UFLEX-Shaping the Fresh ProduceWorld with Flexfresh Packaging Solution

Mr. N. Siva Shankaran

Mr. N SivaShankaran,Vice President of UFLEX (India),and Mr. Ivo Hendriks,Commercial Director at Perfotec B.V. (The Netherlands), interacted with Sagrika Sanjay and Binoy Sahee of Food Marketing & Technology-India about their new fresh produce shelf-life extension solution, “FlexFreshTM.

Our objective was to create a secondary skin for the product where there is minimalweight-loss if the product is breathing in hydrated Oxygen. Today we have a Made-in-India film, with patent of UFLEX, which is the first film in the world being biodegradable by composting.”

Please tell us about the FlexFresh?

uflex by seaWe as India’s largest multinational flexible packaging materials and Solution Companyhad had been working on introducing a technology to extend shelf life of fresh produce which inherently is perishable in nature. We came up with Flexfresh which is made of a special proprietary polymeric composition.

FlexFresh is a path breaking product in extending self-life of perishable fresh produce, yet maintaining sensory characteristics. It is a win-win product for farmers, manufactures, and consumers alike. As product throws out a lot of humidity; we utilise it so that the product can breathe inhydrated oxygen and in aerobic conditions underactivemodified environment created inside the bag. Flexfresh maintains equilibrium of oxygen and carbon dioxide at all times which elongates the shelf-life of the fresh produce.

What about the learning curve and success of this product and explain the technology behind Uflex’s Flexfresh?

uflex by seaThe path to success was not easy. This technique did not work with Alphonso mangoes to begin with. We went back to the drawing board and analysed the root casue of the failure. It took us almost three months to figure out the reason.

We were tasked to createa kind of film which was not available in the world. After about a year in 2014, we at Uflex were able to developasubstrate comprising patented proprietary polymeric compositionwhich could work on Active Modified Atmospheric Packaging Technology (AMAP) for elongating the shelf life of fresh produce like fruits, vegetables and flowers. This solution works in conjunction with Fast Respiration Meter and Laser Perforation system supplied by Perfotec B.V. While the respiration meter ascertains the respiration rate of the fresh produce, the laser system uses this information to adapt the permeability of the film with the help of perforation matrix. A lot of water has flown under the bridge ever since. Perfotec B.V. is now our partner distributor representing us in in North America, South America, and Europe. We handle the Asian market and this partnership has progressed well. The complementarity of our film with the apparatus provided by Perfotec B.V. has resulted in extending the Indo-Dutch partnership.

uflex by seaOur special proprietary packaging goes as the second skin because it allows Carbon dioxideto releasewithout damaging the product and benefits the environment from its biodegradability.

We accomplished the mission of maintaining equilibrium of oxygen and carbon dioxide inside the liner bag whilemaintaining the humidity between 90-95% avoidingcondensation.We use neither gas flushing nor compressed vacuum technique. The amount of oxygen required by the product is the key point of the packaging. This is controlled by the perforation. The number of micro-perforationsrequired is decided on the basis of Oxygen and Carbon Dioxiderequired inside the bag.

We have been working with various Agro research centres in India and overseas for accreditation of Flexfresh Solution as a shelf-life extension technology for fresh produce like vegetables, fruits and flowers. Recently in a big development for the Active Modified Atmospheric Packaging (AMAP) solution by Uflex, Flexfresh has been accredited by Indian Council of Agricultural Research – National Research Centre on Pomegranate (ICAR-NRCP), Solapur Maharashtra, India. It was observed that the control fruits (pomegranates) which had neither been wax-treated nor packaged in liner bags were acceptable only up to 30 days, on the basis of sensory score. The PLW on 30th day for control fruits was 7.00%. The wax pre-treated fruits were acceptable on the basis of sensory score up to 45 days with PLW of 7.10%. The fruits packaged in liner bag either pre-treated or non-treated with wax were found to be acceptable up to 90th day of storage with low PLW of 4.30 and 4.36% respectively. The wax treatment improved storability of fruits by 15 days over control fruits. The fruits treated with wax and packaged in liner bag improved storability significantly by 60 days over control.

uflexWe along with Perfotec B.V. owing to our robust sales and marketing distribution network are working with several leading super markets and research agencies around the world for establishing the benefits of Flexfresh™ in potatoes, Brussel sprouts, papayas, grapes, blueberries, pomegranates, flowers, chillies, beans, broccoli, cauliflower, mango, okra, mushroom, cut vegetables among several other products across the globe.

What is the mechanism of respiration? How do you adjust the composition of gases?

We measure the respiration rate of freshproduce. It is normal for the same product to have different respiration rates. The rate of respiration is influenced by the soil quality, amount of nutrients in the soil, water quality and the environment. To begin with we start with the atmospheric conditions i.e.78percent Nitrogen and 21percent Oxygen and traces of other gases like carbon dioxide, nitrous oxides, methane, and ozone. Gradually as the fresh produces starts breathing the Oxygen levels go down while Carbon Dioxide increases. The bag maintains equilibrium of both these gases at all times.Thus there is no shock to the product packed.

Our Readers would be interested to read about success stories. Could you please cite some?

Waterless Internet Flower Packaging: Waterless Internet Flower Packaging by Uflex is a shot in the arm of E-commerce companies and Retailers bringing enormous savings. Flowers are put to slow respiration mode for preventing excess oxidation and spoilage. Flexfresh™ keeps the flowers breathing in hydrated oxygen and releases excess humidity keeping them touch dry. This extends the shelf life of the flowers to as much as 21 days (longest in comparison to any other packaging solution currently available). By the virtue of this property of FlexfreshTM the exporters are able to send their consignments by economical sea-freight (at 0 degree) rather than expensive air-freight. This results in enormous savings by the retailers who procure flowers from exporters on regular basis.

Over and above the 21 days that Waterless Internet Flower Packaging offers in terms of shelf life, 7 days of vase life is also guaranteed at the end-user’s end making the deal yet lucrative. There is an encouraging demand for Waterless Internet Flower Packaging for various flower producing countries.

For the waterless internet flower packaginginnovation we won the 2016 award byUnited Fresh Produce Association at Chicago. For the same solution we won fourFlexible Packaging Achievementawards in 2017 at Florida and the First Prize in 7th Innovation Practitioners Summit hosted by All India Management Association (AIMA) in December 2017. We are now indiscussion withreputed global companies for this packaging solution.Owing to the uniqueness of the product, weenjoy the first mover advantage.

Ivo HendriksInputs from Mr. Ivo Hendriks, Netherlands: FlexfreshTM has been able to remarkably bring down logistical costs (in some cases almost by 60%), with several exporters now switching over to cost-effective sea-freight instead of the erstwhile expensive air-freight. This is undeniably a big benefit that any exporter can get.

Some other success stories are discussed hereunder:

A leading Dutch Bell Pepper exporter has commenced shipping its produce to USA by sea containers which was not possible earlier and used to be sent out by Air incurring huge costs. The exporter is happy with the arrival quality and intends to export over 300 containers from Holland to USA this year after conducting successful trials by sea container earlier in 2015.

An Indian Pomegranate grower has been supplying its produce to Europe. Extensive trials were conducted during 2015 and in the current season, over 300+ containers of pomegranate are being exported to Europe and other countries, to leading super markets with excellent quality upon arrival.

Several containers of Papayas packed in FlexfreshTM were exported by Sea from Mangalore (India) to Dubai during Ramadan earlier in June 2017. Super Markets and Fruit wholesalers in Dubai were extremely happy with the arrival quality of the Indian Papayas and the Indian exporter further dispatched additional sea shipments during Ramadan to Dubai for catering to the demand.

uflex by seaA prominent European Retail Chain conducted a litmus trial with FlexfreshTM bags by shipping Blueberries from South America to Europe. This journey usually takes more than 5 weeks by sea. The results have been MORE THAN ASTOUNDING! While the loose blueberries resulted in an average weight loss of 19.96%, those packed in FlexfreshTM shed merely 0.76% weight after a period of 7 weeks, thus registering a phenomenal 96% reduction in weight loss upon arrival.

The objective of the retail chain was to ascertain if it was possible to ship and store the soft fruit (blueberry) for 7 weeks in a Flexfresh™ bags. The blueberries were packed in punnets with and without FlexfreshTM liner bags. In a separate lot, loose blueberries were packed with and without FlexfreshTM liner bags. After 7 weeks the blueberries in the liner bags were found to be good, firm, crunchy and tasty. However those packed in a controlled ambience had most of them collapsed and mouldy. The results also established that pre-packing itself is not enough as it can address the issue of weight loss but not quality. Punnets with and without liner bags resulted in 0.76% and 2.56% weight loss respectively. Both these figures are significantly lower than the 19.96% weight loss registered in case of loose blueberries. The punnets that were not using liner bag still showed the same quality problems like mouldy blueberries.

To Mr. Ivo: What is the response from the Netherlands in terms of flower packaging film?

The response is positive because the shelf-life of a bouquet is much longer when packed in Flexfresh. Retailers are receiving flowers from across the globe shipped by sea. I look after the European and South American markets.We have an important partner in Chile catering to cherries and blueberries growers. Together, UFLEX and Perfote care offering a packaging solution, a concept and not just aone off product. We expect a ballistic growthfor this type of packaging in Europe and Americas.

Tell us about your first Flexfresh experiment story

The first experiment done was with papaya. Papaya harvest is very challenging. If we harvest a raw papaya, it remains raw, making it a different fruit. The first stage of ripening is the single strand of yellow which appears when the product is harvested.

At the ripening stage, the amount of water that comes out of the fruit creates a fungal activity in stems and damages the fruit. We did the first experimentation with the company in Brazil for single papaya. We offered the same technology for bulk transport to a Karnataka-based company, offering them a nine kilogram pack.

The critical thing was that we went from Bangalore to Mangalore by road, and from Mangalore Seaport it went to Paradip Port. Ultimately, the papaya was sent to Dubai, which took18-20 days time. This time frame was pre-decided taking into account ripening so that it reaches Dubai in readyto be consumed stage. One of the advantages of using this technology is that weget an elevated Carbon Dioxide that keeps the fruit firm and it does not get fully converted into yellow with high sugar development inside. We used the BRIX metre to check the sugar content. Flexfresh has given about 19-20 BRIX reading, 2-3 units more than the regular one. The major take away is the fruit with no fungal issues, without anyweight loss.

What are the other fruits and vegetables that Flexfresh can pack for the export market?

Flexfresh packaging solution has been a runaway success for pomegranates exported from India to Europe and Middle East.

We along with Perfotec B.V. owing to their robust sales and marketing distribution network are working with several leading super markets and accreditation agencies around the world for establishing the benefits of Flexfresh™ in potatoes, Brussel sprouts, papayas, grapes, green chillies, bananas, blue-berries, pomegranates, flowers, beans, broccoli, cauliflower, mango, okra, mushroom, cut vegetables and several other products across the globe.

We havealso set up ourdistributors in Taiwan, Vietnam and the Far East. Flexfresh currently is being supplied from India to various parts of the world.

What Growth and Challenges do you anticipate?

We are growing at a rate of 400-500 percent and will continue to do so for another seven to eight years at the very least. We are working in the North American market where we get to seespecific problems related to that market. North America has this problem of shelf-life extension for the stone fruits. They have plums, apricots, as per their US FDA standards, where fruits are maintained at zero degrees Celsius. One of the largest growers in California gave us a challenge to extend the shelf-life for one month at 10 degrees Celsius. Taking this as a challenge we have already demonstrated increase in the Brix level, which is the indicator of sweetness while maintaining the fruit firm during the period of storage. Since last year was bad due to climate change, further work will be carried out in the next season.

What makes these Indian products command demand?

Indian fruits and vegetables are high onnutrition while simultaneously offering very good taste. The tropical climate favours the quality of the fruits and vegetables.

If we talk about pomegranates, the international variety popular by the name ‘wonderful’ does not match the taste of the ones grown in India by the name ‘bhagwa’, Thus the tropical climate favours our fruits, vegetables and other fresh produce.

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