A Norwegian company could be the first to use food packaging made with a slippery interior coating that makes viscous liquids flow faster, saving consumers time, and cutting waste caused by contents sticking to a container wall.
Orkla ASA has taken out a license to use the slippery coating technology being marketed by LiquiGlide Inc. of Cambridge, Mass. Orkla, based in Oslo, is a $3.9 billion branded consumer goods company that is a major food supplier for grocery, takeout and bakery markets in the Nordic countries, Baltic countries and parts of central Europe and India.
LiquiGlide was established in 2012 to license a slick coating technology developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The firm does no manufacturing, but it researches and develops coatings that are customized per application.
Prior to the June 30 Orkla agreement, LiquiGlide's first announced licensing agreement, in March, was with adhesives and glue maker Elmer's Products Inc.
Orkla did not reveal when it plans a commercial roll-out of its new mayonnaise packaging, and LiquiGlide provided little information on the Orkla deal. But LiquiGlide claims it is developing custom coatings for more than 30 paying clients around the world, “working with some of the biggest name brands in the consumer packaged goods industry in the U.S. and abroad, and expects to see LiquiGlide coated packaging for consumer products on shelves by the end of 2015 or early 2016.”
The coating technology captured the public's attention in 2012 when the coating inventors released a dramatic video showing how quickly ketchup could be squeezed from a bottle when the interior had the company's slippery coating.
“The video went viral,” recalled LiquiGlide CEO and co-founder Dave Smith in a phone interview. “Interest shot way up and we decided to set up a company to commercialize the technology.”
So far LiquiGlide has received more than 6,000 inquiries about its technology.
Smith studied slippery coatings for his PhD thesis at MIT. He and his supervising professor, Kripa Varanasi, developed the new coating technology, set up LiquiGlide, and they are majority shareholders in the business.
The LiquiGlide system comprises a solid layer on the container interior with a liquid layer on top. The liquid layer adheres firmly to the solid layer by capillary forces and remains in place when the container is emptied of its contents.
Smith said for food contact applications, the solid and liquid can be made from completely safe food ingredients, such as vegetable oils. LiquiGlide has a bank of hundreds of material choices for the coatings, allowing fine tuning of coating characteristics per application.
LiquiGlide's coatings can be applied by existing spray coating equipment similar to systems used to coat the inside of aluminum cans or bottles. In the LiquiGlide system, the liquid wicks into the textured solid to create a permanently wet, slippery coating, according to the company. Smith said the coatings don't interfere with recycling because they wash out easily in caustic soda baths typically used to clean containers in recycling lines.
Smith said coating material costs can be very low, perhaps a cent or less per 12-ounce container, because they are common, inexpensive materials. He provided no estimates of other costs, such as for spray coating equipment and for licensing.
Although much of LiquiGlide's thrust is in consumer products such as food and beauty aids, the technology is promising in several other fields. The coatings could speed up viscous liquids in processing machinery, help de-ice airplane wings and power lines, and improve transport efficiency in oil and gas pipelines. In fact, Smith and Varanasi originally were researching coatings that inhibit methane hydrate buildup in oil and gas pipelines before they realized similar technology could be useful to consumers.
Smith said the LiquiGlide system is superior to the decades-old superhydrophobics. Such materials, which can include fluoropolymers, are expensive and temporary, and they could be problematic in food contact applications, according to Smith.
“We chose to work with Orkla because they are an innovative and leading consumer goods company in the Nordics and Baltics,” Smith explained.
Orkla stresses innovation in its marketing literature and last year formalized the strategy by setting up an innovation council to fuel growth through new technology.
LiquiGlide recently raised $7 million in equity financing to help it accelerate growth and secure commercial deals. Toronto-based Roadmap Capital's fund infusion enabled LiquiGlide to move into a new, 11,000-square-foot laboratory and office in Cambridge, a move that LiquiGlide hopes will attract top scientists.
“We see the inherent value that LiquiGlide's technology can bring to the world — from saving consumers money to cutting manufacturing costs and even saving lives,” noted Roadmap Capital principal Stephen Ireland in a March 9 news release.