News about the bioplastics industry

Snack maker Frito Lay has reverted to the original non-biodegradable material for five of its six SunChips brand bags after consumer feedback indicated its new 100 per cent plant-based polylactic acid (PLA) packaging was too noisy.

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Sales results also declined for the crisp brand in the 18 months since the introduction of the environmentally friendly bag, which was said to biodegrade in as little as 14 weeks, while conventional chip packets typically take over 100 years.

The novel crisp bag was chosen by product innovation experts from the market research organization Mintel during this summer’s IFT food expo in Chicago as one of the most innovative new products of the past year.

And, according to Mintel’s research, 43 per cent of consumers had said they were likely to buy the SunChips product because of its strong eco-friendly positioning.

Consumer vote

Nevertheless, nearly 40,000 people signed up to a Facebook group criticizing the packaging material, plant-based polylactic acid (PLA), for being too loud.

This is not the first time a social network has spoken up about their dislike of a product and companies are beginning to realize that they need to listen.

PepsiCo - FritoLay’s parent company - had a similar experience with its Tropicana juice packaging, which drew such heavy criticism via Twitter that the company withdrew the new design just weeks after it was introduced.

The manufacturer said that the new bags will continue to be used for the original flavour of SunChips and that the five other flavours will be back to the old packaging by the end of this month. The switch started mid-September.

A spokesperson for Frito Lay told said that it was currently working on developing a quieter form of compostable packaging for the crisps brand.

PLA packaging restrictions

Corn-based plastics are made by fermenting corn sugar to produce lactic acid. This substance is then used to form PLA.

Up until recently, the adoption of PLA had been restricted to the packaging of chilled food and beverages due to its tendency to deform at 55°C and above. But polymer additive suppliers such as DuPont have been developing products with the aim of toughening PLA packaging materials as well as improving their processibility and flexibility in rigid structures.

Furthermore, US based researchers recently claimed a breakthrough that could boost the heat resistance of PLA sufficiently, allowing it to be used in hundreds of new packaging applications.

The team from the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and private company Lapol said they have created a modifying system that could see PLA used in hot-filled applications across the food and beverage industry.

The fact that the bioplastic has a lower heat tolerance than some petroleum-based plastics excludes it from being used for some applications, explained the group consisting of ARS chemist William Orts, along with Allison Flynn and Lennard Torres from the Santa-Barbara-based plastics company.

To raise the temperature at which PLA may distort - known as its ‘heat deflection temperature’ – the scientists developed a temperature deflection modifying mechanism that boosts its heat resistance properties. The modifier is said to be more than 90 per cent corn based and fully biodegradable.

Movers and shakers

NatureWorks, part of Cargill, is one the main movers behind corn PLA based packaging.

Companies like US-based Naturally Iowa have been using PLA for packaging products like organic milk.

And European retailers including Delhaize in Belgium, Auchan in France, Sainsbury, Marks & Spencer, and Tesco in the UK, along with Coop in Switzerland and the Europe-wide chain Aldi have also been employing PLA for various food packaging.



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