Bag created by Chileans revolutionizes fruit exports

The plastic is transparent, less flexible than that of a supermarket bag. It does not smell. It looks like the thin lining of a notebook, but with small holes like a punch.

Nothing speaks of its secret: in its particles it has materials that allow some fruits, such as grapes and blueberries, to reach the target markets with less risk of dehydration or of having fungi.

Nor is there anything to suggest that there were about ten years of research and laboratory tests to reach it, and that it is already world-wide: it is marketed in more than ten countries and recently obtained special approval by the Department of Agriculture of USA (USDA) to use it in that country.

But it is a Chilean development with a global impact.

Traditionally, a box with export table grape has a paper layer at the base and sides, a bag containing the fruit and a device at the top that generates sulfurous anhydride in the face of changes in temperature or humidity, to control the rot that can cause the fungus of the botrytis. However, those who use the SmartPac, as they baptized the bag developed by the company Quimas, do not need to wrap the fruit with anything else.

This is because the bag contains small particles of sulfur dioxide, which it releases homogeneously.

“It's the first real innovation in (sulfur dioxide) generators. There have been evolutions, but always with a unidirectional issue, from top to bottom. Smartpac is multidirectional, so it never emits gas very aggressively, which reaches all sides in a more homogeneous way”, explains Felipe Illanes, commercial manager of Quimas.

The device has other advantages: it makes the use of labor more efficient in packings - in about 20% - eliminates the risk of contamination of the fruit with sulfur dioxide and is recyclable.

In four years they are already in twelve countries, including South Africa - the second largest world producer of table grapes -, where 30% of the packaging market dominates, and Europe, where they sell more than two million bags a year.

La partida

The Quimas parent company, Quimetal, is one of the companies that offer the traditional generators for table grapes, of which Chile is the world's largest manufacturer. There, about ten years ago, they noticed that there was a lot of interest in Europe - especially in England - to eliminate the use of sulfur dioxide in fruits, which is fundamental for the grapes to arrive in good condition.

Therefore, those who managed the generators business line -Thomas Henke and Andrés de Witt, who are now leading SmartPac- began to investigate solutions and found in Australia a system that allowed to distribute the chemical material inside the plastic and encapsulate it. But it only existed at the laboratory level and was not intended for grapes, so they bought the patent and adapted it.

“The plastic is like a pellet and, when assembling the bag, there are some that are transparent and others that are white. The latter are metabisulfites, which generate sulfur dioxide”explains Felipe Illanes.

SmartPac is around 8% more expensive than the average value of a traditional packaging. However, they claim that it has other variables that make it more economical. “It has advantages in logistics, because in the warehouses you have to have only one product. It also generates efficiency in packing, due to the speed, and in the process, because since the ventilation is more homogeneous in the bag since it does not have the rest of the materials, the cold enters and flows faster in the box. And it has an advantage for the receiver, because it is the only recyclable device”, says Illanes.

The USDA authorization

Once they developed the product, they began to position themselves quickly in different countries. But Chile was left behind, because the main target market for the national table grape is the USA, where until now the SmartPac was not allowed, since a higher level of ventilation was required.

"The United States required 0,9% ventilation, which is a lot for us, because we don't have other packaging to protect the fruit from overventilation, which would leave the sulfur dioxide much faster and could lead to dehydration of the bunches." . We have 0,3% and that left us out of that market”, explains Felipe Illanes, adding that ventilation is required by the requirement to fumigate the grapes when entering that country.

However, after an approval process that they requested four years ago with the Association of Exporters (Asoex) and the SAG, last month they received authorization from the USDA to use SmartPac.

“They required us to demonstrate that our 0,3% ventilation was equivalent to that of 0,9% with traditional packaging, which was done by a separate entity, first in the United States and then in Chile”, says Mauricio Davanzo, commercial manager of Quimas, and assures that the arrival of the letter of approval of the USDA was so surprising that they did not manage to make shipments with SmartPac this season to that market.

Cranberries and other fruits

Cranberries have problems similar to grapes to maintain their condition, so this season they launched a version of SmartPac for these berries, which is being marketed in Chile and Argentina, and which they intend to distribute in Europe.

Again, the top stone is the United States, this time because the compound that releases the sulfurous anhydride, metabisulfite, is not authorized to be used in blueberries. For now they are in negotiations to get their approval, which could take some years.

"It's a long process, but we've been looking at this for a while now and there's a good chance they'll authorize it.", details Felipe Illanes.

In addition, the company has a line of development that has a laboratory and four researchers dedicated to analyzing new options.

Among them, the one that has gained more strength is the search of other applications for this system, both in new species and through the use of other active ingredients.

"We are looking for what we could use to enter cherries and stones, or also apples, always applying the same technology, which is the distribution of the active component in the plastic", projected Felipe Illanes.

Source: El Mercurio - Field

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