Author: Anne Salomäki
Finnish meat product manufacturer Yrjö Wigren believes that small companies can be frontrunners in sustainability. As part of Wigren’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, the packaging of its innovative ‘Omenalenkki’ is made for fibre recycling.
For a small company in a big market, it’s a matter of pride to be a trendsetter. That’s why Keijo Vataja, CEO of Yrjö Wigren Oy, is happy to present the company’s Omenalenkki, a sausage containing 70% meat and almost 15% apple.
“It’s great to be able to say we’re the first in the market to do this and show the way to the rest of the industry,” Vataja says.
Not only is the combination of flavours unique, the product’s packaging is also exceptional in the meat market: it can be recycled with carton. Developed in collaboration with Walki and packaging manufacturer Peltolan Pussi, the package is mostly done using recyclable fibre, yet still maintains the multiple functionalities and properties required for packing greasy and easily perishable animal products in modified atmosphere packaging.
The preconditions for developing the material were simple. It needed to provide a similar shelf life as traditional plastic packages, work well in heat-sealing, suit Wigren’s existing machinery, and be recyclable as fibre.
Vataja tells that consumers increasingly pay attention to packaging – and demand less of plastic. Hence, Wigren has cut down the amount of plastic in its packaging up to 25%. The company also reduces its carbon footprint by using biogas and solar energy.
However, the focus remains on the product itself. Vataja emphasises that the product needs to be excellent for people to buy it; innovative packaging provides added value, but still its main job is to protect the item it contains. Particularly as producing meat is very resource-intensive, wasting it should be avoided in all possible ways.
With the Christmas season around the corner, food and food waste will be topical subjects. Vataja tells that the holidays are a big deal for Wigren, too.
“The respect people have for food these days is high, and people are looking for experiences, strong flavours and specialities.”
For Walki, developing the material for Peltolan Pussi and Wigren was an interesting project. R&D Manager Henri Torkkola recalls that when Wigren contacted Walki, there already was a similar material in the pipeline.
According to Torkkola, working together with the client is a regular practice in the process. This ensures that the end product is compatible with the customer’s machinery and all details can be taken into account. For example, Wigren didn’t think having a window in the packaging was absolutely necessary, which helped add to the proportion of fibre in the final package.
Torkkola predicts that similar packaging materials will become more and more prominent in the market.
“There’s plenty of interest for sustainable packaging and alternatives to traditional plastic in Finland,” he notes. “We’ve got other innovations coming to the market as well, and new ones are continuously being developed.”
Vataja adds that not only producers but the retail industry as well as consumers and the existing recycling infrastructure play a key role in the adoption of new materials. Both Torkkola and Vataja believe that a fibre packaging will please consumers, because the infrastructure of recycling carton is well established in Finland and people are used to separating it from other waste.