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Live from drupa: Pizza A Mano Slices Plastic with Heat-Sealable Paper

Pizza A Mano’s frozen pizza in paper packaging brings easy recyclability to a product traditionally packaged in flexible plastic.

Pizza A Mano's new paper frozen pizza packaging features light humidity resistance for the drive home from the store.
Pizza A Mano's new paper frozen pizza packaging features light humidity resistance for the drive home from the store.

Frozen foods often stick to plastic packaging in the name of product protection, leaving less room for sustainable innovation. Italian frozen pizza brand Pizza A Mano out of the South Tyrol province is bucking that trend though, using Koehler Paper’s heat-sealable paper technology to bring recyclability to the freezer aisle.

Koehler Paper showcased the frozen pizza application at drupa 2024 in Düsseldorf, Germany, last week, noting Pizza A Mano is the first pizza manufacturer on the market to use its NexPlus Seal paper technology. It's currently available in supermarket freezers in Austria.

It is part of a larger push into frozen goods for Koehler though, and one that aligns with a “big trend now in the industry, for confectionaries, salty snacks, and more deep-frozen foods to move into paper,” says Yevgen Zolotkovski, sales director, flexible packaging paper at Koehler.

Benefits of the sealable paper technology for frozen pizza

Running on horizontal flow-wrap packaging equipment, the paper not only replaces the plastic shrink film that would typically surround a pizza, but also removes the need for a secondary packaging carton.

Instead, “the [brand] uses just one layer of our mono-[materail]  flexible packaging paper with a heat sealable function, and that’s all they would need for this particular product,” Zolotkovski says.

This application requires no barrier properties, since the pizza is meant to stay deep-frozen, thus inert, until it arrives in the kitchen. Any ingredients with potential for immigration into the material substrate are retained as long as the product stays frozen, and the paper plenty of resistance for the trip home from the supermarket.

“This paper offers light resistance against humidity from inside for a short period of time,” explains Zolotkovski, noting it will resist against some condensation as the pizza begins to melt. “Of course, it won’t resist over a long period of time because it’s still natural paper and thus is recyclable, but until the customer brings the pizza back home and puts it into the oven, it should still be resistant.”

Recyclability as a key draw

One of the key benefits Koehler’s sealable paper technology offers, for Pizza A Mano or any application, is its recyclability. Replacing traditional flexible plastics, the paper material offers a new level of ease in recyclability.Using Koehler's paper technology over the typical shrink film allows for a fully recyclable frozen pizza package.Using Koehler's paper technology over the typical shrink film allows for a fully recyclable frozen pizza package.

“The difference between recyclable in theory and practice is the difference between plastic and paper,” Zolotkovski says. “Even if you have a mono-material plastic, there is a very low chance it can be recycled, because the capacity doesn’t exist. For paper it’s exactly the opposite. We have a very high recycling rate.”

The company encourages any brands using its paper technology inform the customer of its recyclability characteristics, including that it is 100% paper and curbside recyclable, by making it very clear on the pack.

“It’s up to the brand owner to do that, but so far, I think everyone who has switched to our paper has been happy to push the consumer in the right direction,” Zolotkovski says.

Other applications of Koehler’s sealable paper technology

Pizza A Mano may offer the first frozen pizza packaged with Koehler Paper’s sealable paper, but it’s far from the only product on the market using the technology.

nucao switched to Koehler's NexPlus Advanced barrier paper for all its packaging in late 2022.nucao switched to Koehler's NexPlus Advanced barrier paper for all its packaging in late 2022.One notable application present at drupa but first revealed at Interpack 2023 was chocolate start-up nucao’s switch to Koehler’s NexPlus Advanced barrier paper primary packaging.

The brand switched to Koehler’s material technology to solve a few challenges unique to this type of product.

“Specifically with chocolate, it needs a very high grease resistance, an oxygen barrier because some of this chocolate includes nuts or dried fruits, and a mineral oil barrier,” says Zolotkovski. “All of this is already in this paper, in addition to the function of heat-sealability, because it runs on a heat seal machine.”

Zolotkovski also notes that tea is an especially popular market for Koehler’s paper technology.

Koehler's paper tea packaging fulfills consumer demands for sustainability in the product category.Koehler's paper tea packaging fulfills consumer demands for sustainability in the product category.“We have a whole range of barrier papers for different tea applications, with different requirements, whether it’s loose tea, a single packed tea bag, or sugar, because it goes hand-in-hand with tea. I would say we are the leading provider of solutions here,” he says.

Consumer demand for sustainability in tea drives this popularity. “I would say most of the brands have realized that tea and plastic don’t fit, and consumers don’t accept it anymore.” 

Simplifying the changeover from plastic for low-cost innovation

One major barrier to sustainable material innovation tends to be the cost and complexity of the switch. Koehler Paper simplifies the switch both through product performance and support.

“We sometimes hear fear among brand owners or converters that they need to invest heavily in new machines when they switch from plastics to paper, but this is not a big issue,” says Alex Stöckle, corporate director of marketing and communications at Koehler. “We’re talking about small investments in small fixtures, adjusting temperature in the sealing process. 

The company brings its expertise for each project to “support brand owners and converters in the switching process,” Stöckle says. “This is not about only selling paper. Part of selling the paper is supporting the customer on the switching process.”

Older machinery on the verge of replacement might bring more challenges in the switch, but those shopping for new machinery will find many of today’s options can handle both materials. 

“That’s why we have such a good relationship with some machine manufacturers, in order to tell them how to adjust their machine in order to be suitable for paper,” explains Zolotkovski. He says some OEMs now offer “paper packs,” which can modify older machinery to make it suitable for processing paper.

This ease of changeover allows more brands like Pizza A Mano to make the switch, opening accessibility for sustainable innovation across product categories.

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