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New barrier solutions for a key partner

14.06.2022

MM has been supplying Nestlé with cartons and cartonboard packaging for many years. “This has resulted in a strategic partnership that goes far beyond the usual supplier-customer relationship,” reports Martin Luh, responsible for Global Packaging Base Material Management (Paperboards) at Nestlé.

Martin Luh is responsible for the global pro- curement of cartonboard packaging at Nestlé. His role serves as an interface. It involves reconciling various issues, including commercial aspects, such as price, and technical issues, such as the perfor- mance profile, which includes food safety and risk management. And he also focuses on themes such as “responsible sourcing”, the “value chain“ and the “value-based” supply chain at Nestlé.

In terms of all these requirements, the MM Group is well positioned as the European market leader in the production (MM Board & Paper division) and processing (MM Packaging) of cartonboard packaging. This is why Nestlé has been a customer of the Group for many years. As Martin Luh affirms, “The MM Group is not just a standard supplier but a strategic partner that brings resources and expertise to the table. It is our largest supplier of folding cartons in Europe.”

Cartonboard is used as packaging for numerous Nestlé products, including frozen pizza, coffee, breakfast cereals and muesli. To a layperson the process would appear to be quite straightforward: the manufacturer places the portion of food in the carton and it’s ready to go. But, as Martin Luh explains, it’s not quite that simple. “That would run completely counter to the principle of food safety, which involves protecting food against any external influences.” This is a key priority for every food manufacturer – and particularly for Nestlé, the world’s largest food company.

“Without adequate packaging solutions, the quality and shelf life of the product could not be guaranteed. External influences, such as odour pollution or contamination by undesirable sub- stances, can only be achieved with the appropriate protection,” Martin Luh continues.

 

Standard cartonboard is not sufficient on its own: food must be protected by barriers.

 

Vital barriers

The solution is to create barriers between the fragile foodstuffs and the folding carton to prevent them from deteriorating due to exposure to oxygen or moisture, for example. These barriers can be created through layers of plastic or aluminium, but also through much more unobtrusive means such as varnishes or very thin dispersion coatings on the cartonboard. This is why the consumer’s muesli is not placed directly in a cartonboard box and why there is a bag inside made from something like polyethylene (PE). Chocolate, on the other hand, is usually wrapped in aluminium and many frozen products are packaged in coated cartonboard boxes.

What about sustainability?

Even though these solutions help to ensure that food safety standards are met, are they really ideal in terms of sustainability or environmental protection? As Martin Luh explains, “Many plastics and items made from aluminium can in theory be recycled an infinite number of times. However, aluminium, in particular, uses huge amounts of energy to be produced, so it’s important to raise awareness to ensure consumers return items such as Nespresso capsules for recycling. Recycling aluminium requires significantly less energy compared to manufacturing it.” But finding a solution without aluminium and plastic is not that easy. “Aluminium in particular makes the perfect barrier,” Martin Luh explains. “The industry is still a long way from replacing aluminium with, say, a compostable material. I think that the biggest challenge lies with composites because they are almost impossible to separate and therefore difficult to recycle. We need more research in this area.”

Cartonboard barriers

The good news is that this research is already happening. The MM Group is working intensively on the development of grades of cartonboard which contain barriers for greasy and/or moist products. These cartonboard barriers are expected to increasingly replace PE laminations. This will make them an environmentally friendly alternative because they do not contain plastic. It is possible that the strategic partnership between Nestlé and MM will be extended to include joint development projects at some point in the future. For Martin Luh, who has been an MM customer for 25 years, a longer-term partnership for further innovation certainly sounds appealing. “We work in the same field, so why shouldn’t we do basic research together on packaging concepts and materials? There would still be a lot to do especially in terms of replacing packaging materials made of plastics.”