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New resins and films help keep food fresh in transit in highly demanding e-commerce channel; new study says 70% of grocery shopping will be online by 2024.

PlasticsToday Staff

March 13, 2018

3 Min Read
Nova Chemicals' resins and films address e-commerce grocery challenges

Nova Chemicals Corp.  (Calgary, Canada) is helping film processors, converters and brand owners develop high-performance sustainable packaging solutions for the fast-growing meal kits industry. New resins, coupled with expertise in multilayer film design and a deep understanding of the rigors of e-commerce shipping and handling, enable the company to collaborate on solutions to these emerging packaging needs.

“High-performance food packaging has never been as important as it is today,” states Jonathan Quinn, flexible markets development manager for Nova Chemicals’ polyethylene performance films group. “Over the last several years, Nova Chemicals has developed a deep understanding of the complex and evolving meal kits segment to support our customers and other supply chain players as they work on new packaging with brand owners.”

In late January the Food Marketing Institute (Arlington, VA) and Nielsen (New York City) released their second-year findings of the “Digitally Engaged Food Shopper” study. The research indicates that in as few as five to seven years, 70% of consumers will be grocery shopping online, hitting an estimated $100 billion spend by 2022 or 2024.

To protect perishable contents from the rigors of “last-mile” shipping and handling, primary food packaging requires a higher level of abuse resistance, as well as hermetic seals and overall seal integrity. Secondary packaging, the insulating layer that keeps the food at the proper temperature in transit, is just as critical. According to a recent Rutgers & Tennessee State University study, nearly 47% of foods shipped to consumers arrive with surface temperatures above 40 degrees F, rendering them unsafe for consumption.

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“Solving the packaging challenge is key to transforming the meal kits business from a trend to a permanent segment of the food market,” states Mark Kay, leader of Nova Chemicals’ polyethylene performance films group. “Packaging materials, such as our high-performance polyethylenes, help ensure that fresh food deliveries are still truly fresh when the consumer arrives home to a meal-kit box on their doorstep.”

NOVA Chemicals Polyethylene business has developed several resins that are highly suitable for e-commerce primary packaging of foods. For example, VPsK914 is an ultra-durable sealant resin that is tough enough for granola and bone-in chicken, and can even replace plastomers in some applications.

SPsK919, commonly used in heavy-duty sack applications, has the stiffness-toughness balance, creep resistance, and sealant properties to also be ideal in heavier food e-commerce packages. In addition, SURPASS HPs167-AB and HPs667-AB resins offer moisture barrier performance unmatched in other polyethylenes.

These, along with other performance polymers used in multilayer film structures, provide package performance. NOVA Chemicals has designed recyclable film structures that have the properties required for food e-commerce and the sustainability that brand owners and consumers are demanding. Two structure designs, one with moisture barrier and another with moisture and oxygen barrier, may be used in a wide range of food applications and are approved to carry the How2Recycle store drop off package label.

NOVA Chemicals’ Polyethylene and Expandable Styrenics businesses also have been working on a conceptual design for the insulating vessels used to ship weekly meal kit subscriptions. These vessels, aimed at reducing the spoilage risks and handling challenges of this unique supply chain, are designed to enable fresh food ingredients to each be kept at their proper temperature until the consumer unpacks the vessel at home.

“Meal kit delivery companies face a huge challenge in keeping fresh foods at their proper temperature until the consumer unpacks the order at home,” states Bob Stoffa, NOVA Chemicals’ Expandable Styrenics sales leader. “Many people who’ve tried one of these services has a story about a delayed or damaged vessel, or arriving home late, only to find their weekly order has spoiled ingredients.

"Customized vessel design can greatly reduce this problem, and a reusable vessel has tremendous sustainability benefits as well.”

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