An expert in chilled-food packaging has received funding to develop technology that could revolutionize production.
David Lambert is developing the technology that will enable manufacturers to safely pasteurize or sterilize food, in pouches or trays, in a continuously rolling system, rather than in batches.
Lambert's firm Continuous Retorts Ltd. (CRL) has received a 250,000 investment from the 25m Finance for Business North-East Technology Fund, as he pushes to commercialize his product.
Lambert was one of the co-founders, with husband-and-wife team Tom and Michelle Weldon, of chilled food manufacturer Intl. Cuisine in Consett, County Durham, in 1988. The company perfected a system which increased the shelf life of chilled foods.
Newcastle, U.K.-based CRL has already secured international patents for the technology and built a full-scale development rig.
If successful, the system being developed—known as a continuous retort—should increase firms output and deliver huge savings in water and energy use. It will enable up to 1,200 packs to be processed, per minute, through a single machine that uses about 50 per cent less energy, in only a quarter of the factory floor space compared to the same output with batch retorts.
Lambert says, "The retort manufacturers have been unable to develop continuous systems for microwave packaging, so I decided to design a system from scratch. This new technology has enabled CRL to be created and we expect to be selling complete processing lines in Europe, U.S. and Japan by 2013."
Nick Edgar, investment manager at IP Group, says, "Continuous retorts have created a ground-breaking manufacturing process that looks set to revolutionize how many players in the food industry do business.
"Research shows the system will fill a large gap in the marketplace.
"The level of interest from the industry in terms of commercial partners is already very strong.
"We are confident that the company and the product will be highly successful in going forward."
It comes as pouched and tray packaged food is increasingly replacing tin cans and glass jars in supermarkets due to benefits such as the ability to microwave the food in the containers.
Once the technology is commercialized, flexible pouch and semi-rigid tray packaged food will be produced at a similar, or lower, cost than canned food.
White Brothers, whose managing director Peter Harding is a fellow director of CRL, manufactured the development rig, while Tait Walker chartered accountants provided financial advice.