Flexfresh by Uflex is dramatically increasing the shelf-life of fresh produce. We caught up with the company’s vice-president of Flexfresh, Mr N Siva Shankaran, to talk about how the biodegradable polymer film is keeping fruit and vegetables fresher for longer.
Two of the biggest challenges the global packaging industry faces are reducing single-use plastics and optimising the freshness of foods for longer periods. To meet both of these requirements, Uflex has developed a film that not only significantly boosts the shelf-life of fresh food, but is also 100% biodegradable.
What best demonstrates the film’s capability is the humble banana. Almost everyone is familiar with how quickly these items go brown in fruit bowls all around the world, yet Flexfresh has been proven to change this considerably.
“We’ve been able to extend the green phase of the banana by about two to three weeks,” says Mr N Siva Shankaran, Uflex’s vice-president of Flexfresh. “Banana constitutes one of the biggest products in the fruit and vegetables in supermarkets. So this is something that’s remarkable.
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“Produce can stay fresh from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, it depends on the products’ respiration rate, the temperature, storage, and transit.
“For example, India exports a lot of pomegranates, so we are able to establish a three-month shelf-life, 12 weeks, that’s the longest that we have seen.”
Extending freshness of foods
Flexfresh minimises the respiration and subsequent transpiration of fresh produce, preventing the creation of water that would ordinarily dissolve into carbon dioxide and become carbonic acid, diminishing the size and freshness of foods.
Mr Shankaran explains to Packaging-Gateway at the recent Anuga FoodTec event in Cologne, Germany, that the film works by effectively putting fresh produce into a kind of stasis.
“The products aren’t frozen, they’re put to sleep,” he adds. “So they have a very low biological activity, because the oxygen in these bags is very low compared to what’s in the atmosphere, so they are respiring really slowly, so the transpiration is slow and you get the extra shelf-life.
“In a traditional supply chain, when you receive the product on, let’s say, day ten, it’s ten days old. When you use Flexfresh, it’s probably three days old. So that’s the difference, it’s much younger, it’s got a lot of weight because it’s not lost its moisture, so you can see the benefits.”
In addition, Flexfresh can substantially prolong the lifespan of flowers without requiring any water.
“Flowers have been one of the biggest product introductions that we’ve seen, because we’ve been able to deliver a solution where water is not required during the shelf-life of the flowers,” he says. “And flowers can be shipped through a normal courier directly from the grower to the consumer.”
A biodegradable polymer film
Although the patented film is fully biodegradable, Mr Shankaran says this wasn’t the initial intention when developing the product.
“The biodegradability was the icing on the cake,” he says. “What we actually intended to develop was essentially create an environment where you would not have condensation, so the product would be touch-dry.
“We had to modify the polymer to such an extent that it became biodegradable. And that’s excellent, because it gives a significant boost to the entire chain.
“It takes about 180 days in an industrial compost to get itself onward into water and carbon dioxide. It completely disappears.
“Flowers we have been able to do about four to five weeks, other products are typically between three weeks and five weeks.
“The best part is that we’ve been successful across products, so it’s just not about one product. You can see here celery, you can see leeks here, we’ve got broccoli, we’ve got iceberg lettuce, we’ve got flowers. So it’s for a wide range of products you can use this technology.
“These are the four main benefits: A longer shelf-life, you can ship your fresh produce, it lowers weight lost, and the product is touch-dry.
“We have heard from the market that there is either low inventory or there is excess in inventory and they don’t know what to do. We will solve both these issues.
“We are looking at three benefits to the final consumer. There’s significantly more selection, lower greenhouse gases generated, and you have much more fresh produce, which they can see and feel and buy. It tastes fresh, that’s the main thing.
“We took our time to understand the product and the characteristics, and what should be the development phase. So our products are designed based on what the product needs and not just what we can offer.”
Recycling common polymers
Despite the negative attention that plastic is currently getting in the news, Mr Shankaran says that the material remains crucial for the packaging industry and is also part of the solution.
“We have been working on sustainable solutions, but unfortunately the biodegradability itself has degradations because you cannot pack many things because it doesn’t have the right kind of barrier,” he explains. “So, what we are interested in working on is recyclable common polymers, so we are basically able to rotate the polymers several times over, which is a more sustainable solution.”
Mr Shankaran explains that part of Uflex’s success comes from the company’s development phase and focus on innovation.
“Innovation is the lifeline of Uflex,” he says. “Any person who’s in the company is basically looking at opportunities in order to either do source optimisation or develop projects that are completely new, so the innovation journey can continue.
“Uflex has a fantastic team of packaging designers, developers, and engineers. So we are able to address it as it comes.
“Once you are able to convince a customer that you are addressing their requirements going into the future, the customer is more willing to work with you and form a partnership, collaborating in the development of new solutions.”
To find out more about Flexfresh and Uflex’s other products, fill out the form on this page and send an enquiry.