Fruit Machinery & Packaging
Machinery for fresh fruit packaging has developed over many years to meet the changing needs of agricultural producers, wholesalers and retailers. At the same time, packaging has developed for dried, frozen and prepared fruit. The processes, equipment and packaging used is, unsurprisingly, closely aligned to packaging for vegetables.
PPMA members and exhibitors at the annual PPMA Show offer an exciting and extensive range of fruit packaging equipment, as well as an ever-growing choice of packaging materials used in the fruit supply chain. Plus, if you're looking for labelling machinery to complement your packaging processes, you can find more information and PPMA exhibitors in the labelling machinery sector here.
What are the types of fruit packaging machinery?
Form Fill Seal (FFS) machines
The principal type of equipment used to package fresh fruit in bags and wrappers are
horizontal form fill seal (HFFS) or flow wrap machines. Pieces of fruit are gently fed by conveyor into a check-weigher, and measured amounts are placed on film which is folded over the product and sealed in a protective bag.
Vertical form fill seal (VFFS) machines deliver the goods through a hopper or container via a check-weigher into partly made bags which are then sealed. VFFS machines are most commonly used for citrus fruits and dried or frozen fruits.
FFS machines usually feature a significant degree of automation.
Tray Sealing machines
In tray sealing machines (a version of FFS equipment), the product is placed in a tray before the film is folded and sealed to form a protective pack. Tray sealing gives a higher level of protection to the product than bagging, and also aids handling and stacking. Rigid containers made from cartonboard can be used as an alternative to trays.
Bagging equipment is based on VFSS machines which are designed for use with open-ended bags of various kinds including pillow bags, flat-bottom bags, zipper bags and pouches. The bags are filled with measured amounts of fruit fed from a hopper or drum into the open end of the bag which is then sealed in a continuous process.
Net bagging machines
Fruits such as oranges, lemons, limes and unshelled nuts are usually bagged in nets. The fruit is fed into a hopper at the highest point of the bagging machine, then weighed or counted and vertically fed into a premade net bag. The bag is then closed with a clip and label. Alternatives to standard net bags feature an integral handle and a large printed label.
Shrink wrapping has an important role in packaging cut large fruits such as halved melons and pineapples. The fruit is loosely wrapped in shrinkable film then briefly passed through a heated shrink tunnel to form a tight seal around the fruit to retain moisture and prevent oxidation.
Box erector machines
Many fruit products are transported and displayed in cartonboard boxes. Typically, loose fruit is placed on the boxes either on a paper lining or, for more fragile fruit, on a moulded tray. The formation of the boxes requires a box erector machine which cuts and folds the blank boards into the required shape. Boxes usually feature grips or cut handles, and reinforced corners for stacking and durability. Box, or case, erectors are also used to create larger containers which can be used for stacked trays of fresh produce.
How is shelf-life extended in fruit packaging?
A key issue for fresh fruit packaging is shelf-life. Fruit is a global market which is now non-seasonal. Alternatives to local products are now sourced from all over the world, with huge volumes of trade between the southern and northern hemispheres.
As a result, the time between picking fresh fruit and it appearing on a supermarket shelf is in many cases a matter of weeks or much longer. By picking unripe fruit (eg green bananas) and storing and transporting fruit in cold temperatures under inert gas, produce can reach the point of sale in visually good condition. For apples, techniques such as using a wax coating gives a shiny appearance and retains moisture.
What is Modified Atmosphere Packaging?
For bagged or flow-wrapped fruit, a key technique for extending shelf life is the use of modified atmosphere packaging (MAP). MAP is designed to prevent oxidation which can result in odours, softness and discolouration. The technology typically involves the use of nitrogen to replace the oxygen in the pack. Nitrogen is inert and helps to maintain the condition of the fruit whether whole or cut. A MAP capability is an integral part of many fruit packaging systems.
How eco-friendly is fruit packaging?
As in all forms of packaging, the fruit sector is at the forefront of environmental concerns. The use of plastic film in particular has been a major focus and is rapidly being addressed by the introduction of recycled, recyclable, compostable and biodegradable materials.
Packaging equipment manufacturers are critically aware of the importance of their machinery being able to work with ‘green’ materials, and film manufacturers are at the forefront of the development of substrates which pose less of a threat to the environment. Low density polyethylene (LDPE) is recyclable and is now in common use, and shrink wrap with a high proportion of plant-based content (such as sugar cane) is making its way onto the market.
Other significant shifts are towards the use of paper and board. Plastic cartons for plums and berries are giving way to board cartons, and paper bags are appearing in place of plastic bags.
As recently as Christmas 2021, one major UK supermarket has announced the introduction of plastic-free fruit and veg areas in their stores. As retailers and producers respond to the concerns of the public and the government, the momentum for a more environmentally-friendly approach to the way we distribute and present fresh produce continues to grow.
Fruit packaging machines from PPMA members
The annual PPMA Show features the latest developments in packaging for many sectors, including fruit and fresh produce. It is an unmissable event for decision-makers in the fruit packaging sector, so please stay in touch to make sure you receive full details of exhibitors and their machinery.
Find Fruit Machinery Suppliers
See a full list of PPMA Member companies that supply a comprehensive range of fruit machinery.
Take a look at the processing and packaging machinery in thePPMA Show's Machinery Spotlight, you'll find a huge range of machinery for a variety of requirements.