The spout pouch stars in Boland Pulp’s fruity show

FMCG companies worldwide are thinking outside the can, jar and the bottle and looking with more interest at resealable spout pouches. This change is evident on South African shelves, too, and leading the charge in the food arena is Boland Pulp, as Brenda Neall reports.

‘BOLAND who?’ you’d be perfectly justified in asking. You may not have heard of the company, but you will surely soon enough notice several of its Puré pouch-packaged brands on supermarket shelves nationwide.

Boland Pulp is one of many sizeable food enterprises in South Africa that operate under the public radar. Based in Wellington, Western Cape, in the heart of one of the country’s deciduous fruit baskets, it’s a leading producer and exporter of first-grade fruit purees, currently around 45 000 tons pa.

Puree is big business, mainly finding wide application in the dairy, bakery and beverage sectors, among others. It comprises the whole fruit, sans pips, that is cooked, blended, concentrated to 32 brix, and then aseptically packaged in 230kg bags and into drums.

It’s also a commodity game and largely reliant on fruit that’s unsuitable to be sold fresh or canned. The commodity model is viewed by many as unsustainable in the long-term – an argument that spurred Boland Pulp’s MD, Fernando Lage’s decision to invest some R15m in setting up a new pouch plant at its Wellington factory.

Fernando Lage‘Firstly, this is about upping our game – a move away from the unsustainable “push” commodity manufacturing mindset. Our new drive is to be customer focused, employee engaged, value added, brand leveraged, and market driven,’ says Lage (left).

‘Secondly, for our particular business, it’s a haphazard approach to rely on sourcing so-called reject fruit – rather, we secure premium raw materials by contracting to purchase farmers’ entire orchards; quality in means quality out. But this is a long-term commitment that demands assured markets for our products – and we believe we can achieve this goal by adding value to our inventory via a range of puree-based branded items.’

From the outset, Lage was convinced the spout pouch was key for the project’s success, and he’s almost evangelical in singing its praises: ‘They’re a no-brainer when it comes to convenience, safety, portability, brand differentiation and enhanced product freshness,’ he enthuses.

But what about the perceived cost odds against them – a scenario that’s seen relatively few, if any, mainstream products in spout pouches in SA despite the technology being available for years?

‘Cost is no longer an issue if one commits to a minimum quantity of some scale – a figure of 100 000 units – and the uptake is there,’ he answers. ‘Furthermore, I believe our timing to market is ideal, following trends in Europe and US where pouch technology is proving to be the most popular packaging solution seen in decades.’

‘Today’s consumers are also more eco-savvy and are aware of the impact of packaging on the environment and this is a growing consideration when it comes to purchasing habits. Reducing waste is of growing importance to consumers, now more than ever. A pouch weighs just 7% of a comparable glass container, for instance.’

Savings and aesthetics

According to a report in America’s Packaging Digest, pouches also are becoming more prevalent because technology has improved, doubling average shelf life from one year to two. Manufacturers, too, can cut packaging costs 10 to 15 percent by going to the pouch. Not only is the trend being driven by savings on packaging and shipping costs but also by aesthetics – an upscale pouch sporting elaborate graphics offers a modern look and premium appeal.

Boland Pulp has the added plus of tapping into the global trend to healthier eating. Fruit already enjoys a health-natural halo – but fruit that has fibre, comes in a ready-to-eat, convenient format and is processed without additives or preservatives positively sparkles.

‘Our pouches are made of high-barrier material and are lightweight as well as taking up less space on shelf. Using pasteurization as opposed to preserving with chemical agents, our products offer a solution to an ever-growing health-conscious market. They also make re-sealing easy and product can be eaten directly from the pouch, or decanted as required,’ notes Lage.

Squish BabyWhile the road to market has not been without hurdles and delays, Boland Pulp has in recent months secured nationwide shelf listings for its diverse Puré products: Squish smoothies comprising blended fruit purees; Squish Baby, a range of fruit and vegetable mixes designed for babies and toddlers; and Chef’ Ease, a line up of sauces, purees, pastes and chutneys.

Squish Baby stands to take the baby food market in South Africa by storm with a recenty nationwide unveiling in the country’s top pharmacy brands, Clicks and Dis-Chem, both of which have popular loyalty programmes for parents.

‘We wanted to launch into retails stores as well as pharmacies that focused on health and wellness, especially with the ethos of the Puré range being artificial colourant and additive free, and focusing on the quality and freshness of the pulp used to make the baby food,’ says Fernando.

‘We are already in negotiations with major retail brands such as Pick’n Pay, Spar, Checkers, Shoprite, OK Stores, and Wellness Warehouse to expand our reach.’

Boland Pulp also operates as an outsource manufacturer for several corporate and private label brands, who are increasingly seeing the spout-pouch as a great way to differentiation. SPAR was one of the early adopters with tomato paste some time ago now, and Lage reports that from a base of zero, sales climbed to over half a million units in the first year.

Chef Ease‘We’re confident that our Puré range will be a winner with consumers. They’re well priced and we’ve developed really delicious recipes. It’s an exciting business adventure to be pioneering what is essentially a new packaging format in South Africa – Chef’ Ease and Squish will brands to watch over the next few years,’ he concludes.

This journalist concurs – these products taste as good as they look. Notably, for my money, the Chef’ Ease tomato sauce is without local equal. It is as tomato sauce should be. Do buy and try!

First published in PACKAGiNG & Print Media magazine, Issue 6, 2012

Pouch insights: Metal cans at
the tipping point

‘There is a tremendous opportunity in developing cost-advantaged alternatives to the retorted metal can. ConAgra Foods processes more than five billion cans of food a year. We see the metal can at the same tipping point as the glass-to-plastic conversion was in the ’90s in the food industry.

‘Plastic bottles were around far before the ’90s, but nobody had developed the equipment to produce the plastic bottle at a lower cost than glass. There were limited applications where CPGs were willing to fund the conversion, but it was based on product safety, not consumer preference. Companies didn’t really convert until the cost structure changed. Once it became a cost savings and the consumer benefit was an extra incentive, the plastic industry grew tremendously.

‘We see this as another opportunity, but there is nobody really out there that’s developed the equipment that can form pouches and retort them at a lower cost than metal cans, or can produce a plastic package at a lower cost than a metal can.’

Mark Yunker, principal packaging engineer, Research, Quality and Innovation, for ConAgra Foods, US