GEA FoodTray – greener packaging and less plastic for meat manufacturer

A European manufacturer of high quality meat and sausage products has been helping to boost its sustainability credentials withe the use of GEA FoodTray – a combination of cardboard tray and plastic film – for safely packaging marinated meat. Both cardboard tray and plastic film are automatically handled and produced on the GEA PowerPak PLUS thermoformer and can easily be separated after use for disposal.

FZ Neumuenster GmbH & Co KG has relied on GEA packaging machines for many years. Part of the Kiel-based Bartels-Langness Group, Fleischzentrale Neumuenster (FZ) supplies fresh meat and sausage products to department stores, supermarkets and associated retailers.

Production manager Dirk Stemke makes his company’s stance clear: “Protecting the environment is a responsibility we take very seriously. For several years now, we have continually been exploring all areas for increasingly green and recyclable packaging materials. We set the bar high in terms of new packaging solutions. Containers or films used to package fresh products must not only be robust and hygienic but also offer good protection. Day in, day out, we work to find the optimum balance between material consumption and material properties in order to ensure long-term sustainability.”

Together with its roughly 140 employees, the meat producer employs artisanal skill and a great deal of expertise to ensure grocery stores are stocked with fresh produce all year round. In single shifts five days a week, the plant produces grill-ready marinated lamb, beef, pork, chicken, and turkey steaks in summer as well as pickled pork neck steaks in winter using the skin version of the FoodTray solution. “In addition to using materials sparingly, we also place a premium in our day-to-day operations on sourcing meat within the region and ensuring the animals are well treated,” Stemke explains.

When the meat producer opted to replace an old tray sealer to respond more rapidly to fast-paced consumer market demands, its chief requirements included boosting flexibility in the packaging process while significantly reducing the quantity of plastic used. GEA’s FoodTray presented a compelling and environmentally friendly cardboard and film composite solution. This packaging system delivers in terms of product presentation, haptics, safety, and sustainability without compromising on stability and food protection.

The FoodTray combined solution, comprising a cardboard tray lined with film, offers the respective advantages of cardboard and plastic while reducing the quantity of plastic by up to 80 percent. Materials made from fossil resources are replaced by renewable fibres which have the potential to be fully recycled. Consumers can easily separate the cardboard and film before disposing of them in the appropriate recycling stream.

After deep drawing the film on a GEA PowerPak PLUS thermoformer, it is sealed directly to the inside of the box. This is followed by the customer-specific packaging process. Responsible for overarching developments in process technology at GEA, Hans-Guenter Donges puts the benefits in a nutshell: “Not only are the investment costs low – the
upshot is more environmentally sustainable packaging.“

MAP packaging heights range from 20 to 60 mm with skin versions reaching between 20 and 42 mm. Since the entire surface can be printed on, the system solution facilitates high-quality product presentation and takes account of growing product labelling requirements.

“The packaging line has operated without a glitch from day one. It has more than exceeded our expectations,” enthuses Dirk Stemke. “Despite frequent product changes, production is now twice as fast as before and requires less labour. What’s more, the film seals tightly around the piece of marinated meat like a second skin, not only ensuring its visual appeal but also that no liquid can escape. The packaged meats look appetising and are shown off to their best advantage when displayed in refrigerated supermarket cabinets.”

To further reduce material waste during the packaging process, GEA made software adjustments up front when designing the machine. That means fewer empty packages are produced as part of the feed-in process during product changeovers and thus less waste is produced.

The company is confident that, with FoodTray, it can win over consumers in the highly competitive food market. “Our decision to go with a greener packaging solution has paid dividends from day one,” says Dirk Stemke. “Our responsibilities today include our impact on the planet tomorrow. That’s why we have reduced the plastic content in our product packaging by almost 80 percent.”

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