MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA — Consumers at one of Australia's big two national supermarket chains bought more than 95 million Plantic Technologies Ltd. corn starch plastic trays in 2012, after the Melbourne-based biomaterials manufacturer made a commercial deal with Coles Supermarkets Australia Pty. Ltd. in May.
Plantic has now set its sights on the United States. Plantic CEO Brendan Morris said the company will establish new manufacturing locations in North and South America by the end of 2013 or early 2014.
Plantic, which manufactures packaging for fresh meat, poultry and pasta, launched in 2001 to buy, further develop and commercialize intellectual property developed by a government-funded research group, the Cooperative Research Center for International Food Manufacture and Packaging Science.
Plantic's eco Plastic trademarked high-barrier food trays are made from corn starch, lined with either polyethylene or polypropylene, depending on the sealing layer required. Trays use 80 percent renewable materials and have longer shelf lives because of their gas barrier properties.
Australia's supermarket industry is dominated by two chains — Melbourne-based Coles and Sydney-based Woolworths Ltd. Coles has used eco Plastic trays since May 2011, initially in selected stores in Victoria and southern New South Wales. Plantic and Coles signed a commercial agreement in May 2012 to use the trays nationwide. Morris will not say how much the deal is worth.
Coles currently uses the trays only for red meat, but Morris said Plantic is "looking at expanding into other applications," including other meats and seafood.
Other food retailers have shown interest in the trays. In 2012, Los Angeles-based Excelline Food Products LLC began using Plantic trays for its Mexican ready-made meal packages of flautas and burritos. Australian company Kerr and Co. Trading Pty. Ltd., trading as Farm Foods, based in Geelong, Victoria, began using Plantic's trays to package its Outback Spirit sausage range last year. Plantic is currently working to secure two new clients in Europe, with details to be announced February.
Plantic manufactures in Australia, has a development and sales center in Germany, and sales offices in the United Kingdom and the U.S. "We are working on a manufacturing strategy which encompasses both North and South America," Morris said.
He told Plastics News Plantic's main markets are Australia, North America and Europe, but the company is focusing on growing its presence in South America. There is growth potential in China, but less demand there for sophisticated packaging. Plantic will focus on China as demand for shelf life and sustainability increases, Morris said.
Plantic has accumulated A$53 million in losses since it launched. But Morris said up until 2011-12, it was primarily a research and development company that sold some product. Last year's Coles deal and other developments saw it transition to a commercial company that also does R&D.
Plantic completed a A$6 million expansion of its Altona, Melbourne, facility in May, Morris said.