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Revolutionary ethylene absorber is ‘berry’ good - Marks and Spencer

By Rory Harrington , 09-Jan-2012

Marks & Spencer (M&S) said it has become the first retailer to use a “revolutionary” ethylene strip in strawberry punnets at the point of sale that will extend the shelf life of the fruit by up to 50%.

The UK-based company said the “exclusive technology” will boost typical shelf life of strawberries kept in fridges from four to six days thanks to an ethylene absorbing band. Ethylene is the hormone that causes fruit to ripen and then turn mouldy.

The active packaging system, which has previously only been used in transit packing, measures 8cm x 4.5cm. The active ingredient is a patented mixture of high tech minerals and clay that offer over one hundred times greater ethylene absorption capacity compared with any other known materials, said M&S.

The strip is being manufactured and supplied to the firm by active and intelligent packaging firm It’s Fresh! – a subsidiary of UK company Food Freshness Technology Holdings Ltd.

Company director Simon Lee told FoodProductionDailty.com that while the technology was an established one, its use in individual strawberry punnets, and later in berries, for the retailer was exclusive.

Food savings

M&S said its own tests demonstrated the strip would realise a minimum waste saving of 4% - representing 40,000 packs (800,000 strawberries) at the height of the UK season. The fruits will also taste fresher for longer, it added

Hugh Mowat, M&S Agronomist, said: “This new technology is a win-win for our customers – not only will their strawberries taste better for longer, but we really hope it will help them to reduce their food waste as they no longer need to worry about eating their strawberries as soon as they buy them.”

The new strawberry packaging system, due to be launched today, is part of the retailer’s Plan A sustainability initiative.

The firm said it was looking to extend the use of the strip in its packaging across all of its fresh berries in 2012.

Cost factor

Active and intelligent (A&I) technology is seen as having huge potential in food packaging with the global market forecast to be worth almost US$25bn by 2021, according to analysts Visiongain.

However, higher costs have been cited by industry experts as a barrier to entry and a factor that is likely to delay wider take up of A&I systems.

Rival UK supermarket chain Asda said it had trialled ethanol absorbing pads on strawberries from Spain last year but didn’t roll out the research as it failed to “show a benefit in terms of longer life when looking at the additional cost per punnet”.

But it added this was also because its “unique” supply chain system meant it was able to optimise product quality and ‘farm to fork’ times.

However, M&S confirmed that the inclusion of its ethylene strip would not affect the price of its strawberries.

When asked by FoodProductionDaily.com to explain how it had overcome the challenge of including individual ethylene strips in packaging without driving up cost, the retailer said such information was confidential.

It’s Fresh director Lee said the crucial factor was adding value to a product by reducing food waste and improving quality.

“Nobody would use the product unless it brings added value,” he added. “The fact that companies like M&S are taking it up shows there is added value. Reducing food waste is a huge mandate for retailers. Improving shelf life and quality means people will be more satisfied with a product and ultimately consume more of it.”

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