Data lacking on nanotechnology risks for foods, packaging

Nanoparticle technologies have been hailed as a new way to make stronger and more lightweight materials and tastier or healthier foods, but a report issued from Britain on Jan. 8 cautioned that the risks surrounding the use of nanotechnology are largely unknown.

“The technologies have the potential to deliver some significant benefits to consumers, but it is important that detailed and thorough research into potential health and safety implications...is undertaken now to ensure that any possible risks are identified,” said Lord Krebs, chair of the Science and Technology Committee, which produced the document, according to Reuters.

Krebs said the food industry in Britain and worldwide was “quite obscure” about any work they are doing on nanotechnology for products or packaging–an attitude he described as “exactly the wrong approach.”

Krebs’ committee, which heard evidence from food producer groups, regulators and scientific experts worldwide, noted that the global market for nanotechnology in food was $410 million in 2006 and is set to grow to $5.6 billion in 2012. Other estimates are higher: Frost & Sullivan forecasts that the nanotechnology market will reach $1 trillion by 2015.

“The understanding of the behavior of particles in nano-scale range is not as coherent as that of the same particles in the micro- and macro- scale,” says Frost & Sullivan research analyst Rajaram Vijayan. “Experts are already confounded with the behavior characteristics of nanomaterials, and have found it difficult to furnish a reference material for the same.”

The report from Britain found that at least 600 products involving nanomaterials were available on the market, but just 80 of them are food or food-related, and only two of those were available in the UK. It also called for new rules to compel food companies to tell regulators about any work they are doing with nanoparticles in food, and also called for a voluntary public register of food products and packaging containing nanomaterials.

According to a report from Innovative Research and Products Inc., there are three basic categories of nanotechnology applications and functionalities in development for food packaging: enhancement of polymeric barriers; incorporation of active components that can deliver functional attributes beyond those of conventional active packaging; and sensing and signaling of relevant information. F&BP

Innovative Research and Products
203-569-7909; www.innoresearch.net

Best opportunities for packaged goods growth in 2010

Winning brands will innovate and differentiate, according to Tom Pirovano, director of industry insights for the Nielsen Co., who notes that sales of store brands have grown by $12 billion-up 17% from two years ago-as shoppers focus on value. Value will remain important, but smart marketers are differentiating through innovation-with new products, new flavors and new packaging-and with marketing/media campaigns with a heavy emphasis on social media to build rapid awareness and product trial.

Pirovano’s other observations: Retailers will emphasize product assortment as a point of differentiation; as the economy improves, consumers will focus on health and wellness priorities as indicated by an increase in sales of foods labeled “organic,” “natural” and “high fiber” along with reduced calorie/fat frozen dinners and entrees; online price wars and the squeeze on in-store assortment will fuel large and small manufacturers to give consumers options to buy directly from manufacturers or from online services like Amazon and Alice.com.

FDA’s BPA guidelines hit from both sides

The Food and Drug Administration’s long-awaited ruling on bisphenol-A (BPA), originally due in December, was finally disclosed on Jan. 15. However, the guidelines proved to be an anticlimax. The FDA declared that the safety of BPA, a chemical found in some baby bottles and as a liner in metal food and beverage cans, did not warrant a ban, but that its use merits further study.

The reactions from industry groups have been mixed. The American Chemistry Council’s response was favorable, but also noted that “some of the recommendations are likely to worry consumers and are not well-founded,” according to the Los Angeles Times. The Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, expressed disappointment. “We are concerned that the new advice on reducing exposure puts the onus on consumers to protect themselves until such a ban is put in place,” says Urvashi Rangan, director of technical policy.

BRIEFS

T. Marzetti Co. received a 2009 John Muir Business Conservation Award from The John Muir Association that acknowledges individuals, groups or organizations for their restoration, protection and conservation efforts. T. Marzetti was honored for its efforts in recycling and use of recycled materials.

The Food Channel’s list of top food trends for 2010 includes the growing importance of “food vetting”-food sourcing issues ranging from Fair Trade to organics to mercury-free fish. It also mentioned the mainstreaming of sustainability, including an increase in buying products with sustainable/biodegradable packaging.

72% of consumers want carbon labels on food products, according to research among more than 400 supermarket shoppers by Newcastle Business School, Northumbria University, United Kingdom. Almost three-quarters of respondents said that clearer carbon labeling on food products would help them to think “green.”

Hormel Foods, Austin, Minn., has unveiled a new round of package reductions that builds on the 40 projects that the company completed in 2008, which saved 5.2 million pounds of product packaging. Examples: the reduction of space in Jennie-O Turkey Store burger cartons, which should save more than 175,000 pounds of paperboard, and the reduction of the glass thickness in each jar of Hormel bacon bits, which is expected to produce material savings of around 411,000 pounds.

The leveraging of packaging for social media continues: A new application for mobile devices, Label Lookup, allows users to verify label declarations as they shop. The service, based on data at Simplesteps.org, rates 169 claims that may appear on packaged foods and beverages, from fish to coffee to dairy products. It employs an easy-to-see graphic that awards the claim one to three “leaves,” based on its strength.

Walmart plans to collect corrugated from the secondary packaging in its stores and recycle it into boxes for its own private-label Great Value brand pizza. The retailer is working with Pratt Industries’ recycling division to convert the corrugated into pulp and reshape it into linerboard for pizza boxes. The move will keep 8,600 tons of corrugated waste from landfills and will save as much as 40 million gallons of water annually, the retailer estimates. The effort is said to be one of the largest initiatives in North America to reuse corrugated packaging.

Diamond Foods Inc., San Francisco, Calif., has partnered with Microwave Science JV LLC to use its TrueCookPlus microwave oven codes on 13 different Pop Secret products. Consumers simply input a short numeric code found on the specific package. The microwave oven adjusts automatically-including to the elevation of the user’s location-to evenly heat the popcorn using software found in new microwave ovens from LG Electronics and Kenmore.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has called for changes to the Nutrition Facts panel and other on-package nutrition messaging. CSPI’s revamped Nutrition Facts puts a greater emphasis on calories, and highlights when a food is high in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium or added sugars.