Based on close partnership, tray manufacturer Bachmann Forming, film manufacturer Sealed Air and packaging equipment manufacturer SEALPAC were able to develop a modern packaging solution that helped the seafood grill range of Micarna SA in Switzerland to success. We spoke with Marc-André Bourdilloud, Head of Seafood West at Micarna, about the special requirements of this joint project, the road to innovative solutions, and the aspirations to greater sustainability in the packaging industry.
Micarna SA (www.micarna.ch) is part of M-Industrie, which owns 17 companies in Switzerland and three abroad. M-Industrie in its turn belongs to the Swiss Migros Group. It is one of the major employers in the country, as well as the world’s largest producer of private label products. Micarna, originally the meat specialist within the group, now since 2007 also runs a successful seafood business in its facilities in Zürich and Ecublens. Annually, around 6,300 tons of fish and other seafood products are nowadays processed at these locations, and from there distributed to the Migros stores. In the 2012/2013 season Micarna caused uproar in the Swiss market by introducing a special seafood range of five different products. This delicious seafood for the barbecue season was presented in an innovative TraySkin® pack. Here, the salmon, shrimp and alike were sealed directly in the tray by means of a highly transparent barrier film, which fits the product like a second skin.
Marc-André Bourdilloud: “In the Swiss market Micarna stands for ‘Swissness‘. With that we combine features like quality, professionalism, reliability and credibility. These must be reflected not only in first-class products, but also in excellent packaging. Our requirements for the packaging process can be summarized as follows: simple, fast, and efficient – with a technically perfect and visually appealing result. We have to be extremely flexible in production, as our customers often order only the evening before the required delivery date. Usually about 200 different products go through our production area every day. In search of a functional packaging solution for our seafood grill range we relied on proven partnerships to get the perfect result. Finally we chose the TraySkin® solution.”
At the Ecublens site in the West of Switzerland fresh fish is now processed and packed during six days a week, one and a half shift each day. Bourdilloud: “For this we have our twins in the production hall; two identical SEALPAC A6 traysealers, positioned directly adjacent to each other. The corresponding tools for different pack formats can be used on both machines. As a result, we are extremely flexible in our planning, because we can vary with quantities and sizes. This is quite necessary, because we are running many different products and pack formats every day.
Bourdilloud continues: “The TraySkin® packaging is not suitable for each of our products. For particular seafood items, however, such as pieces of salmon or shrimp on a skewer, it truly provides added value, because the product is sealed directly onto the tray. It is well-protected by the tray and film, yet perfectly visible. Thanks to the TraySkin® solution, we are now able to offer our retailers highest quality products with an attractive appearance, making them a true eye-catcher on the retail shelves.“
Suitable tray and film
Within the TraySkin® system the tray is exposed to great pressure. It has to cope with a heated film, which is dropped over the product to fit its contours, as well as with a heat-seal on the edge. In this process, strong forces are applied to the tray from different sides. The tray must withstand all these forces without deforming. After various tests Bachmann Forming (www.bachmann.ch) found the ideal solution in a pre-fabricated thermoformed polypropylene tray with EVOH barrier (PP/EVOH/PE peel 500 µm), which can withstand temperatures up to 120 °C. Due to the specially U-shaped sealing edge additional tray stability is provided.
The tray demanded a high-quality and highly transparent skin film with excellent barrier properties from Sealed Air (www.sealedair.com). Furthermore, it had to show good peeling behaviour to allow for easy opening of the pack. In the end this lead the company to its VST-0280 skin film, a 150 µm high-barrier film, as the best solution for Micarna’s seafood packs, which also proved excellent machinability.
Film savings with InsideCut
With the unique TraySkin® system by SEALPAC, Micarna was able to achieve technically perfect results in the test phase, meaning securely sealed trays. However, their appearance did not meet the requirements yet, as the SEALPAC traysealers are known for their flawless InsideCut system, which ensures an extremely exact cutting of the film within the borders of the sealing edge. Until recently, this was not yet possible with the relatively new TraySkin® system for protruding products. SEALPAC’s engineers, however, were committed to find a way and in the end succeeded, so that Micarna can now offer a truly high-end result – visually perfect with less film consumption.
Bourdilloud: “Another important aspect for us is that the products in our seafood grill range should be easy to remove from their packaging. Packs that are difficult or even impossible to open without tools are a common issue in our industry – also here we searched for a practical solution. Naturally, a tray and lidding film with good peel properties are the first requirement. In addition, SEALPAC brought up its unique EasyPeelPoint system. With this system, the peel corner is integrated within the sealing contours of the tray. The corner of the top film is pressed into a round cavity and releases from the sealing edge. With the resulting easy-to-grip peel tab, the top film is removed from the tray with minimum force. A highly functional easy-opening method!“
Attention at retail
Next to product protection and improved opening functionality, the TraySkin® solution is also interesting from a marketing perspective. Bourdilloud: “With this type of packaging the product is the absolute star. Due to the highly transparent film that fits the product like a second skin, the shape of the content can be seen and felt – a visual and tactile experience that is well-received by consumers, and that arouses their interest. Since the transparent film is hardly visible, we have frequently observed consumers that turned our packs upside-down with amazement.“
A special feature of the seafood packs is that Micarna can use very flat trays, in which the products are perfectly presented. At retail, the product provides a great 3D effect leading to a striking presentation. With the seafood products securely positioned in their tray, they can be presented at eye level in the stores – even hanging. Bourdilloud: “Vertical presentation provides structure – it is visually quite appealing and avoids confusion. The Swiss particularly like that.“
Saving the environment
Sustainability, which has evolved as a trending topic within the industry, plays an important part in the development of Micarna’s packaging. Bourdilloud: “The commitment to greater sustainability is firmly anchored in our company philosophy, and starts with the purchase of our raw materials. That is why we changed to preservation-based fishery. Also, within the seafood segment we commit to WWF’s global award system, meaning that we only buy from sustainable sources that are classified as highly recommended, recommended or acceptable. Especially endangered species are now completely deleted from our product range. We expect a similar commitment to sustainability from our partners.“
SEALPAC approaches the subject of sustainability with highly modern packaging equipment that operates extremely energy-efficient and uses less consumables, for example by means of the aforementioned InsideCut system. Several years ago, directly related to the well-known Interpack exhibition in Düsseldorf, the SAVE FOOD initiative was founded. This initiative, in close cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, actively fights against global food losses. Leading companies within the packaging sector, including SEALPAC, these days strongly support the initiative.
The trend towards more sustainability also increases the demand for lower trays and thinner film. Bourdilloud: “Still, in each project the product safety should come first. As an example, we are currently using a 150 µm film, which works smoothly in the existing packaging process. It provides a good foundation for experimenting to further reduce the film thickness and thus the amount of material in the future. But it must not be at the expense of quality – this is where the biggest challenge lies for our industry.“