Xtend® Packaging Solution: StePac

StePac L.A. Ltd. has developed customized, proprietary, polyamide-based packaging technology for ensuring long-lasting freshness in bulk deliveries of blueberries to distant destinations. The new multi-layered packaging, which is the outcome of several years R&D ensures this high value fruit arrives in wholesome condition, with its natural protective bloom intact.

The Xtend® packaging solution enhances the consumer experience and safeguards retailers against waste. This resolves the common challenge faced by growers and exporters (mainly from Chile and Peru) who conduct long-haul shipments to faraway countries, such as China — a leading consumer of blueberries. The result is reportedly that blueberries shipped in Xtend packaging arrive at destination, even after 35 days, with the full freshness reaped upon harvesting.

StePac’s breathable, multilayered polyamide-based Xtend packaging is designed to not only regulate headspace gas composition, but also relative humidity. This reduces the risk of condensation build-up and ensures that any condensation that might form within the packaging diffuses out.

According to Gary Ward, Ph.D., technical development manager for StePac, blueberries are often packed in polyethylene-based modified atmosphere packaging which minimizes weight loss due to its very low water vapor transmission rate (WVTR). “This is important, but the advantage of reduced weight loss is outweighed by the disadvantage that condensation will inevitably form and become trapped in the packaging. This free moisture is an enemy of the natural bloom and is highly likely to be washed from the surface of the blueberries making it less appealing to the eye and in fact increases the risk of decay.

“The preservation of natural bloom is a far more important parameter than slightly lower weight loss. It is the outward indicator of freshness and translates into higher prices for blueberries in the Chinese market.”

Sources from within the industry disclosed that at the time of the visit, Peruvian fruit with high bloom arriving in Xtend packaging were typically sold for prices reaching RMB160-200 per carton of 12 clamshells, in comparison to RMB100-120 per carton of 12 clamshells for fruit with less bloom arriving in polyethylene packaging.

StePac uses a range of polymers with varying WVTR values, including polyethylene, for the delivery of fresh produce in different packaging formats.  “Custom-designed packaging that provides optimal modified atmosphere and moisture control and ensures that the produce arrives in prime condition requires a thorough understanding of the interaction between the physiology and pathology of fresh produce and its packaging environment,” said Ward. “Polyethylene-based packaging solutions are suitable for certain produce items and applications, but are an inferior solution for bulk shipment of blueberries.”