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Food packaging news

September 15th, 2011

Horraayyy. Enough said.

Cup summit. Now this makes sense. Talk and brainstorm an issue to a resolution where everyone wins.

Styrene hysteria. Here’s a lengthy, but excellent piece on how misguided activists and over zealous, uniformed politicians can jeopardize an entire industry.

Food Packaging News

August 18th, 2011

Your old buddy Ken will be on vacation next week, but rest assured, he’ll be back the following week to keep you informed and entertained.

Packaging that extends food shelf life. Now that makes sense. Food spoilage/waste is a major contributor to the solid waste stream.

Sacramento legislature mulls over a bill that would most certainly kill jobs, stagnate local eatery businesses and drive up consumer prices. If you oppose this, email Alan Lowenthal who is the author of this job killing bill and tell him so. Instead tell him to support increased trash collection and to clamp down on litter bugs.

Salinas City Council has just passed a job killing bill that will do nothing more than put pressure on already strained local restaurant owners trying to make a living. Congratulations to all the council members for their incredible short sighted and misguided views. What better way to drive tourists and visitors away from a community than to make it more expensive to dine out. Why don’t these legislators listen to businesses? Beats me.

Food packaging helps reduce the massive food waste issue. Here’s what the people on the Salinas council don’t want you to know.

Food Packaging News Week of 8/8

August 12th, 2011

Interactive cereal boxes? How cool is that?

Creative food packaging comes in all shapes and sizes. My favorite from that group was the smiley face ice cream container. One that was not on there is the Sabra humus package which I think is a great looking presentation (and really good humus to boot).

Bio-based terms can be confusing to consumers. Very good article talking about good green marketing practices. FYI, at Genpak we practice full disclosure and have third party confirmations for our claims.

I’ll have mushrooms with that computer! Brilliant. God bless good old fashioned American ingenuity! Pretty soon Mr. Fusion will become a reality (Google it if you don’t get it).

More bans that do nothing more than replace one type of litter with another all while driving up prices for consumers and squeezing profits for local businesses. Yet another activist in Ms. Kasa spreading fear and misinformation regarding food packaging that’s been used safely, for over 40 years. How about instead of banning products, the local municipalities crack down on litter bugs and step up trash collection?

Fostering the next generation of food packaging engineers. Bravo.

Foamed polystyrene recycling efforts! Hats off to a progressive thinking community. Perhaps the city leaders of Salinas should pay attention here.

Foam Food Service Packaging

February 17th, 2011

My morning started out pretty good. Got the kid off to school, had my morning coffee and the temperature is actually reasonable (for this time of year)…then I read through some emails. Normally a fairly benign task to be sure. But in this morning’s emails were two articles regarding food service packaging. Needless to say they were not very complimentary as it seems to be lately. The first article covered the proposed ban of polystyrene food service products in San Mateo County which is a coastal community in northern California. Nothing new here really and it’s a topic that’s been covered many times within this blog, but I can’t help myself from tendering to you a thought or two. The article talked about two specific issues including marine litter and health concerns. It is true there is an issue with pollution of all sorts being allowed to enter the oceans. Foamed polystyrene seems to be taking the brunt of this. Why you ask? I’ll tell you. It’s because foamed polystyrene floats. You can see it. I’m sure you’ve heard of the old phrase “out of sight, out of mind”. Well that phrase applies here. Of all the trash, litter and debris people so carelessly toss out into the environment that make their way into our oceans, only those items that are light weight, like many plastic items such as foamed polystyrene can be seen because they float. All that other junk like tires, cans, hub caps and of course anything liquid sinks to the bottom where do their nasty work completely unseen. I’m certainly not suggesting that litter is not an issue. It is and should be addressed. But perhaps instead of banning products and causing increased costs to already over burdened restaurants, governments should step up the policing of litter bugs and enforce fines. Also, according to the Keep America Clean, increase the number of public trash receptacles and include lids. One of the main sources of litter is overflowing trash cans. One good gust of wind will carry any light weight item right out of it.

The other point of that particular article talked about this material as being a supposed health hazard. That it can leach things into food. The statement made in the article was very vague and general in terms. No official report or study was sited. Just a general statement. It always burns me when I see this type of statement. There has been plenty of talk and study done regarding BPA’s and their possible effects to humans. However, foamed polystyrene does not contain BPA. Never has to my knowledge. People need to realize that not all plastics are the same. Far from it. Each type has its own separate set of structures and it should not be assumed that all are the same. Just because one dog has fleas doesn’t mean the whole kennel is bad!

This segway’s right into the second article I read this morning entitled “Toxics Leaching From Plastic Food Packaging”. I will give this article credit in that it actually called out a few specific substances, but once again it failed to list the types of plastics in question. It’s like making a statement of “cars have brake problems”. First thing I’d ask is, which cars? Anyway, this article was talking about phthalates which is a substance used to make certain type of plastics like PVC (that plastic your water pipes are made from) more flexible. They are also used as coatings for pharmaceutical and supplement pills. PVC is not a material used for food packaging. I’d be more concerned about that pill coating since that is definitely consumed. I can report to you that nothing we make has phthalates in them!

The best part of this was that the article goes on to state “what you can do”, presumably to avoid this substance. The first was to buy whole, fresh foods. Fair enough. For those, you only really have to deal with the pesticides, herbicides and maybe even the stray GMO if your afraid of that (by the way my favorite GMO is the seedless watermelon and seedless grapes). The second was to take the DIY approach. For those of you who don’t know, DIY stands for Do It Yourself. The person who wrote that article is suggesting you purchase a food processor of some sort and make your own baby food or perhaps buying a dehydrator to preserve your own fruits. Okay that one might be a stretch, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt as I’m an avid DIYer, although not in the food processing game. More of the projects around the house kind. The third, and my personal favorite was to make friends with a farmer so you know which types of foods are in and out of season. I guess this is so you can buy only those products that are fresh and ripe for consumption. They even provided a web site that linked to a map showing what is in season in your area. Well, I decided to just check that out since tonight is grocery night. I, like millions of other people live in the Northeast, New York to be specific. The interactive map that is supposed to tell me what to buy for supper tonight (according to that author) said “Growing season is currently dormant here; opt for items in storage such as apples, pears and root vegetables”. Hmmm apples, pears and root vegetables. I can tell you a steady diet of apples, pears and root vegetable will not make me king of the household not to mention the undo strain this will put on our septic system due to all that fiber.

I guess my point to all of this is that, if you do read these articles and blogs on this or any topic, please don’t take what is written as the absolute gospel truth. Not even what is written here for that matter (although you can trust me). Do your own research. Find multiple reliable sources. See if there is collaboration to what is being claimed and draw your own conclusions. You’ll feel better having looked into it and you might even get a laugh out of what you find, like that crazy “what’s fresh” map which is completely worthless to those of us who live with ice and snow for 5 out of 12 months a year.

Until next time…

Foodservice Packaging Material Choices

February 3rd, 2011

Recently we’ve had some new and existing customers make a switch from one type of food packaging substrate (the material used to make a product) to another. Reasons for the switch are many and range from economic in nature to new applications such as microwave use, to environmental concerns. Whatever the reason, I strongly recommend thoroughly researching the substrate you would like to switch to before hand, as not all materials act and react the same way to external factors common to food service such as heat. Even if the geometry of the item in question is identical, say a 12 ounce bowl, the outcome during the application can be drastically different. 

Using this 12 ounce bowl as an example, let’s assume a food service operator wants to switch from a foam laminated version to a clear PET version. Let’s further assume that hot soup is being served. The operator may have wanted to make this switch to be perceived as being “green” by using a material that is more easily recycled. Clear PET, sometimes referred to as APET, is generally #1 curb side recyclable and may even contain some post consumer recycled content. Two very highly coveted features for a good “green” story. Back to this example, there are a couple possible flaws with this particular switch away from a laminated foam part. First, an APET product would generally be more expensive than a foamed polystyrene item. Even if they have the exact same dimensions, the APET part would most likely weigh significantly more causing the price differential. An average 12 ounce laminated foam bowl might weigh in at 4 grams where a like APET bowl would be upwards of 10 grams. Even if the raw material cost was a bit less for APET at the time, its unlikely the delta would be enough to be on par cost wise with a foamed part.

Assuming our food service operator already knew the item would cost more and was prepared to absorb that extra cost, let’s move on to the next reason this might not be the best choice. APET is not a very good insulator. In other words, whatever the temperature of the soup is will be very close to the temperature of the outside of that bowl. APET, unlike foam will transfer heat fairly quickly. Given that the average temperature of soup at serving is around 145° F, that 12 ounce bowl will be far too hot to touch without burning your hands.

As you can see, a PET soup bowl might not be the best choice. Now for something like cold side salads sure, PET would be an excellent choice. In this instance however, if having an item that is perceived to be more environmentally friendly was the driving force behind a switch, I would have recommended our Harvest Fiber 12 ounce bowl. It has very good insulation properties, can handle hot foods, is 100% BPI certified compostable and is made from all natural, renewable resources.

Using that same example, let us assume our food service operator was considering polypropylene instead of APET. After all, polypro is a microwave safe material. He’ll still have the problem of a hot-to-the-touch bowl. Polypropylene is not a very good insulator either. Whatever that temperature the soup is will be very close to what the outside of the bowl will be. Another drawback of materials that are poor insulators is that hot food will cool quickly. So if the operator lets the soup cool enough to pick up the bowl without burning fingers, a consumer could be left with a cold bowl of soup in a fairly short period of time.

There are an infinite number of examples like this that span across all substrates and across all markets including food service, processors and retail. Polypro to PET, polystyrene to polypro, PET to a biobased …the list goes on and on. The absolute best way to make sure the switch you’d like to make will work for all aspects of your applications is to first check with your food service packaging professional. Whether that be your manufacturers rep, distributor rep or my personal favorite, the manufacturer themselves (me). A little research ahead of time can avoid an unhappy customer and bad experience in the end.

Top Ten of 2010

December 30th, 2010

As we draw to a close for 2010 here at Genpak, I figured a top 10 list might be in order. There certainly are many topics to choose from both inside and outside our company. Who knew the food service industry could be such a hot bed of topics? From silly governmental bans to block-buster acquisitions, it’s tough to pick a top ten. Since there were so many juicy headlines to choose from, I’ll break this out into two categories. Top ten news stories outside Genpak and the top ten within Genpak.

First our own stories:

10. Broke 500 followers on our Twitter account. It’s not an Oprah-like following, but then again food packaging isn’t as exciting as the latest muckitymuck gossip.

9. Launched the TR04PC “corn” tray.

8. Expanded our Smart Set Pro microwave safe offering. We now offer compartmentalized rectangular and round microwave safe food packaging.

7. Launced the fast growing Supermarket Container line of clear food packaging. This particular configuration has become the “must have” for dip companies as well as dried fruit and nut processors.

6. Our ever popular line of AD Deli Containers became endorsed by the Green Restaurant Association. Our industry leading use of post consumer recycled material was a major contributing factor with this endorsement.

5. Introduced a hybrid line of food service packaging with our Harvest Starch offering. We replaced 60% of the standard petrochemical resin with natural, annually renewable starches.

4. Introduced cutlery for the first time into our every growing family of products. As part of our Harvest Starch line, we included forks, knives and spoons. Many environmental cutlery offerings out there just sort of melted with hot food/drink applications. Ours won’t!

3. Acquired Dover Cup Company. With this move, we have become a major player of hot and cold paper drink cups and food containers in Eastern Canada.

2. Launched a line of PET cold drink cups. With this substrate, customers can now recycle our cups where #1 curb side programs exist. It also allows us to start including post consumer recycled content into our cups.

1. Launched Harvest Fiber which is a 100% natural and BPI certified compostable line of food service products. Genpak was the first major food service packaging provider to launch a full line of compostable food packaging products with our Harvest Collection nearly two years ago. Since that time we have upgraded, added products and moved into a fiber substrate offering which gives our customers many more options. Harvest Fiber is fast becoming known as the gold standard for compostable products with its superior engineering and product functionality. Who says a fiber product can’t be loaded with quality?

In total we launched 65 new products in 2010. That doesn’t include improvements and upgrades to existing items, which there were plenty of. I’m expecting 2011 to be just as fast on the product front. Stay tuned as you just might be surprised what’s in store!

And now my top 10 list from outside Genpak.

10. The number of active restaurants fell by over 5,000 in 2010. I guess that stimulus package really didn’t apply to our friends in the restaurant biz.

9. Pactiv acquired PWP for a cool $200MM. And the number of suppliers for clear food packaging just got smaller by 1. For those folks buying from PWP because they didn’t like Pactiv, we invite you to review our huge selection of clear hinged & two piece bakery products. Don’t see what you need? No problem, just give us a call as we specialize in custom packaging solutions.

8. Walmart vows to decrease it’s greenhouse gas emissions by 20 metric tons by 2015. Translation – suppliers better figure out how to cut emissions PDQ.

7. The city of Seattle forces all food service operators, including supermarkets to find compostable alternatives for all single use items by July 1st. I’ll bet a pound of ground beef in Seattle just went up by 10%.

6. Breakfast on the go hits $57B in sales and accounts for nearly a quarter of sales for some eateries. As a side note, the breakfast sandwich reins supreme for the most ordered item.

5. The degradable plastics market will hit $380MM by 2014. Green packaging is here to stay.

4. Solo Cup purchases InnoWare for $24MM.

3. San Francisco proposes a ban on toys in kids meals to combat childhood obesity. Probably the most silly of the “government in your face” bans of them all.

2. The FTC announces their proposed new Green Marketing guide for environmental claims. Forget sleeping aids. Just start reading this gem and you’ll be out like a light.

1. Pactiv is acquired by Rank Group LTD (Reynold’s) for an easy $6B. The bakery packaging supplier choices continues to shrink. Fear not as we have the absolute biggest selection of bakery products imaginable!

Well there you have it. The official top ten lists as determined by your humble blogster. I look forward to more posts in 2011. Until then, Happy New Year!

Packaging first…okay, maybe second

May 26th, 2010

I can’t tell you how many times I get calls from food service operators, confectioners and food processors looking for custom food packaging to fit their new creation or menu option. Now that by itself sounds great, and it is. The problem arises when the packaging to transport these culinary works of art are at the bottom of their to do list when it should really be the second item on the list.

The reason for this is the cost to make custom shapes and sizes can be a significant dollar amount. Without getting too technical into reasons, I can tell you it can get into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. A capital outlay of this magnitude is often something people just weren’t thinking about. Especially when they were probably thinking the packaging would be around 2%, maybe 3% of their overall cost. Now a whole new set of costs need to be justified for the operators. Often times on a brand new menu or food item, the “for sure” sales volume is not there to support such an expense. Sure we do get those calls from the larger, national food processors or food service operators who can handle this sort of thing with the power of their particular brand, but for the small and mid-sized companies, an extra $100,000 would kill the whole deal. They’d now be faced with going out and finding a smaller, custom forming company who might be able to make what they need without the large tooling costs, but their final part price will be 30% or more than what they were hoping which is no bargain either.

There is hope! Just move the packaging part of your new food product equation up to the number two spot.  A early on call to your friendly food packaging specialist (me) could save thousands later down the road. We can work with you to design a packaging solution utilizing our massive inventory of existing footprints. 90% of the time we already have a design that will work perfectly. But for that other 10%, sometimes just a minor tweak to the food item or perhaps a simple count change (6 muffins instead of 9) is all it takes to design that perfect package. Perfect both economically and functionally. However if that packaging call is the last on the list and all other aspects are set in stone, it can sometimes be an up hill climb to find an economical solution. 

So for all you food processors and food service operators out there who like to create new tasty items for us to eat, do me and you both a favor and bump your food packaging decision a few notches up the to do list.  I guarantee you’ll be glad you did.

More bans?

May 21st, 2010

Well here we go again. More politicians have decided they are experts on food packaging. This time it’s New York state (Genpak’s home state by the way). State Senator Liz Krueger and Assembly member Brian Kavanagh have teamed with others in an attempt to ban the use of foamed polystyrene food service products in governmental offices and public schools.  They kicked off this witch hunt by holding a rally on Earth Day at a Manhattan school, standing next to a giant pile of polystyrene products. They have also begun recruiting elected officials to sign their SPARE (Stop Polystyrene And Revitalize the Environment) pledge. I guess this document forces governmental office buildings to find other, (more expensive) forms food service packaging. Ms. Kruger went on to say she was proud to be part of something that will ban products blah blah blah, toxic to the environment blah blah, etc etc. All the same rhetoric that is mostly all false or half true.

Here’s what I think. Election day is right around the corner and if you are an incumbent, you’re fighting for your political life. Especially in New York where once again we have no budget in place because of all the political bickering. Hey, let’s find an easy target we can pick on that will make us look like good guys in the voters eyes. Styrofoam!  Yes there we go, lets ban Styrofoam! 

Let’s face it, foamed polystyrene (Styrofoam is a trade name by another company) is an easy target due to huge consumer misconception…partially fueled by the misinformation piled on by folks like this. These politicians make up neat acronyms like SPARE and stand next to a giant piles of garbage talking about the ills of the material. Most of what they are saying are totally incorrect.

I’m not going to go into all the misinformation Krueger and Kavanagh are saying on this post, but if you are interested, I’ve posted before regarding all the misconceptions of foamed polystyrene. They don’t take long to read and it’s real information offered by someone not looking to be elected.

One thing that should be said here is if they are successful, taxpayers in NY should know that most of the alternative materials available are significantly more expensive than foam. Yes there are alternatives. I know because we sell a ton of it with our Harvest label products. It’s compostable and made from annually renewable resources. But, unfortunately, it is more expensive. Given the economic crisis the politicians have put New York State in, I would think they should be looking for any savings they can get. Spending 15% to 20% more for alternative food service packaging is probably not the wisest choice at the moment.

Listen, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. We are not against alternative materials for food packaging.  Far from it. Genpak is leading the charge for alternative materials. We have products made from annually renewable resources, products that have been significantly source reduced, products that are #1 recyclable, products that are produced with up to 50% post consumer recycled content and products produced from hybrid materials that replace a significant portion of the petrochemical resin with natural, annually renewable materials. What I’m against is politicians finding a business sector to regulate and control without knowing the facts, to make them appear grand in voters eyes.

I propose instead of SPARE they initiate DUMB (Don’t Usurp My NYS Budget) or perhaps STUPID (Stop Tying Up taxPayers Invaluable Dollars) and get to work on passing a budget for this great state. Let the food service markets and industries make their own natural progression toward the materials and substrates that make the most sense environmentally and economically.

NRA Show

May 19th, 2010

Every time I tell someone who is not in the food service business, that we are displaying at the NRA show, I have to tell them, no we don’t make rifles, we make plates. NRA stands for National Restaurant Association, and their show is the biggest of its kind. The show, as usual, is in Chicago and it starts this weekend. We’ll be there at booth 415. 

When you do stop by, tell the Genpakers at the booth you heard about it on the Genpak blog and ask to sign up to win the iPod Touch we are giving away. 

What you’ll see at our booth is:

It’s all state-of-the-art, cutting edge food packaging on display. What better way to spend your weekend? Stroll around the show, stop by the Genpak booth and if you are luck and have connections, go watch the Blackhawks attempt to get into the Stanley Cup finals. 

See you there.

Packaging in the Crosshairs

November 13th, 2009

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of bad press regarding packaging, especially food service packaging. There have been venomous articles written ranging from packaging filling up landfills to packaging that causes erectile dysfunction (no lie, just saw that one yesterday). Some writings do have valid points, but never really tell the whole story. Take the landfill debate for instance. It is true that most plastic packaging that is properly disposed of in a landfill, will stay there for a very long time. Nobody will debate that. What the folks who write those articles fail to tell their readers is that damn near everything that is disposed of in a modern landfill will also stay there for a very long time to come. This includes organic materials such as food waste, paper and even grass clippings. Why?  Because most modern landfills are designed to keep light, heat and moisture out. These are the very things required to break materials down.  I won’t bore you with all the science behind it, but you can certainly read what Dr. Ramani Narayan of Michigan State University states about landfills. In a nutshell and to paraphrase, landfills are not giant composting sites but rather giant mumifiers. But again, these are facts that enemies of food service and other packaging and misinformers who write about packaging won’t tell you.

As for the “plastic food containers are clogging our landfills” statement, here too, you are only being told part of the whole story. According to the EPA statistics for 2007, plastics (that’s all plasticsand not just food packaging) make up only 12.1% of all the material going into the municipal solid waste stream.  The food service packaging portion of that is only 1.2%! They go on to state that organics of all things, make up the largest component of the materials. That would be your yard trimmings, paper and food waste. Here again, the naysayers fail to mention that little tidbit because it does not fit into whatever agenda they have.

What they should be talking about are the virtues of food service packaging. Here’s a few to ponder. 

Sanitation – Single use food packaging has been proven to be more sanitary than reusable china and glassware. A 2002 study conducted in Las Vegas, NV concluded that 18% of the reusable items tested had higher than acceptable bacterial counts.

Water & Energy Savings – Industrial size dish washing units used by restaurants will consume 2 to 7 gallons of 150°F to 180°F water per minute.  Do the math!

Food Spoilage – Insulated food packaging will keep take-out foods hot much longer which decreases the chance for food being tossed due to inadequate temperatures or food spoilage.

Worker Safety – Most single use food service packaging is very lightweight which reduces the risk for accidents such as back injury. It also helps reduce the risks of scratches and cuts that can happen with chipped permanent & glassware items.

Convenience – Many types of food packaging may be washed out and used over and over again in the home place for leftovers storage.  Some, like our Smart Set Pro series are also microwave safe for further home reuse convenience.

So the next time you read an article, blog or other report droning on and on about the ills of such products, do me a favor and just do a little research on your own before passing judgment. Good sources of information are the  FPI, BPI and EPA.  Or just contact us and ask a question.  I promise, we’ll give you the straight up answer without any spin.

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