Expert Interview Series: Katie Zeller of Thyme for Cooking About European Cuisine, Ingredients, and Food Packaging

Katie Zeller is an American expat eating, drinking, and enjoying the good life in France. We recently chatted with Katie to learn more about the cuisines of Europe and Asia, as well as how they are packaged and sold to consumers.

Tell us a bit about your background. Why did you decide to start a cooking blog?

I’ve been writing my blog, Thyme for Cooking, for over 10 years. I like to cook and I like to tell stories. The blog was the logical result. I originally started with a recipe and menu planning site, and the blog was a great way of introducing individual recipes as well as telling stories about fitting in to French life.

Could you tell us what it’s like to live in Andorra?

I loved living in Andorra – except for the traffic during August and December when the world came for shopping holidays. I walked in the mountains with a local group and played golf several times a week. The skiing is also fabulous.

Andorra is unique in that it does most things in twos or threes. There are three languages: French, Spanish, and Catalan (the official language). There are two postal systems (French and Spanish), three school systems, two co-princes, etc. Before the euro, there were two official currencies: the French franc and Spanish peseta. It’s a small country with a vibrant, active social calendar.

We left Andorra and moved to France mainly because we wanted to live on flat land. The mountains are beautiful, but not conducive to large gardens.

What ingredient, spice, or other food did you discover and fall in love with while living in Europe?

Two, actually – and they are on opposite ends of the spectrum. The first is the Catalan “pa amb tomaquet” or tomato bread: country bread, toasted, rubbed with fresh garlic, then rubbed with a fresh tomato half and drizzled with olive oil.

The second is pan-seared foie gras: fresh foie gras, sliced about 1/3 of an inch thick, seared in a hot skillet for about 30 seconds per side.

Since your blog focuses on “simple” recipes, could you tell us what makes a recipe no longer be simple?

For me, a simple recipe is one with a minimum of equipment and/or easy steps. I very rarely use a food processor. A sharp knife, good skillet, and heavy casserole should allow anyone to be a great cook. And if there are too many ingredients, one can start to lose the individual flavors. Fresh ingredients simply prepared are best.

Since you grew up in the American Midwest, could you name a European dish that would be thoroughly enjoyed by your former “neighbors” in Minnesota or Wisconsin?

The dish that I am always asked to make when we have visitors from the U.S. is Cassoulet. Duck, sausages, and white beans, cooked slowly for hours… what’s not to love? Cassoulet does not fall into the “simple” food category, but I only make it once a year.

Living in Europe, what types of foods or grocery items are often found in packaging that is different from that seen in the U.S.?

When we lived in Andorra, there were very few things in cans. Most things were in glass jars, like kidney beans, roasted peppers, asparagus, etc. In general, there are fewer canned items on the supermarket shelves here, and “boxed” food (i.e., Hamburger Helper-type foods) are unheard of.

In addition to looking for fresh foods, is it also smart to seek out products with eco-friendly packaging?

When we first moved here, there were no ready-made salad dressings, but that has changed in recent years. Fruits and vegetables are rarely packaged; everyone bags their own in biodegradable bags. And we provide our own shopping bags. I haven’t seen a plastic or paper bag at a checkout in a supermarket in over 10 years.

How do you want to expand your culinary horizons in the future?

I’ve been really enjoying learning about the foods from northern Africa, in particular Morocco and Tunisia. I love the spices and the cooking methods. We recently spent a week in Marrakesh and attended a cooking class. I was inspired!

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The History, Status, and Future of Flexible Food Packaging

Flexible food packaging technology is exploding with new manufacturing ideas and better results for consumers. Sustainability, cost, appearance and convenience goals are merging like never before. And everyone in the chain from beginning to end is experiencing more manageable expenses, better quality and performance, and less waste.

It’s a global effort that’s paying off. Now, flexible packaging provides more than just a lightweight product container. It offers beautiful branding options, better product freshness, improved consumer convenience, and less debris hauled to local landfills. What’s in store for the future? Smart materials that respond to the environment.

Flexible Packaging Took Root Centuries Ago

The historical, evolutionary curve of flexible packaging looks a bit like this:

  • Treated tree bark
  • Paper bags
  • Semi-flexible cardboard
  • Corrugated cardboard
  • Plastics

Lightweight, flexible packaging materials didn’t emerge with the invention of plastic kitchen bags or even paper grocery sacks. In 1300s China, the bark of the mulberry tree provided flexible food packaging, according to the University of Florida IFAS Extension’s A Brief History of Packaging.

Paper making technology advanced flexible packaging options. And in the mid-1800s, paper bag manufacturing took off first in England, then in the U.S. with the first machine-made bags.

Innovation Drives Flexible Packaging Today

Today’s flexible packaging technology supports ecological, branding and sustainability efforts:

  • Better flexographic printing seamlessly combines packaging and graphics
  • Smart packaging design gives food manufacturers a contemporary edge
  • High SKU lines adapt faster to new products
  • Pouch packaging takes products from shelf or freezer to table
  • Less packaging produces less waste

According to Food Processing magazine, flexible packaging is a clear leader that’s just beginning to tap into its possibilities. Advances in flexographic printing for retort pouches, developed in Switzerland, circumvent the expense of rotogravure printing, with virtually indistinguishable results.

Design flexibility allows manufacturers to experiment with packaging structure, as well. Consumers can pinch, pull, tear, shake and eat from the same container. Heated containers now cool faster while keeping food warm. For high SKU brands, new product additions and existing changes are seamless.

Edible containers, such as whey film, get mixed reviews, according to research by Erin Hoppe of the University of Wisconsin-Stout. But they could one day eliminate packaging waste altogether. One primary concern is hygiene. But there is promise. Watch as Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez, co-founder and co-CEO of Skipping Rocks Lab, demonstrates “Ooho” the edible water bottle:

Tomorrow’s Choices are Healthier, Stronger and Better Looking

What might happen in tomorrow’s flexible packaging?

  • Smaller, thinner, lighter packaging with better labeling
  • “Intelligent” flexible materials that respond to conditions inside or outside the package
  • Polymers become immune to microbes
  • Antimicrobial films control microorganisms in food
  • Smart, conductive, light-emitting packaging produces advertisements on the package
  • Higher biodegradability and compostability

Hope explains that “intelligent” packaging can already use sensors, indicators, and processors to detect changes in and around packaging and react to them. In the future, that technology is expected to grow. Polymers that control microorganisms will further reduce food waste. And with a higher level of biodegradability, manufacturers can double down on reducing waste.

According to Beverage Daily, the trends are moving to a less-is-more philosophy. And that means lighter weight, slimmer, flexible packaging that’s highly recyclable/biodegradable/compostable.

Flexible packaging offers flexible solutions for manufacturers, food processors and ultimately consumers. It keeps costs low with better-looking containers that out-perform traditional packaging on all fronts.

With cutting-edge industry innovation, the future will hold smarter products that work hard not just to contain, but also enhance the product while eliminating bulk and waste.

GualaPack Group strenghens its presence in China

The GualapackGroup has successfully completed the acquisition of substantially higher stakes in two Chinese flexible packaging companies: Guangzhou Secure Packaging Co., Ltd. in Guangdong and Secure HY Packaging Co., Ltd., in Jiangsu.

With this move the Group strengthens its pouch manufacturing and laminates production capacities as a complete provider on the Chinese, Far East Asian & Pacific markets, in collaboration with its longstanding Japanese partner Hosokawa Yoko Co., Ltd.

The reinforced production network will offer new business development opportunities in the region, as well as a future-oriented product portfolio in attractive segments other than for the food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical markets to our customers.

The GualapackGroup is the world leader of spouted pouches and filling machinery and a key global player of the flexible packaging industry. To date, it operates with direct manufacturing sites in Europe (4), Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS, 1), Latin America (1) and through joint ventures in the USA (1) and the Far East (2).

Source: World Press Online

Growth and fragmentation in flexibles gives brands food for thought

Flexible packaging is finding new applications for consumers, currently pouches and other flexibles are involved in snacking from adults to toddlers. They are finding a wide range of products to target every consumer. Flexible packaging is offering unique shapes, functions, and convenience. Quite literally, this form of packaging is presenting its self as flexible for the needs of many industries. The flexible packaging industry is not pigeon holing either, the genius of the product is that it is flexible for those looking to convert, and those who are looking to be innovative and differentiate their product.

Between 2012 and 2013, the use of pouches for snacks grew 7%, the use of pouches for sauces and seasonings saw growth of 20%. Over the past decade, pouches have become quite the competition for traditional rigid packaging and has been embraced by U.S. consumers for the ease of use and accessibility. Going forward, we can count of seeing innovative designs, convenient uses, and easy storing.

To read the full article please visit: http://www.packagingdigest.com/flexible-packaging/growth-and-fragmentation-in-flexibles-gives-brands-food-for-thought140731

Source: Packaging Digest

North America flexible packaging market estimated to outgrow Europe

The North American and European flexible packaging markets at US $20.7 billion and US $16.4 billion, together account for approaching half of the global consumer flexible packaging market of around $76 billion in 2013. However, recent research by PCI shows that growth in North America at around 4% p.a. by value is currently twice as fast as that experienced in the last year in Europe.

Experts at PCI Films Consulting believe that this situation is likely to endure even while the annual spend per capita is much higher in North America, than in Europe. While demand in Eastern Europe continues to grow by over 5% p.a. in value terms, underpinned by strong growth in Russia and Poland, growth in the more mature Western Europe is currently running at less than 1.5% p.a.

There are a number of reasons for the divergent growth prospects for North America and Europe:

  • While some West European countries are seeing some economic growth, especially Germany and the UK, many other economies, especially in the Eurozone are still suffering low or negative growth which is adversely impacting on employment and consumer spending.
  • In Eastern Europe, which currently accounts for less than 20% of Europe’s overall flexible packaging demand, a number of smaller national markets are either static or actually declining as they continue to face difficult economic problems. Per capita spend on flexible packaging in Eastern Europe is currently less than one-third of Western Europe’s.
  • Europe’s population growth rate of only 0.2% p.a. compares with approaching 1% p.a. in North America, which provides the latter with a continuing inbuilt boost to food consumption which is again reflected in demand for flexible packaging. Populations in a number of large European countries, especially Germany and Russia are declining.
  • Lifestyle variations and differing consumer buying habits across Europe mean that some countries, such as Italy, spend less per capita on pre-packaged foods than Germany and the UK for example. In North America, especially in the US and Canada, incomes are generally higher than in Europe and consumer buying habits are more uniform.
  • More rapid growth in flexible packaging in North America also reflects the fact that flexible packaging formats, including the stand-up-pouch, are growing rapidly in new applications which have been previously the preserve of rigid formats. In the past North American consumers have been more conservative with regard to the adoption of new flexible packaging formats than their European counterparts and packers have often been reluctant to replace existing rigid filling capacity with new flexible packaging alternatives. However, this is now changing, as consumers recognize the lightweight portability and convenience particularly of single serve flexible formats with easy-open reclose features and also the environmental advantages of flexibles.
  • Evolving technical advances especially in the development of sophisticated barrier materials have seen flexible packaging becoming an increasingly attractive and viable alternative to rigid formats, which are now being adopted much more widely by North American packers.

http://www.plasticstoday.com/articles/North-America-flexible-packaging-market-estimated-to-outgrow-Europe-05082014

Source: Plastics Today

Food Manufacturers Rethink Flexible Packaging

Processors are rethinking and improving existing products and make new ones possible thanks to advances in pouch packaging. Flexible packaging suppliers focus on the sustainable end of life scenarios for pouch packaging, bags and film wrappers due to the plethora of green benefits. Unfortunately one area where most flexible packaging is not green is recyclability.  The flexible packaging industry is working on a solution for this problem. One solution is the recyclable 100% polyethylene stand up pouch developed by Dow Chemical. Recyclable pouches can be recycled through bag and film recycling programs. These recycle programs require the end user to bring the clean, empty packaging back to a retail store.

To read more click on the link below.

http://www.foodprocessing.com/articles/2014/food-manufacturers-rethink-flexible-packaging/?show=all

Source: Food Processing

Top 25 impacts on flexible packaging supply chain

Smithers Pira has released a report listing the trends that will influence flexible packaging over the next ten years. The report ‘Ten Year Forecast of Disruptive Technologies in Flexible Packaging to 2023’ explores technological, economic, consumer, sociological, environmental and regulatory changes. The report also lists the top 25 developments. The focus of the report is food and beverage packaging, but pharmaceutical and household chemical applications are also included

According to Chandra Leister, Marketing and Production Manager at Smithers Pira, the top five disruptive technologies in flexible packaging are forecast to be intelligent packaging, recyclability, packaging openability, biobased polymers and digital printing. The report claims there will be continuous development of new flexible packaging products for new markets and applications encroaching on traditional rigid packaging. High growth is expected in Europe and North America, as well as in the emerging markets of Asia and Central and South America.

The report states that smart packaging will be the key disruptive factor affecting the flexible packaging industry due to high cost, consumer resistance to items such as sachets in packaging and concerns about excessive packaging. Though, intelligent packaging is expected to decrease cost, increase emphasis on food safety, anti-counterfeiting, new regulations and brand owner/consumer demand. This will lead to radically new views on the function of packaging to include monitoring, tracking, warning, remediation, authentication, communication and brand protection.

The report states the second most disruptive technology is recyclability. Because of the small amount of material used in a flexible package, it produces much less waste than other formats. However, it is not currently feasible to mechanically recycle postconsumer flexible packaging because of its thin film structure, multi-layered composition and often contamination by food waste. This situation could create problems with the sustainability and recyclability goals of many major corporations or with the reduced or zero landfill policies of many governments. More easily recyclable materials and barrier structures, including monolayers, are expected to be introduced over the next 10 years, but this will not resolve the problem unless improved collection, sorting and recycling infrastructure is implemented.

Source: Smithers Pira

https://www.smitherspira.com/market-reports/news/disruptive-technologies-in-flexible-packaging.aspx

A Holistic Approach to Packaging

As flexible packaging is becoming more popular suppliers must know the right credentials when it comes to the sustainable disposal or recycling of materials. Ensuring waste is correctly disposed of reduces a supplier’s carbon footprint and improves warehouse efficiencies. The importance of sustainable waste disposal cannot be underestimated – closed loop recycling processes are just one way of addressing this.

Closed loop recycling processes work by ensuring all disposed packaging in the warehouse is recycled in-house and then cultivated back into the business for use. Closed loop recycling processes significantly reduce the amount of waste going into the landfill. The demand on businesses to incorporate processes that drive real reductions in energy and waste is greater than ever before. Closed-loop systems can therefore go a long way towards meeting this requirement. One of the packaging methods that is coming to the forefront is the bag and tote system, where products are packed and placed in a tote bag then returned by the customer for re-use.

In regards to the carbon footprint of a supplier, good organization and customer convenience should be at the core of initiatives that cut down the amount of packaging used per customer – especially where the customer has numerous individual orders. Warehouse layout should allow these orders to be combined to cut down wastage and reinforce a one-stop-shop status in the process. Sustainable measures such as these can also help drive more efficient ways of working.

Source: Packaging Europe

http://www.packagingeurope.com/Packaging-Europe-News/57954/A-Holistic-Approach-to-Packaging-.html

Plastic is the sustainable packaging choice according to new study

According to a new study titled Impact of Plastics Packaging on Life Cycle Energy Consumption and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the United States and Canada by Franklin Associates for the American Chemistry Council and the Canadian Plastics Industry Association, six major categories of plastic packaging significantly reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions compared to packaging made with alternative materials. Using 2010 as a baseline year, the data shows replacing plastic packaging with alternative materials would result in 4.5 times more packaging weight, an 80% increase in energy use and 130% more global warming potential.

The study examines the six major packaging resins (low density polyethylene, high density PE, polypropylene, PVC, polystyrene, expanded PS, PET) against paper, glass, steel, aluminum, textiles, rubber and cork. The study considers the implications of the materials used in caps and closures, beverage containers, other rigid containers, shopping bags, shrink wrap, and other flexible packaging in a detailed life cycle assessment.

“The benefits hold up across a range of different kinds of applications and materials,” said Keith Christman, managing director of plastics markets for ACC. “Because plastics use so much less material in the first place it results in dramatic greenhouse gas reduction, and that’s just the start. It really adds up across the different types of packaging, to the equivalent of taking more than15 million cars off the road.”

Source: Plastics News

Flexible packaging to be worth $25 billion in North America

In the next five years flexible packaging will grow into a $25 billion business in North America.

In 2013 the market totaled $20.7 billion. 88 percent of those sales were from the United States, 7 percent were from Canada and 5 percent were from Mexico, according to a report by PCI Films Consulting Ltd.

North America represents about 30 percent of the global consumption of flexible packaging.

Annual growth is expected to grow at a rate of 4 percent during the next five years in North America.

“While the economic slowdown adversely impacted the flexible packaging industry’s profitability, volume growth has continued to be sustained by servicing primarily defensive markets such as food, pharmaceuticals and pet food,” PCI consultant Paul Gaster said in a statement.

Source: Plastics News

http://www.plasticsnews.com/article/20140110/NEWS/140119998/flexible-packaging-to-be-worth-25-billion-in-north-america#