The creator of a reusable meat capsule is hitting the sustainable packaging sweet spot and finding new markets thanks to a fellow innovative company.
At a glance
A collaboration between two innovative Kiwi companies is paving the way for an alternative to costly and environmentally damaging packaging in the food industry.
Christchurch bakery company Baker Boys is trialling an invention by food handling systems specialist FoodCap – a reusable storage capsule that reduces waste and the need for physical labour in the supply chain.
The trial is key to FoodCap’s plans to break into the American market, where supermarket groups and food processors are crying out for alternatives to undesirable packaging materials such as polystyrene.
“There is a revolution happening in the supermarket industry globally,” FoodCap Marketing Manager Vaughan Whyte says.
“With the rise of the conscious consumer companies are investing millions in finding ways to get rid of single use packaging.”
The processed food industry uses a significant amount of intermediate packaging, he says. The food capsule was originally designed for meat handling, and the company has been consulting extensively to giant US retailer Walmart in this area for the past two years.
Now it’s looking at the capsule’s use in other types of food processing, so the trial at Baker Boys’ contract baking facility is important.
“Their progressiveness and openness to being used as a case study is not common in New Zealand,” Vaughan says.
For Baker Boys the trial is a part of its progress towards developing a smart factory, General Manager Dean Boston says.
Despite being a significant contract manufacturer of baked goods for Australasian supermarket groups, many of the company’s processes are a larger version of baking at home, he says.
The biscuit crumbs it makes for slice bases are a classic example. The ingredient is made and stored in 10kg plastic bags for a few days until it’s required for a batch. The bags are then manually emptied into big mixers. “It’s an extremely physical job. Everything in the past has been based around the limit of what one human can handle,” Dean says.
“Also, we go through hundreds of these plastic bags that have a three or four-day process life.”
The food capsule can store 100kg of biscuit crumbs and be machine-lifted into the mixer. It is then washed out and reused, with FoodCap estimating one capsule will last around a decade.
“It’s all about efficiency and waste reduction,” Dean says.
Targeting the mid-market
What FoodCap thought would be an 18-month job to develop a new generation capsule for meat handling turned into a 5-year R&D project, because it emerged no suitable plastic resin existed. So the Auckland-based firm, supported by several New Zealand technology partners, developed its own.
Now it’s using that technology to create environmentally sustainable solutions for businesses striving to take waste out of their supply chain.
The great potential for FoodCap is in the medium-sized food manufacturing sector, Vaughan says.
“The very large production companies have high levels of automation, but that’s the exception.
“The majority of companies are handling raw ingredients on a smaller batch basis, and as a result they have challenges around how to move the product efficiently and safely.”
The Baker Boys trial and other experiments with food products that aren’t meat have presented FoodCap with new challenges – for example, how to increase plastic viscosity so that products flow out leaving no residue, how to modify capsules to transfer hot ingredients, provide an anti-microbial barrier or store ingredients prone to odours or staining.
While grant support from Callaghan Innovation has been invaluable, some of the greatest benefits to working with the agency have been the networks it provides, the discipline of quarterly reporting, and mentoring around R&D, Vaughan says.
“The challenge we found with R&D which was new to me, was that failure can be a success,” he says.
FoodCap and Baker Boys’ agile approach to addressing a food logistics challenge is benefitting both businesses, says Katy Bluett, Group Manager Food and Beverage for Callaghan Innovation.
“The ability to reach out and work together on a disruptive technology is one of New Zealand’s innate strengths,” she says.
Updated: 8 July 2019