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Modified Interactive Packaging for Cut Flowers

By William Lyons for Scotland on Sunday
To the naked eye it looks just like any other form of plastic packaging found hanging from fruit and veg counters up and down the country. But look closer and the clear packaging has an unusual matte film, is slightly cloudy and slightly sticky to touch.
Successful trials show that the packaging - a permeable film called Modified Interactive Packaging (MIP) - extends the life of cut flowers by up to three weeks, giving the suppliers the option of shipping their produce by sea rather than using air freight, which will reduce costs, uses less fuel, and is more environmentally friendly.
Manufactured by Long Life Solutions (LLS), a packaging technology business headquartered in East Lothian, MIP is, according to chief executive Andrew Wright, the most permeable film on the market. He believes it will offer huge cost savings to businesses worldwide. Food waste and environmentally-friendly packaging is big business - LLS is tapping into a market estimated to be worth more than £7bn per year. And that figure is expected to rise substantially as companies, supported by government initiatives, move to higher value waste management options, such as recycling, the incineration of rubbish for energy and heat, and the use of landfill gas to generate power.
Last month LLS signed a deal with Hampshire-based World Flowers - the UK's largest flower supplier - to use MIP to wrap all their cut flowers shipped from Kenya to the UK. The deal means World Flowers can save up to £3,000 per container in air freight fees and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions by 20,000,000 kilos per year.
Ian Finlayson, technical director of World Flowers, said MIP packaging could revolutionise the market. "It could be hugely significant," he says. "There are still a few barriers to go through to get it perfect, but from the trials we have done so far we are sufficiently convinced with the product. We are using it on a small scale at the moment, but we hope to start using it in larger quantities next month with a [full] roll-out later this year." Designed and patented by Australian scientist Jeff Peck, the MIP film has a honeycomb structure and contains tiny stress fractures which manage the atmosphere within the sealed shipping container. Its unique make-up manages the oxygen and carbon dioxide expressed by flowers and slows down the respiration of the produce to keep the product fresh. The packaging also contains an antibacterial formula so when the flowers release carbon dioxide, the formula protects the product and kills bacteria within the produce itself.
Wright, who met Peck when he was working as a food supply consultant in 1999, was so convinced by the idea that - with the help of a number of private investors from countries that have a history in packaging and biotech, such as Israel, Holland and Spain - he set up LLS four and half years ago specifically to bring the product to market. "At the time we saw the test data that Peck was using and we knew it wasn't quite there, but with a bit of R&D we could get it to work," says Wright.
The firm outsources all its research to institutions including Essex University, Davis University in California and Stellenbosch University in South Africa. It also outsources manufacturing to a number of companies in the UK and US.
LLS is now developing similar technology to be used for fruit and vegetables such as broccoli, lettuce, strawberries and spring greens. "We have a number of developments in the pipeline that could be very exciting," says Wright. "At the moment we are a small private company that have kept quiet and kept out of the headlines. After all, we are a supply chain, we are not the most interesting firm. But if this product is as successful as we believe it will be, then it will be huge."
Wright says the firm has been valued at £50m but his aim is to grow the business to £200m within the next three years. A listing on the stock market would follow.
Waste and packaging have in the past held little fascination for the stock market. But as the government has sought more environmentally sound - and potentially more profitable - methods of waste disposal, the sector has changed markedly. In March, Severn Trent announced it would demerge Biffa, the UK's biggest waste manager. Analysts predict the firm is likely to enter the FTSE 250 as the UK's biggest waste stock when it lists before the end of this year.
And specialist packaging is becoming more commonplace...Read more about the new packaging system for cut flowers.

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