PHILADELPHIA - Loosefill and foamed-in plastics have been on opposite ends of the packaging arena for years, battling each other from time to time but serving more or less separate markets. Enpac, a collaboration of DuPont Co. of Wilmington, Del., and agribusiness giant ConAgra Inc. of Omaha, Neb., wants to use its patented Enviromold product to cut a swath into both the polystyrene-dominated loosefill market and the foamed-in-place polyethylene and polyurethane packaging market.
Wheat-based polymers of loosefill Enviromold are lightly spritzed with water when re-leased through the neck of the storage hopper into a container packed with items for shipping. Packed down, the dampened loosefill ``peanuts'' dry, conform to the item and serve to cushion it from impact the same way as foamed-in PU. When put into optional polypropylene bags, the pellets are impervious to any other moisture short of a torrential downpour, its proponents said.
In two years, the product should capture 15 percent of both markets, said Jack Weilar, president of Norel Paper Co., the company marketing the product.
The loosefill market is estimated at 150 million cubic feet per year; the foamed-in PE, PU packaging market is estimated at 300 million cubic feet per year.
A somewhat cautionary note was sounded by Enpac President Randall V. Redd, who noted the concept of the foamed-formed loosefill technology is new and not well-known in the packaging business.
``I don't think we'll ever supplant polyethylene in the marketplace,'' he said in a March 19 interview at the EastPack packaging exhibition in Philadelphia.
Enpac is one of 13 joint ventures between DuPont and ConAgra, which stemmed from animal feed research and now extends to biotechnology and biodegradable materials and injection molded products, he said.
``Enviromold is significant because of the range of plastic packaging material it can replace, including foamed-in-place urethane, urethane shapes, polyethylene foam, molded styrene and paper products,'' Redd said.
This is despite the fact that Enviromold sells for $1-$1.25 per cubic foot, Redd said, a third again the price of comparable PS fill.
But exhibiting competitors disagreed with the importance of the announcement. Despite the environmental friendliness claimed by Enpac of its water-soluble product, ``you're still dealing with peanuts in the customer's mind - it still has a bad perception,'' said D. Scott Dowrey, national sales manager, OEM Division, for the Packaging Products Group of Flexible Products Co. in Joliet, Ill.
``Major changes in polyethylene this year are not taken into account by Enviromold,'' Dowrey said, adding the $3,100 cost of the spritzer-equipped hopper is a stumbling block to the product's cost-efficiency.
John Gump, eastern seaboard sales manager for competitor American Excelsior Co. of Arling-ton, Texas, said foam-in-place packaging has decreased in the marketplace in recent years.
``I don't see how foam-in-place will take any of the peanut market,'' he said.
American Excelsior markets its own cornstarch-based fill product, Eco-Foam.