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Marks & Spencer is one of Britain’s leading fresh-food retailers. To package their foodstuffs, they want to use quality, recycled materials that will keep the contents fresh for long periods.

UK-based Nicholl Food Packaging is one of the world’s leading packaging companies. They got there by being just as interested in the food to be packaged as in the packaging they themselves produce. Marks & Spencer is one of their main customers.

Close cooperation

Hydro is working to satisfy the customer of both Nicholl and Marks & Spencer, through close cooperation, advanced metallurgy, quality and flexible production.

The cooperation between Nicholl and Hydro has created a new generation of smooth-walled aluminium trays.

When experts from the two companies develop technology together, the issues are micrometers, formability, strength and shelf-life.

Weight also has to be reduced due to price and climate considerations. Even more, product quality requires that formability, strength and shelf-life be enhanced.

“We form aluminium into smooth-walled trays for keeping food in. We're good at that. But we don’t know as much about aluminium as Hydro. We are therefore working closely together,” says Nicholl’s managing director, Andrew Dent.

“Marks & Spencer took chicken out of plastic containers and into aluminium trays about four-five years ago. We couldn’t have supplied this product, with its unique properties, without the right aluminium alloy.”

The cooperation paid off, Dent says, measured in how popular the trays have become.

“Our smooth-walled aluminium trays are unique. They became an overnight success and have created a completely new market,” he says. “Did you know that the key to tasty packaged food is the smooth-walled contour of the tray?”

Dent says he also found a comfortable partner in Hydro, one that’s easy to work with. “Hydro is a big company, but it doesn’t seem like one.”

Recyclable aluminium

In Holmestrand, Norway, Hydro produces this top-quality aluminium foil from recycled metal, with greenhouse gas emissions that are as low as possible. Great expertise is needed for this. Success is all down to the interplay between metal production and processing – the development of the right alloys, the metallurgy involved.

Says Svein Erik Næss, market metallurgist at Holmestrand: “It is very important to work very closely with the customer. We are very flexible. We have had a lot of meetings, both ways.

“Our production process and our sourcing of raw materials – including the use of recycled aluminium – have worked very well in meeting what they wanted.”

Dent says that his customers listen closely when he talks about aluminium and its qualities.

“Recycling is part of the package when you speak with the retailer, and aluminium tells a great story,” he says. “When we say to them we're using recycled material, they're into that. That's exactly what they want to hear.”

As an example, he points out that Marks & Spencer is taking concrete actions that are aimed at reducing its carbon footprint. Suppliers are being asked to contribute.

“We would love to be able to document that all our material is recycled,” says Dent, “It would be good business value for us, and it is what the retailers want. Some people will make choices based on that. It’s the footprint that matters.”

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