StePac’s automated modified atmosphere packaging solutions for bulk and retail cherries help relieve labor shortages
StePac Ltd.’s lean, automated Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) solutions gained rave reviews among Chilean cherry packers and exporters especially during the recent China cherry export season ahead of the recent Chinese New Year celebrations. The novel packaging formats have proven instrumental in helping the packers make the transition from manual to faster and more efficient automatized processes to counter the recent labor shortage hurdles.
In response to the boom in Cherry exports from Chile to China and the rest of Asia, Chilean Packers are turning to StePac’s novel, lean Xflow™ proprietary films inbuilt with properties specifically tailored for automated bulk-packaging and long-term storage and shipment of cherries. Packers proclaim Xflow has drastically lowered the dependency on labor and has enhanced food safety by minimizing handling during the packing process. Beyond the boost in operational efficiency, the packaging represents a considerable reduction in plastic packaging and stakeholders are enjoying the benefits of MAP technology namely the extension of product shelf life, reduction in food waste and lowered shipping costs associated with sea freight.
The fresh produce packaging innovators have been working with Chilean distributor Empack to diversify its portfolio of bulk and retail packaging to meet the evolving logistical needs for this high-demand fruit and to preserve its full freshness, flavor and nutritional value as it makes the lengthy journey from Chile to Chinese consumers which can last 35 days.
The versatile film is especially suited to 2.5kg and 5kg packages and is easily adapted to automatic fillers and packaging lines, allowing for reduced handling and thus significantly less manpower. The lean film also effectively reduces plastic consumption by up to 40%. This product was successfully used by more than a dozen exporters of cherries during the 2021/22 Chilean cherry season.
“The exponential growth in cherry exports, coupled with major labor shortages, created major challenges for Chilean cherry packing houses, calling for more sophisticated packing operations to accommodate both jump in volume and the short and intensive packing season for cherries,” explains Gary Ward, Ph.D., Business Development Manager for StePac
With more than 44,000 hectares (almost 110,000 acres) of land dedicated to cherry cultivation yielding more than 300K tons in annual cherry exports, Chile is the leading global exporter of cherries and is on a trajectory for further year-to-year growth. More than 95% of cherries grown in Chile are exported to the Far East, mainly China, with the bulk of shipments timed to arrive in time for the Chinese New Year. Cherries are considered an ideal gift for the Chinese New Year, as their red color and round shape represent fortune, prosperity, and eternity in Chinese tradition.
Meanwhile in China, StePac’s Xgo™ resealable top-seal/lidding film has been making waves in the E-commerce and retail sectors since the last Chilean cherry season. “This attractive, functional retail packaging solution was designed to take the value of StePac’s MAP technology all the way to the consumer and has been eagerly embraced by our customers in China,” enthuses Guillermo Perez, category manager for Empack. “We currently supply 20 Chilean exporters cherry punnets sealed with personalized printed-lidding films that house smaller 500g-2kg cherry volumes for the Chinese retail sector.”
Xgo’s advanced, lightweight top seal is infused with StePac’s MAP life-extension properties. That preservation activity is regenerated each time the label is resealed, making it ideal for multiple cherry servings. The films can also be easily integrated into automated cherry packing lines and save the need for repacking in China.
“The two novel products have garnered excellent feedback from our Chilean partners. They have reported up to 50% reduction in labor costs associated with sealing, while the customers in China welcomed the boost in customer experience owed to the new lidding film,” adds Ward. “We found a strong partner in Empack, who massively invested in flowpack and topseal machinery to propel the smooth transition to automation and to support customers that don’t have their own. Based on these unqualified successes, we are eyeing the northern hemisphere cherry market and expect our products to be adopted widely there in the forthcoming season.” StePac’s full line of advanced MAP products will be showcased at the upcoming Fruit Logistica 2022 in Berlin, April 5-7.