This month we had the opportunity to interview Jorge Barriobero, R&D project manager and head of the Packaging and preservation area at CTIC-CITA.
Tell us about CTIC-CITA. What is your know-how and what services do you provide?
The CTIC-CITA Food Technology Center supports the agri-food industry with its five strategic areas: Ingredients and Health, Processes, Quality and Food safety, Sensory and Consumer, New Products, and Food Packaging and Preservation. In this way, CTIC-CITA helps to improve the competitiveness and efficiency of companies in the sector throughout the entire value chain.
The Packaging and food preservation area is the most linked with MANDALA, as it is specialized in increasing the shelf-life of food and improving the quality of packaged products. Therefore, we support companies to adapt to the new requirements, marked by European strategies, in terms of sustainable packaging.
You have mentioned how CTIC-CITA helps to achieve the objectives set by Europe in terms of sustainability. Could you tell us more about their relationship with MANDALA?
MANDALA is related to several of the strategies published by the European Commission. Starting with the latest “Circular Economy Action Plan” published in 2020, this document includes measures throughout the life cycle of products, starting from their design until the end-of-life. Its objective is to encourage responsible consumption and conserve resources through a circular economy.
In addition, in 2018, the European Commission published the “European Plastics Strategy”. One of its objectives is to ensure that by 2030 100% of the plastic packaging placed on the European market are reusable or recyclable in a profitable way. This is a challenge because materials with high barrier properties cannot be recycled profitably, and easily recyclable materials do not achieve the properties required by the food industry and consumers.
From here arise the three main pillars on which the MANDALA project is based: eco-design, dual functionality, and end-of-life.
As experts in the agri-food sector, you know the state of the art in packaging. What can you tell us about your outcomes in the project?
One of the tasks that we have carried out was to establish which was our starting point. In the first place, we selected different food matrices, choosing as the most representative: cured meat, fresh meat, ready-to-eat, and ready-to-cook products.
Then, we analyzed the properties of the packaging materials traditionally used by the food industry in these products. Among the characteristic of the materials, we studied their composition, transparency, thickness, temperature resistance, and gas permeability.
Subsequent testing of these materials allowed us to obtain the reference on their behavior with food. Comparing the data obtained, we saw that all the products have different modified atmospheres, but they have something in common: All of them required good barrier properties to maintain the strict conditions inside the package.
What can you tell us about consumer and industry requirements?
Ensuring the safety of the product and improving its sustainability is necessary but it is not enough. We must know what consumers demand. For this reason, we have carried out a consumer study.
Using the MUNDOSABOR platform, we have launched a survey to a pilot household community using an ad hoc methodology. Highlighting a few points, we have obtained information about which are the consumer’s concerns in terms of sustainability, attitude toward recycling, knowledge of eco-design, and packaging formats they use the most.
On the other hand, we have evaluated what is their opinion about the sustainability strategies addressed by MANDALA project. In general terms, the interest shown has been positive. The most valued aspect has been the reduction of preservatives thanks to the use of modified atmospheres. Consumers also showed great interest in delinking the production of plastic from natural resources based on fossil fuels and the consequent reduction of the carbon footprint.
Despite this interest, we must establish how much more the consumers are willing to pay for this new product. According to the survey, 47% of them would be willing to pay more, compared to 9% who would not. This leaves 44% of consumers surveyed who would do so depending on the price.
Finally, we have made a checklist with the objectives we must achieve in the developed products. In consequence, information related to ingredients, processing, material properties, modified atmosphere conditions, and typical problems during the shelf-life of packaged foods (microbiological problems, product oxidation, or color variation) was included.
MANDALA is reaching its last months. Apart from the results obtained within the project, what have you obtained from participating in a multidisciplinary and pan-European consortium?
CTIC-CITA participates in research projects that constantly push the border of knowledge. During MANDALA project, we have gained valuable know-how we will use in future researches and developments. In consequence, we stay at the vanguard of key issues for the industry, enabling us to support agri-food companies and improve their competitiveness.