New fibre-based ready meal trays from Huhtamaki to replace black plastic


The hopes are high when a high-end retailer, a premium food manufacturer, an innovative fibre material producer and a food packaging specialist join forces in an accelerated development project. The aim was nothing less than to find a plastic-replacing, sustainable solution for ready meal trays used in significant quantities every day.

mTangible results of this co-operation are hitting the market in the UK with growing volumes just now. Waitrose & Partners launches its Italian ready meal range in the new fibre-based tray suited for both microwave and regular ovens. The new trays, called Fresh, are manufactured by the global food packaging specialist Huhtamaki, packed at Saladworks and the fibre used as the base material comes from the Swedish forest company Södra. The trays can be recycled, and they are also certified for home composting.

From the drawing board and through trials since 2016

"We have made a commitment to move out of black plastic by the end of 2019," said Nikki Grainge, Packaging Development Manager from Waitrose & Partners in the UK.

"We have been testing the new trays since May 2018 and have received very positive feedback from our customers," Grainge continued. "Now, with the current launch on Italian range moving to the new tray, we'll be able to move nearly 9 million meals out of black plastic."

Fresh trays are made from natural materials and e.g. the wood fibre comes from certified, sustainable Nordic forests. This means that per every tree cut down, three more trees are planted.

"The project started already in 2016 with the aim to find alternative food packaging for trays made from black plastic, most often CPET. The reason to avoid this material is not only its fossil origin but also because it is problematic to recycle due to the detection systems used in end-of-life material separation," explained Steve Davey, Project Manager from Huhtamaki.

An important accelerator was the EU's Bio Based Industries Joint Undertaking program for research and innovation, securing the initial funding and helping build the core team. The team wanted to spearhead the new concept in the UK, which is one of the most significant markets for ready meals in Europe.

Fresh and innovative ideas

"Demand for sustainable alternatives is increasing from both manufacturers and customers. For Södra, the collaboration in Fresh project offers an opportunity to learn more about how we can use our bio-based raw materials as an alternative to fossil packaging in such an important area of use as food packaging," said Catrin Gustavson, Head of Innovation & New business at Södra.

"Huhtamaki has extensive knowledge in the moulded fibre technology which is used to manufacture the trays for Waitrose. Together with the team, we were able to test alternatives and find the right solution all the way from pulp to the retail shelves," Steve Davey said.

"We have called the new tray concept Fresh. We continue to develop its properties further and believe there are many new applications for it," Davey concluded.


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