Collaboration Spurs Innovation

person holding fresh produce packaging

As published in Produce Plus by Fruit Net on 8 June 2020

BioPak's chief executive Gary Smith shares how a willingness to consider broader costs can support innovation in fresh produce packaging.

Experimentation and innovation are the driving forces behind BioPak’s mission to create sustainable, environmentally-friendly packaging, but the success of this goal is a collaborative effort, says BioPak chief executive, Gary Smith.

This passion and the company’s commitment to researching and developing new solutions is only one part of the equation. According to Smith, support of retailers, packers and producers is also required for the industry to innovate.

“We only have limited resources to get our ideas to the next point, what is important is that there is an economic demand for the product,” he notes.

“We need people in the positions of power to make decisions that change habits and create real change.”

Smith says BioPak has experienced this drive recently while working with Woolworths to implement new pulp-based, home compostable and recyclable tomato punnets, and fruit and vegetable trays.

“There were significant challenges, including the need for massive investment from us, the tomato producer and the retailer, Woolworths,” says Smith.

“The biggest driver to the producers, whether it be the packers or the farmers, is cost, and Woolworths has been open to accepting that.”

The cost of moving to new packaging can often come down to a few cents per unit, but these can add up.

“To the average person out there they might say two or three cents, what is that? But those cents make a big difference in our industry, adding 30-40 per cent to overall costs – a huge impact,” says Smith.

“If you’re not going to make it part of your agenda to require sustainable packaging then people will migrate to the lowest common cost and that’s plastic, but the environmental cost is not low,” says Smith.

“Woolworths, their suppliers and BioPak have taken the burden of the additional cost to drive sustainability. I think the public is absolutely rewarding us for that move.”

BioPak will hope for this kind of cooperation across the industry as it continues to work on packaging innovations, the latest of which is a home compostable and recyclable mushroom punnet.

Smith says BioPak has not been deterred by the challenges of trying to adapt its sustainable solution to different types of products as this project nears completion.

“There were some issues with mushrooms for example, as we found the pulp was absorbing some of the moisture of the mushrooms. This wasn’t a bad thing from a taste experience or a shelf-life experience, but it did affect the mushrooms aesthetically,” explains Smith.

“So now after about a year of development, we believe we have a pulp tray that does not absorb the moisture for mushrooms and we will be doing final trials in the next two to three months and hopefully have a solution for mushrooms.”

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