Local food into unique cardboard packages on the farm

At the Lappeenranta University of Technology, LUT, a new kind of packaging unit is being developed for producers of local and organic food, considering the user groups' special needs and enabling dispersed package manufacturing and packing close to the producer. At the same time, renewable, bio-based packaging materials are being developed as alternatives to plastics in food packages.

Ecological packaging solutions are becoming more popular with environmentally conscious consumer behaviour and as a result of legislation on recyclability of packages and producer responsibility. Their demand is increasing strongly in the Finnish food industry, especially as regards local and organic food.

"Packages need to be in line with the product: a quality product needs a quality package that is environmentally friendly. By developing packages and package manufacturing systems, you can promote the distribution, marketing and exports of local and organic food and respond to increasing quality and environmental requirements imposed on products and their packages," Development Manager Mika Kainusalmi from LUT says.

An ergonomic and ecological package

The packaging unit in development is more compact than current solutions and offers more to small-scale local and organic food packers: the packaging unit combines the manufacture, filling, sealing and quality assurance of the cardboard package. It is an affordable investment, and applicable to facilities of varying size and needs.

"We are researching, from the perspective of package manufacturing, what a future packaging environment suitable for small batches looks like and how it best serves local and organic food packers. This new unit enables the individual and small-batch manufacture of cardboard packages with pressing technology and sealing with hot seal technology," Kainusalmi explains and continues:

"In addition, we are developing cardboard materials and printing technologies that can, for example, slow down bacterial activity, improve food shelf life, safety, storage, personification and added value. We are utilising the unique machine and materials expertise of the LUT Packaging Technology research group in the development."

As the foundation of the development work, they are identifying future packaging trends and requirements and European best practices in packing local and organic food.

"The development of organic production has been fast elsewhere in Europe, and similar development can also be predicted for Finnish organic food production. Finnish local and organic food producers should focus on exporting highly refined, well-packaged products," Kainusalmi says.

One of the research goals is to discover new means to maintain the competitiveness of the Finnish cardboard and food industry as well as local food production. This calls for new products and production methods and new business with the help of research and development.

The Pakkaamo 2020 project (A70197) for demonstrating and piloting the packaging of local and organic food began in February 2015 and will continue until 31 August 2017. The project is carried out with ERDF funding granted by the regional councils of South Karelia, Uusimaa and Southwest Finland, and its total budget is approximately EUR 980,000. Other funders include the City of Lappeenranta, Imatra Region Development Company and businesses in the packaging value chain.

LUT is the coordinator of the project. At LUT, a Packaging Technology research group is in charge of the development work, with Åbo Akademi and VTT as project partners. In the Åbo Akademi sub-project, smart features, indicators and sensors are being developed for packages to monitor the quality of the product. The VTT sub-project focuses on developing package communication and safety solutions that enhance product safety, also doing background research and benchmarking in the EU. The project combines the expertise of LUT, Åbo Akademi and VTT in packaging research to serve Finnish businesses.

Further information:

Mika Kainusalmi, LUT, tel. +358 50 919 2939, mika.kainusalmi@lut.fi