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Longer shelf life for flowrapped tortillas

Sonora Foods, manufacturer of the U.K.'s leading tortilla brand, Discovery, recently installed a new flowrapper from Ilapak, Inc. (www.ilapak.com) that, for the first time, enables the company to produce high-quality flowrapped packs with a six-month shelf life. Using Ilapak's VacMap(TM) flowrapper, Sonora can now produce these attractive, new, long-life packs at high speeds, efficiently and at a significantly lower cost than using a thermoforming machine.

Sales of Sonora's Discovery tortilla products have grown by 10 to 12 percent over the last seven years, driving a £7-million investment program at the company's factory in Daventry, England (and the construction of another factory that was recently opened in Milton Keynes, England), where Ilapak's modified-atmosphere Delta packaging machines have been used successfully for several years. Consumers' demand for better pack presentation prompted the move to develop a completely new type of packaging machine, capable of producing a pack with the appearance of a traditional flowrap and the shelf life of a thermoformed pack.

Sonora produces around six million tortillas a week at the Daventry and Milton Keynes factories, and VacMap's unique three-in-one packaging capability has given the company the flexibility to produce conventional flowrapped packs, modified-atmosphere packaging (MAP) packs and VacMap packs with a six-month shelf life, all on the same machine. Changeovers are quick to carry out, so Sonora can react quickly to changes in production requirements, while maintaining full capacity.

The high-performance, horizontal form/fill/seal machine combines vacuum and MAP packaging in a single machine. Its unique in-line vacuum system allows the Delta VacMap to extract trapped pockets of oxygen found inside and between the products themselves, to keep the contents fresh longer. The result of a joint-development program between Ilapak and Sonora Foods, the new VacMap offers all of the cost and efficiency benefits of flowrapping: high throughputs (Sonora's packaging line is currently running 48 packs/min), ease of use and dramatically reduced production costs due to reduced material and labor costs.

VacMap's fully automated feeding system is a major contributor to the reduced labor costs. Previously, the tortillas had to be fed into the thermoformer by hand, requiring two or three operators per line. Film costs have also been reduced significantly, as the VacMap uses about half the material of a thermoformer. Product and size changeovers are also exceptionally fast, requiring about half an hour, compared to four hours on a thermoforming machine.

Brian Ridgway, managing director of Sonora Foods, explains, "We worked closely with Ilapak to develop this packaging solution to meet customer demand for better pack presentation and a fresher appearance, combined with a long shelf life. There was no packaging machine on the market capable of achieving this, so we approached Ilapak, and they agreed to work with us to develop a technical solution."

Ridgway is very happy with the way the package turned out. "We're delighted with the result. The packs look excellent and because they are print-registered, we can achieve a much higher-quality presentation for maximum shelf impact. Customers perceive the contents of a flowrapped pack to be fresher than a thermoformed pack, giving greater customer appeal and an important marketing advantage."

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