Milestones are but markers along the way. In September 2020 a partnership between Amcor and Nestlé yielded the first recyclable retort pouch, however that groundbreaking barrier pouch was not microwavable.
Given a steady rollout of sustainable improvements in flexible packaging, it might have been expected that the next stage of barrier performance for recyclable pouches would make them microwave friendly.
Sure enough, it’s happened.
Working closely with J M Packaging, a supplier of flexible packaging to the UK food industry, FEI Foods introduced an advanced mono-material stand-up pouch that’s retort- and at-store recycle-ready. The structure maintains all the mechanical properties of a conventional stand-up pouch.
Based in South Wales in the UK, private label contract packager FEI Foods is the largest processer of ready-to-eat rice and grain pouches in Europe.
“Quality and innovation are at the forefront of our DNA at FEI Foods,” states Simon Lewis, FEI Foods’ managing director. “As a market leader in this category in Europe, it was imperative that we led the way in developing a recycle-ready pouch. We are determined to provide the most sustainable product possible, and the development of this pouch has been a key strategic objective for us for some years.”
The food packer switches from a non-recyclable multilayer retort pouch following 24 months of diligent testing prior to launch, Packaging Digest learned.
“We are delighted, and proud to be first to market with this solution,” says Lewis. “As a predominantly private label manufacturer, this is an outstanding achievement for our business, and the major retailers that we work with, now have a more sustainable offering for their customers.”
Jason McGill, managing director of JMP, says, “throughout this project we have illustrated our commitment to the circular economy, focusing on optimizing flexible packaging to minimize the impact on the environment, whilst offering convenience and food safety to the consumer.
“We’re proud to bring the first mono-material, recycle-ready, ready-to-heat pouch to the market and thank our team and partners FEI Foods for their support to help make this happen.”
James McNally, JMP’s sales account manager and technical support, informs Packaging Digest that the pouch is a laminated polypropylene structure that’s gravure-printed with retort-grade inks.
Characteristic of the premium flexible pouches available today, the microwave rice packs self-vent during the 90 second to 2-minute microwave heating process, according to McNally.
R&D project launched in 2019
With sustainability and environmental issues in mind, coupled with an identified urgency within the industry for the product, FEI and JMP focused efforts on developing a recycle-ready mono-material pouch, embarking on the process in early 2019.
What does it mean exactly that it’s recyclable?
“The recycling of PP is more developed in Europe and is available curbside,” responds McNally. “However, flexible packaging is not recycled curbside, currently only collection at stores is available. Sainsbury is introducing store collection of PP which will facilitate the collection. Some local authorities collect PP cups curbside and the on-pack reference to ‘where framework permits’ is to encourage customers to check locally.”
The pouch size, shape and function remain the same as current 250-gram (8.82 ounce) packs and continues to provide attributes required by customers such as food-safety, ease of use and convenience, while providing ground-breaking environmental benefits.
“Given the interest in preserving the environment and consumer awareness, we expect the demand to be high for this solution that offers recycling where infrastructure permits,” says McNally.