The expected fall in demand for agricultural packaging, following strikes by farm workers in the Western Cape, in January this year, has not materialised.
Rather, a strong demand for creative agricultural packaging solutions contributed to paper and plastic packaging company Mpact’s solid performance in the 2012 financial year. The com- pany’s underlying operating profits increased by 11.6% and revenue was up by 10.9%, says Mpact CEO Bruce Strong.
“Suppliers to the local and international markets depend heavily on the durability of their chosen packaging to protect their produce on the journey from field to shelf. Amid existing sociopolitical challenges, unpredictable weather and volatile exchange rates, this is one decision within the market’s control that could be the difference between success and failure,” he points out.
Mpact believes that creative design and the science behind packaging can yield significant benefits in terms of cost savings, efficiency, brand equity and recognition for the agricultural industry.
Strength and light weight are the essential elements in package design. One can produce an award-winning design, only for it to be impractical because it cannot balance aesthetics with strength and weight considerations, the company points out.
“High-quality packaging is one input cost that cannot be reduced, even during times of crisis. Far- mers depend on purpose- built, robust, lightweight packaging to protect their produce,” states Strong.
The company points out that creative packaging solutions are the result of several important considerations with regard to durability, weight, size and the type of materials used. Packaging, whether corrugated or plastic, must be robust enough to protect the produce on its way to the retailer and, ultimately, to the consumer to ensure that farmers get the best price for their goods.
“Durability is particularly important for corrugated packaging, which is exposed to climate-controlled environments. Corrugated packaging must be able to withstand up to six weeks of refrigeration for the export market without compromising its strength,” explains Strong.
Further, the package designer has to remain aware of the fact that it is, ultimately, the consumer who decides whether a pack design will be successful.
For some large users of packaging, such as fruit exporters, Mpact has designed packaging that takes the product from the farm to the shelves in foreign supermarkets with minimal physical handling. “These designs are innovative because they meet the requirements of being lightweight and strong to the extent that pallets of fruit can withstand long journeys from the farm to overseas shelves,” states Mpact. The company is constantly driven to reduce the packaging weight associated with its products, as was demonstrated by it having won the overall Gold Pack Trophy at the Institute of Packaging South Africa 2011 Gold Pack Awards for its RAPPET 187 mℓ Burgundy wine bottle.
“The wine bottle received the award for the best overall product, with the product’s environmental benefits, significant cost savings and practical functionality. We also received a Gold Pack Award for our Preform and Closure Light weightings for 500 mℓ , one-litre and two-litre carbonated soft drinks products, among others. Projects of this nature are executed in close collaboration with customers and suppliers of raw materials and equipment,” highlights Mpact.
Strong points out that packaging also needs to have vertical strength when stacked so that the bottom layer can withstand up to 1 500 kg of pressure. In this context, scientific expertise become critical, as the packaging needs to be robust enough for stacking and light enough to remain economical.
Also, transport is an expensive cost element for the agriculture sector and, through innovation in lightweight packaging, Mpact says it can achieve cost reductions for its customers.
In Mpact’s Plastics division, the use of plastic jumbo bins instead of traditional wooden bins has resulted in significant financial benefits for the agricultural industry.
A study conducted for a fruit farm in the Grabouw-Elgin area, in the Western Cape, indicated total cost savings of R138.69 a bin each year when switching from traditional wooden bins to Mpact’s Jumbo Bins, with a payback period of three years.“
Plastic bins are 45% lighter than wooden bins. This enables quicker and safer handling and stacking and the bins can be vertically stacked up to eight units high because of a positive interlocking mechanism. As a result, safety is improved and more produce can be transported,” Strong points out.
Further, the in-built ventilation reduces cooling time and saves energy, and a clean, nonporous surface provides a hygienic, bacteria-free environment. Ultimately, this means that the produce arrives at its destination in a better condition, compared with the condition it would have been in, had wooden bins been used.