Airlaid and spunbond are key components to keeping perishables fresh
Perishables found in the grocery store such as meat, chicken, fish and produce rely on the food pads underneath them to soak up excess liquids and keep the foods fresh, and suppliers in the nonwovens and associated industries have stepped up to the plate by developing solutions in this market.
Nonwovens first made their way into food pads after specialty chemicals company Evonik earned FDA clearance for its food grade superabsorbent polymers (SAP) in the late 1990s, according to industry consultant Phil Mango. “This opened the door for nonwovens in food pads, as nonwovens contain SAP better than the previously used tissue or fluff pulp food pads,” he says.
Mango identifies airlaid as the primary nonwoven used in food pads, but spunbond/SAP/spunbond laminates are also appearing in this market. Fitesa, McAirlaid’s and Glatfelter are among the airlaid manufacturers that currently produce materials for this market.
Mango estimates that in Europe, airlaid consumption for food pads has reached 17,000 metric tons and is growing at a CAGR of 5.5%. “Food pads themselves are growing at a smaller rate, but nonwovens penetration is increasing. In Europe, there are many smaller producers—no one or two dominant producers. There is also less centralized meat packaging. This makes it more advantageous to use airlaid; or to switch over.” Meanwhile in North America, 4500 metric tons of airlaid are consumed annually for food pads and the category is expected to grow at a CAGR of 6%, according to Mango. But in the U.S., two big food pad manufacturers that take up roughly 60-70%market share of the food pad market—Novipax and Paper Pak—aren’t using airlaid. Yet, these companies still look to nonwovens
Super absorbent suppliers
Evonik, one of the world’s largest producers of SAP, is currently the only maker of FDAapproved SAP for food grade nonwovens. Its only other competitor in this market, BASF, stopped global production for this type of SAP in 2012, according to industry insiders. Evonik’s superabsorbents can be used in food pads that are placed under poultry, meat, fish, fruits and vegetables.
Milan, Italy-based Savaré Specialty Adhesives, which supplies an assortment of hot-melt adhesives to many markets in the nonwovens industry, has been producing hot melts for the food pad industry for nearly a decade.
Savaré offers several specialty products both for the pad lamination and for the pad fixation into the trays. For pad lamination, Stella says the company’s adhesives are designed to meet various technical needs including high yield with excellent bonding strength at low add-on rates on different nonwoven types; direct food contact compliance; no bleed-through with aperture nonwovens; excellent aging behavior; clear color and low odour.
Stella notes that for the hot-melt to be successful, it should be designed so that the pad absorption capacity is not altered. Further, strong pad edge bonding is required, even under severe wet conditions. While Savaré isn’t new to food pads, the company continues to see room for development in this market. Stella says: “The trend of customized pads to satisfy specific consumer needs for fruit, vegetables, meat and fish, as well as moving to recycled tray materials, are triggering new challenges and oppotunites.