Interview with Ian Weston - by Produce Business UK
by Gill McShane
08 March 2019
PHOTOS COURTESY OF SCHUR STAR
Danish company Schur®Star Systems, together with Schur®Technology, is continuing to uncomplicate the packing process to offer fresh produce suppliers, distributors and retailers the ultimate in flexibility. In response to the growing demand for convenience, the firm has launched a number of new produce pouches to suit snackers and time-sensitive cooks, all of which can be filled by the versatile SchurStar Packaging Machine. PBUK speaks with UK Sales Manager Ian Weston to get the inside track.
“We do find that many of our clients seek either convenience or extended shelf-life for their products, and this is apparent now more than ever, as trends move towards expeditious meals,” Weston tells PBUK. “Our concept really helps to develop these markets for them.”
Weston says the ‘SchurStar Concept’, which consists of both the SchurStar Packaging Machine and a range of bespoke, pre-made SchurStar Bags, means SchurStar Systems and SchurTechnology offer the most flexible packaging solution available on the market today.
Furthermore, the concept continues to evolve. Launched recently on the European market are new asparagus packs, along with snack packs for celery sticks and tomatoes. Weston says the snacking celery pouches are also proving popular in Australia, while the snacking tomatoes continue to be a hit in the Netherlands and Belgium.
Across in the USA, SchurStar Systems has unveiled its SchurStar Zip-Pop bag, which the team showcased in the UK for the first time at last week’s Packaging Innovations 2019 trade show, held on 27-28 February.
“We only received samples in the last couple of weeks in order to promote this bag in the UK – that’s how new it is,” exclaims Weston.
SchurStar Zip-Pop is a microwaveable pouch that is currently being used for freshly prepared new potatoes by an American potato producer in the USA. The pouch has a zip seal with the potatoes packed in the bottom compartment, while a portion of a herbedbutter goes into the top.
“The pouch is designed to swell to a certain size, allowing the potatoes to cook in the microwave, then at a set time the seal will burst, dropping the butter over the potatoes,” Weston explains. “It’s being used for three flavours: garlic rosemary, cajun style, and roasted red pepper.”
SchurStar Systems has also released a two-compartment pouch called SchurStar Squeeze and Mix, again to help its customers answer the demand for convenience. The pouch gives the ability to pack a marinade side by side with either vegetables or meat.
“The pouch has a burst-able seam in the middle, allowing the veg to be gas flushed to extend its shelf-life on one side, as the sauce sits separately on the other side,” Weston notes. “Gas flushing is something that marinade doesn’t respond well to!”
Unique combined offer
SchurStar Systems already offers a broad range of fresh fruit and vegetable packaging pouches with innovative shapes and functionalities that are tailored to customer needs and bespoke to the products they carry. Formats include: the Paper Laminate bag, Microwavable bag, StandUp bag, Fresh’n’GO bag, Spout Bag, Bowl bag (with a spoon or fork), Jar bag and Shaped bag and Net bag.
“We supply pretty much anything the customer wants, to any specification and in almost any material,” points out Weston.
On top of that, Weston says the combined solution of providing both the versatile packing machine and the accompanying diversity of packaging bags is what ultimately helps businesses to keep up with evolving market requirements.
“Our biggest USP is that we offer one machine with multiple bag formats,” notes Weston. “All our bags run down the same line, with little or no tooling cost. That’s unique on the market.”
Although Weston describes the machine as “very simple” in what it does, its ability to pack different formats of bags, some with multiple compartments, and even different shaped bags, comes down to the clever way it is designed and built, and the way the pouches are made.
“The machine lends itself to anything,” he states, adding that the system is no wider than a pallet. “There are very few machines on the market that can accommodate so many different packaging formats in so many different sizes without extra investment or new tooling costs.”
Answer to food waste
Also, the versatility of the SchurStar Concept could help growers and suppliers to find new markets for any unsaleable whole produce.
“You could add a bag with a spout to the packing line, so a soft fruit producer, for example, could do smoothie mixes or a frozen pack with any damaged fruits but also use the same machine to pack their quality fruit,” suggests Weston. “This could translate into serious savings and a lighter impact on the environment.”
Chance to diversify
Enabling customers to diversify their offering and find new routes to market is one of the major drivers of innovation currently at SchurStar Systems, which has been a family-owned company for more than 165 years.
“I do think it would be good for more producers to look at diversification,” Weston comments. “We want to talk to processors and growers to see how we can empower them to consider different products. Our system may be able to help them to do something they don’t already do.”
Added to that, the pouches can be manually filled, automatically filled or a mixture of both – depending on the specification of the machine.
“The fact that the SchurStar Packaging Machine can hand fill, automatically fill or do a combination of both is what makes it truly unique,” states Weston, who says this versatility has benefitted many customers.
“Last year, one of our customers who was packing mixed peppers for a major UK retailer needed flexibility,” he explains. “There was a shortage of orange peppers, so the red, green and yellow peppers were all filled automatically, and to ensure that one orange pepper went into each pouch they inserted that pepper by hand on the same line.”
Reduced costs: labour, storage, delivery
Weston claims this automatic functionality means the SchurStar Concept could cut labour costs at a time when suppliers and packers are experiencing worker availability challenges due, in part, to Brexit.
“This machine will absolutely help,” he states. “It helps to reduce labour input, and it improves efficiencies. I have one potential customer with 22 people packing on a line, producing 16 packs a minute. With our machine and an automatic filler they would only need two people, and they would produce 40 packs.”
The machine can also make quick changeovers from bag to bag, and from design to design, Weston says. “A simple bag change takes only three to five minutes,” he claims. “Our concept helps to reduce overall costs, whilst also offering a time-saving benefit.”
The bags provided by SchurStar Systems also benefit from being smaller than alternatives such as bowls, pots or tubs. This means they both occupy less space and weigh less when either empty or filled on a pallet in a warehouse or in a truck, and when stacked on a supermarket shelf. Again, Weston says this offers customers a saving.
Choice of material
Meanwhile, as plastic recycling advances at a pace and supermarkets head towards a circular economy for packaging, SchurStar Systems affirms to having solutions at the ready.
“We offer a multitude of materials to embrace all of our clients’ needs,” Weston explains. “These include: recyclable and recycle-ready, along with traditional laminated pouches that offer the very best in barrier protection and shelf-life, plus they aid the reduction of food waste.”
Whatever the request, Watts says SchurStar Systems will continue to work with its clients to help them to meet the latest requirements for ecologically-sound packaging.
“Last year, a UK retailer said they were thinking of stopping using the pouch, and using a pot instead,” Weston explains. “So, I did a report to show how many pots they’d need, and how many pallets and trucks that would mean in relation to the transportation and storage of pots verses pouches.
“In the end, the plastic pouch turned out to be the most ecological packaging because it wouldn't be as detrimental to the environment. The fuel usage and CO2 emissions are lower when compared to the transportation required for pots.”
Visit SchurStar Systems at The London Produce Show and Conference 2019 on Stand 313.
The team will be showcasing their Zip-Pop, Squeeze and Mix and Shaped bags, alongside a selection of pouches for both whole fruit and veg, as well as fresh-cut produce for snacking and convenience cooking.