The future is fiber!

We live in a fast-moving world and the way people consume is undergoing rapid change. As consumer needs and regulatory requirements develop and grow, the packaging industry has to respond and find new ways to protect food safely in ever more sustainable ways.

Eric Le Lay, President, Fiber and Foodservice Europe-Asia-Oceania at Huhtamaki, a world-leading manufacturer in sustainable packaging solutions, believes that there is a game-changing technology that can support and accelerate this transformation: High precision technology to create smooth molded fiber packaging. Humanity is facing a paradox: as we try to find ways to reduce our use of the earth’s resources, a growing population and an improvement in global living standards are increasing the demand for resources, including food.

In this context, the packaging which surrounds food is often seen as one of the culprits. This is fundamentally misguided: packaging is part of the solution, not the problem. By offering products that protect food from spoilage, the packaging industry works to significantly reduce the greenhouse gas emissions generated by lost and wasted food which still represent an alarming 10% of all global emissions.

But we want to do more: Huhtamaki aims to be a pioneer of sustainable packaging solutions. We take a material positive approach, which means that we use the right material for the right product. In other words, we select materials that deliver the best functionality to protect the product for the application it is being used for. For Huhtamaki, this is where fiber can and will play an ever greater role.

Redesigning a better tomorrow

We believe there is no such thing as single use fiber. Fiber keeps on coming back, in various shapes and forms, designed for any use. It is recycled; first by human technology and ultimately by the planet. Today it is simply fiber. Tomorrow, it can be anything we need it to be – sustainably. And we are ready to be part of these solutions and redesign the future.

From beginning to end, fiber fits into the circular economy. It is derived from wood or other biomass and is a renewable resource. Over 98% of Huhtamaki’s fibers are sourced from independently certified, sustainably managed forests. Importantly, once the initial packaging has been used, its wood-based fibers can be recycled – recovered to produce other products – up to 25 times before being composted and returned to the soil.

Fostering green innovation and cooperation to meet society’s needs

Fiber has been in use for packaging for decades. For instance, European consumers have long been familiar with egg cartons made from rough molded fiber. Today, Huhtamaki has leveraged the full potential of this material by applying its high precision technology expertise to take this infinitely renewable material to surprising new levels. Traditionally, there have been certain natural limits to the large-scale use of fiber packaging. It was complex to get it into the right shape and deliver the highest levels of protection for direct food contact in a wide range of applications. Innovative cutting-edge echnology has enabled Huhtamaki to overcome both challenges.

Our high precision technology, combined with advanced food-grade barriers, produces smooth molded fiber (SMF) sustainable packaging that offers superior functionality, keeps food safe, maintains its quality and eliminates the need for aluminium, resulting in aluminium-zero solutions. This investment in new technology reflects the growing demand for Huhtamaki’s fiber solutions.

From ready-meal trays for Unilever, ice cream tubs for Carte D’Or, Sundae ice cream cups and lids for McDonald’s, Huhtamaki has developed a wide range of novel, award-winning products to be used at larger scale by the world’s favourite brands. This uptake by industry giants is testimony to the success of smooth molded fiber packaging borne out of an ambition across the value chain to offer consumers a more sustainable packaging experience whilst minimizing the impact on the planet.

Building capacity to meet increasing demand

Recently Huhtamaki announced that the company’s site in Alf, Germany, is switching its focus from plastics to smooth molded fiber (SMF) products to meet the growing demand for plastic-free alternatives for food packaging. This year, the unit plans to replace more than 2,000 tonnes of plastic with fiber. The advanced manufacturing facility at Alf currently delivers fiber lids for a variety of uses and bespoke products for leading food service and FMCG brands, including an assortment of hot, cold and frozen applications. Huhtamaki’s state-of-the-art automated manufacturing site will have the capacity to manufacture up to 3.5 billion fiber products annually. This represents the first such large scale production capability in Europe.

Redesigning the future with customers

Being an innovator means providing consumers with packaging solutions that will meet their needs and exceed their expectations. Expertise in material innovation, quick turnaround times for product development and prototyping, tailored solutions for specific business needs and transforming the manufacturing processes are some of the ways in which we bring leading-edge products to the market to open up new opportunities. For our customers, we are their innovation catalyst and partner who helps them grow their business. Ultimately, we are redesigning the future of the food value chain together.

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Written by Dominy Jones