Vergeer and adapa partner for packaging solutions

Dutch cheese maturer Vergeer and packaging specialist adapa have joined forces to develop a cheese packaging for the future. Founded over 80 years ago and now with four locations across Holland, high-quality, sustainable production and processing methods are always high priorities for Vergeer. Today, the successful, quality-award-winning company employs more than 500 people who are responsible for ripening, portioning and packaging cheese. The task was to develop a new packaging solution for the products sold by a large discounter. The packaging needed to follow the discounter’s design guidelines and combine optimum product protection with being easy to handle for the consumers. The result of the close cooperation between the two companies was a modern cheese packaging for Vergeer’s sliced Gouda, with adapa supplying a printed polyolefin-based top web to go with a mono APET tray. This top web is the perfect fit for the needed reclosure function and enriches the discounter’s refrigerated section.

The people involved in the project give us an insight into their successful cooperation and update us on current projects and new trends in the field of food packaging.

What makes Vergeer Holland different?

Diederik Vergeer, CEO Vergeer:

Vergeer specialises in all types of cheese. What makes our company stand out from the rest is that we are a cheese maturer. We purchase products from various partners and let them mature in different stages in our facilities. This allows us to offer food retailers, restaurants and food services an enormous variety of cheeses. Vergeer is a family business that stands for sustainable management. We put future generations at the heart of all our business activities, which is how our new, forward-looking site in Bodegraven came into being. The project was called ‘Next Generation’. The building has plenty of space and gives us the opportunity to expand in the future. It was also designed with modern sustainability aspects in mind, such as using solar energy and using waste heat from the plants’ machinery. After all, we need to do everything we can to reduce our carbon footprint. We are also committed to this with our products and processes.

What is the current state of sustainability and resource conservation efforts in the food and packaging industry?

Max Wolfmaier, head of product sustainability, adapa: Resource conservation and sustainability when it comes to food means first and foremost saving it from spoiling quickly. That’s why providing products with as much as protection as possible to avoid food waste is the top priority.

Our aim is to contribute to a circular economy with our products because it’s the most effective way to make an impact – if the recyclable material flows back into the system after it has been used, then this reduces the need for new plastic and lowers the carbon footprint of subsequent products. It’s crucial to get the recyclable material streams as pure as we can here, so that the recycling process produces the highest-quality secondary material possible. The packaging industry is working intensively on circular solutions. adapa has already made a tremendous amount of progress in this regard – our goal is to offer recyclable packaging everywhere by 2025, thus closing loops.

Frank van Leeuwen, purchase manager, Vergeer: Consumers and retailers often think of sustainable packaging as being made of paper. Paper packaging would have to be coated in order to package our products safely, which would have an impact on recycling and drastically alter our ability to process them. That’s why we take a two-pronged approach, which sees us both minimise the amount of materials we use for our packaging and convert our packaging to recyclable solutions. We also see this commitment in adapa – its extensive expertise in packaging designed for recycling and the ability of its R&D department to customise the products so they meet customer requirements made the group the perfect partner.

What was this project about?

F.v.L.: One of our biggest customers had specific ideas about what they wanted for a new cheese packaging for mild Gouda. We were faced with the task of providing a resealable lidding film to fit a mono APET bottom web. adapa showed us a way we could do that, which we were very impressed with. That’s how this joint project came about.

Benjamin Leviez, product and application specialist manager, adapa: We started initial talks with Vergeer about three years ago, when we presented the company with various different options and discussed them in depth. We think these discussions are important because at the end of our consultations, we want everyone involved to be happy that we’ve arrived at the best solution for the task at hand. This is also what happened in the cooperation with Vergeer.

How was the solution implemented?

Anthony Chaumuzeau, regional sales manager – Benelux, adapa: Our R&D department analysed various guidelines on packaging requirements with Vergeer and developed a kind of specification. The design for recycling was central to this, as was a reclose function that both ensures the product is guaranteed to be as fresh as possible throughout its entire storage period after the first time it’s opened, and that counteracts food waste. In addition, high-quality printing was desired. At the same time, line productivity had to be maintained, which is one of the biggest challenges when changing materials on existing lines. We presented various solutions and started the first round of tests at the beginning of 2020.

M.W.: We recommended that Vergeer use FlexiClose(re) AMX, a top web that is based on polyolefins and has a density of less than 1 g/cm³, which means that the printed lidding film of the packaging can be largely separated at recycling plants using the float-sink separation process, meaning the mono APET can then be sent for recycling. We had already worked out the basic structure of this web when the project kicked off, but the art lies in the fine-tuning involved in each individual project.

A.C.: In this case, for example, the sealing layer of the web has been optimised to ensure safe and reliable sealing on mono APET. For the reclose function, we had to make sure that the web could be pulled on evenly without tearing and that it wouldn’t curl in the process, in order for the reclose to work as we needed it to. All the development steps were coordinated together with Vergeer and its customers, who placed their trust in our comprehensive expertise.

F.v.L.: As a naturally matured product, the size and shape of cheese always vary a little. So to make sure we used the materials sustainably, we minimised the packaging format as much as we could compared to the previous solution. The packaging is now 190 mm long instead of 205 mm. We reduced the material thickness of the APET bottom web from 330 µm to 250 µm. adapa’s solution has reduced the weight of the top web by almost one gram per m2. The material can be processed efficiently on our packaging lines despite the change in specification, so productivity hasn’t been affected – that was very important to us. We now need 26 to 30 per cent less material overall for the new packaging. Our customer is very satisfied with the result.

What is the importance of product protection also considering the conservation of resources?

M.W.: Product protection has the highest priority at adapa, and we want to do this in the most resource-efficient way possible. With our FlexiClose(re) AMX, we have developed a solution that does everything it needs to: it seals on mono APET, has excellent reclose properties, protects the product and features a good machinability. The industry is of course heavily focused on the topic of design for recycling at the moment, and it’s no different for us: Vergeer’s packaging consists of several components, in this case a mono APET tray and the FlexiClose(re) AMX lidding film, which can be almost completely separated from each other using the float-sink separation process. In this process, the packaging is crushed and placed in a water bath. The flakes of the lidding film then float to the top and the tray components sink to the bottom due to their different densities. This separates the different components and the mono APET can be fed into the appropriate recycling stream.

What needs to happen for recyclable packaging to become the standard across the board?

A.C.: Recycling, or rather the collection, sorting and recycling of packaging, still varies greatly between the individual EU countries. The differences in recycling systems across Europe make it difficult for our industry to design some packaging so that it is considered equally recyclable in

different countries and can thus be put into a cycle. As a result, some solutions are not considered recyclable in every country. We support the EU Parliament’s policy to implement uniform regulations across the whole of Europe. All the pressure on our customers to deal with this issue is currently coming from the retail sector, which has set itself concrete packaging targets in many cases and is making demands on the manufacturers. But nowadays, the end consumer also expects companies to address the issue of sustainability in packaging. We advise our clients on how to adapt their solutions to these dynamic conditions.

M.W.: For us, the best solution for sustainable packaging is recyclability. This is because the recyclability or the use of recyclates has a significant impact on a product’s carbon footprint. The industry is working to further improve recyclability and recyclate quality, while legislators are creating the framework to allow recycled materials to be used for food packaging. This is something that mono APET trays could potentially already be used for, seeing as APET bottles are already a common sight on shelves. This closed product cycle is a prime example for our industry and demonstrates what can be done with design for recycling, targeted collection and innovative recycling technology.

What are the latest developments in the packaging market?

F.v.L.: Before the pandemic, sustainability was the number one topic in the industry. Now, our customers are dealing with the effects that the war in Ukraine is having on both prices and availability, with security of supply being a critical issue in particular. But we’re also seeing sustainability making a comeback. Many suppliers are taking a big step in this direction right now by drastically reducing the amount of materials they use. For example, they’re replacing rigid (stable) packaging with flexible packaging by doing away with trays or thermoformed bottom webs. Here in the Netherlands, more and more products are sold in flowpacks, allowing manufacturers and retailers save considerable amounts of packaging materials and reduce waste.

M.W.: It is also fitting that the amount of work being done to develop concepts for reusable packaging continues to grow. Policymakers are also keen on this type of packaging, as it actively reduces the amount of packaging waste generated. Making these types of systemic changes involves substantial amounts of investment, but they could become a significant part of our packaging landscape in the future.

A.C.: Digitalisation is another trend. The packaging of the future will have additional information printed on it, so as to optimise recycling processes. For instance, it can provide the recycling company with exact information on a packaging’s material composition.

What innovations can we expect to see from you in the near future?

B.L.: adapa’s R&D department is continuously working on new resource-saving packaging solutions. As it happens, the project with Vergeer has already benefited from another improvement resulting from the team’s work: the lidding film is now thinner than it was at the start of the project – without sacrificing quality or performance.

F.v.L.: We look forward to continuing our proven partnership with adapa. Together, we are committed to providing first-class packaging solutions for our customers while simultaneously creating the perfect harmony of quality and sustainability. At Vergeer, we also implemented a packaging for grated cheese that is also based on polyolefins, and we’re consistently implementing the current design for recycling as part of our efforts. So the retail sector – which has also become more demanding when it comes to design for recycling – has something to look forward to.

‘reThink’ initiative info box

‘rethink’ – a sustainability initiative of the adapa Group

Flexible packaging solutions specialist adapa Group is making ‘rethink’ the guiding principle of its packaging development. This initiative sees existing packaging solutions put to the test in close cooperation with customers in order to create more sustainable alternatives. In 2019, the Group was the first company in the industry to have recyclable solutions in its portfolio for all segments except pharmaceuticals. The initiative, which aims to motivate users to rethink their approach to packaging, ranges from consulting and concept development to process implementation, and also supports customers in implementing more sustainable packaging based on adapa’s 5R concept (recycling, replace, reduction, renewal, responsibility). In addition, the Group is committed to establishing closed-loop concepts and avoiding food waste – two of the most important factors in reducing the carbon footprint in food production – in close partnerships with international networks, start-ups and research institutes.

‘FlexiClose(re)’ info box

FlexiClose(re) AMX – a reclose solution for mono APET trays

With the FlexiClose(re) AMX, packaging specialist adapa has developed a resealable web based on polyolefins that is ideal for creating especially user-friendly packaging that offer a high degree of convenience. The highly transparent web with excellent sealability has a density of less than 1 g/cm³ and reliably seals MAP packs produced on thermoformers or traysealers with a mono APET bottom web. It can be equipped with different reclose versions, making it easy to adapt to the application and opening forces required. In addition to the FlexiClose(re) AMX, adapa has other resealable lidding films in its portfolio, providing a solution for all other common bottom webs. The MonoClose(re) P-type, which seals against PP and is recyclable in the PP stream in combination with adapa’s C-base bottom web, is also worthy of a special mention.

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