in its transition to tray sealing. Important questions were answered together. Should we start with the equipment, the tray, or the film? Is a protective gas mixture required? Should the packaging be reclosable? What additional equipment is required for weighing and labelling? The two companies even travelled together to the Fruit Logistica exhibition in Berlin to get an overview of the various options in terms of materials. This is what led them to the rPET tray, produced from collected, cleaned, and shredded PET.
One of the special features of the new process is that the trays are filled with berries in the field. After arriving at the production facility, the trays are brought to their correct weight by means of a multi-head weighing system from Krebeck. After the weighing process, the trays are fed on a double-lane conveyor into the SEALPAC A6 traysealer. The A6 reacts flexibly to the in-feed, as it cannot be guaranteed that the exact number of trays is always arriving on both lanes at the same time. This is why the lanes work independently, to ensure that all trays are reliably sealed.
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The A6 seals the rPET trays with a peelable polyester top film from Polytrade GmbH, which has been pre-perforated to allow for optimal exchange of oxygen reaching the respiring fruit and CO2 exiting the container. Since most labelling systems only work single lane, the two lanes are converged into one after sealing. For reasons of space, this was implemented directly on the traysealer. The trays now run out of the machine in a single lane to be labelled, collected, and picked. The limited space at Baumann’s facility also proved to be a challenge in terms of efficiency. In the end, the line was tailored to the available space and designed in a U-shape without reducing its output. Although the SEALPAC A6 is regarded as a flexible traysealer for medium outputs, it is still capable of reliably sealing between 120 and 140 trays/min.
SEALPAC’s proven hygiene concept, initially designed for meat production, also works well for the packaging of fruits and vegetables. The traysealer is made entirely of stainless steel, and cleaning and maintenance take place ergonomically at working height. Tip-up covers expose the entire machine, so that all components are easily accessible.
“Cleaning our equipment is crucial,” says Baumann. “Being a processing company, we deal with completely different certifications than agricultural companies. Compared with other equipment, both the handling and cleaning of the SEALPAC traysealer are extremely operator friendly. Furthermore, the equipment has been approved by the renowned GS institute, which gives us additional security. Whenever I walk around with my checklist, I can tick off the A6 tray sealer right away, making these formalities a lot easier.”
The new trays have excellent stacking properties, not just for Baumann, but also for the retailers. “We were able to further optimize logistics through an even more efficient use of our transport boxes, because these can now be filled with at least twelve packs instead of six,” says Baumann.
The brown kraft corrugated transport boxes are erected and filled by hand. The reason so many more packages fit into each of these corrugated shippers is because the trays used to be covered with a domed lid. Since these domes have now been replaced by a flat film lidding material, the end result is a much more compact finished package. This, says Baumann, is a meaningful improvement where consumers are concerned.
“Preserving resources is important to us as an agricultural production company, but is also a real buying incentive for many consumers who pay attention to sustainability,” says Baumamnn. “The fact that less plastic is used for the packaging is clearly visible since we moved from a snap-on domed lid to a thin but solid top film. The reliable seal ensures safe transport of the tray, where the top film can be easily removed from the tray by the consumer. Overall, we are very satisfied with our investment, which has brought many improvements for ourselves, our retailers, and our consumers. We even opened up a new business area, quite unexpectedly, by operating as a contract packer for other producers that cannot yet keep up with the changing dynamics of produce packaging.”
Baumann says the firm’s efforts at incorporating other sustainable packaging initiatives have only just begun. “In the future, we want to differentiate ourselves even more in terms of sustainability. We plan to put our berries on the market in a sealed paperboard tray. We already know that the SEALPAC A6 traysealer is capable of processing these trays without compromising on reliability, and is therefore well suited to implement this project. In addition, we will always keep looking for new ideas on improved freshness and shelf life extension, for example by applying a protective gas mixture. The device that can do this is already available on our A6 traysealer.”