Leerdammer® is among the ten most frequently sold cheese varieties worldwide: some four million blocks of the distinct cheese with the cherry-sized holes are sold annually in sliced form. With its mild nutty taste, the cheese variety is particularly popular with Western Europeans. In Germany, it is actually Number 1 in the country’s cheese market.
The cheese specialist, Bel Leerdammer BV, has invested in a high-output thermoforming packaging line from MULTIVAC to produce the thermoformed consumer pack. Since 2002 the Leerdammer Company has been part of the French Bel Group which annually supplies some 400 million consumers in 120 countries with its five international brands and 25 local brands. The Group currently has around 11,000 employees, operating in 33 subsidiaries and 27 production sites. In 2014 the company had a turnover of 2.7 billion euros. Bel is a member of the UN Global Compact and pursues a comprehensive CSR policy both internally and throughout the entire supply chain
New eating experience with Leerdammer®: Wafer thin and folded
The key to Bel’s success is its strength of innovation and the company’s closeness to its markets: the product range is constantly updated, while new trends and consumer wishes are rapidly converted into new generations of products. Bel always tries to give consumers a special eating experience: “In addition to price and quality, aspects such as environmental awareness and lifestyle play an increasing role in our products. The consumer pack has a decisive part to play in this,” says Theo Dopheide, packaging engineer at Bel Leerdammer BV in Schoonrewoerd, a small village in the west of the Netherlands.
In January 2015 the cheese producer launched two sliced cheese varieties onto the market in a thermoformed pack, which was designed to be placed upright on the supermarket shelf: each pack contains ten Leerdammer® slices, which are sliced wafer thin and folded, in either the “Original” or “Charactere” flavor. Among the challenges in the development of the new pack format was defining the internal and external pack dimensions and achieving the correct placement of the product in the pack. “Since the external measurements of the pack are specified as standard by the supermarkets, we were restricted in its design. In order to ensure that the quality of the cheese slices in their folded state was not impaired, we had to increase the internal measurements of the folded pack without stretching the external dimensions,” explains Theo Dopheide. It was also essential that the cheese slices were not able to slip in the pack or protrude into the seal seam.
Bel Leerdammer BV developed and tested the new pack format in conjunction with MULTIVAC. The packaging specialist offers its customers the complete infrastructure of services for packaging development at its Training & Innovation Centre in Wolfertschwenden, and it gives advice on the design and development of individual packaging solutions
Evaluation matrix establishes the advantages in performance and resource efficiency
MULTIVAC was able to convince the cheese producer of its capabilities through a selection process, in which several packaging machine manufacturers were taken into consideration. In order to find the right partner, Bel first requested a quotation from several suppliers. As part of the tender process, Bel introduced an evaluation matrix with weighting points. In addition to the price, criteria such as output, resource efficiency, waste reduction, life cycle costs and technical support were also taken into account.
The project team at Bel then evaluated the received quotations on this basis. MULTIVAC achieved the highest number of points. Crucial for the result was the environmental and resource-saving e-concept technology, with which the machine manufacturer was able to best fulfi l Bel’s CSR policy requirements. However, MULTIVAC’s good reputation and the performance of the machines also played a role. “When we produced our quotation, we placed particular emphasis on the resource effi ciency of our packaging line. It had to consume as few raw materials as possible. This involved the usage of electricity, water, compressed air and inert gas, as well as the consumption of fi lm, labels, printing ink and spare parts,” explains Paul van Heezik, Account Manager for packaging machines at MULTIVAC Netherlands.
The R 535 thermoforming packaging machine, on which Bel Leerdammer BV ultimately decided, combines different approaches:
Keyword of fi lm material: Innovative die geometry reduces the seal fl anges in the cross-machine direction from 9 to 7.5 mm and in the longitudinal direction from 7.5 to 6 mm. The width of the edge trim can also be reduced from 39 to 32 mm through the use of an innovative evacuation and gas fl ushing solution. The partitions between the packs, which would otherwise remain as fi lm trim after the cutting process, were reduced from 5 to 0 mm. “This technology enables us to reduce the consumption of fi lm material by seven to eight percent,” says Theo Dopheide with delight. In order to avoid any fi lm waste during a die change, the operators at Bel can control the required height in the forming and sealing stations via the recipe selection in the user interface. The height is then automatically adjusted. This means that the fi lm does not have to be severed each time.
Keyword of compressed air: The pneumatic modules in the R 535 have been replaced with servodriven modules, which means that no compressed air is required. This reduces the energy consumption of the machine by at least 20 percent when compared to similar models. In order to label the packs, the R 535 is equipped with a cross web labeller for top and bottom labelling. In addition, the packaging line features a Weber slicer. In order to achieve a shelf life of 90 days, the wafer thin cheese slices are packed under modifi ed atmosphere (MAP pack). An electronic gas mixer supplies the required mixture automatically depending on the recipe.
Product launch saved
In November 2014, the packaging line was installed and commissioned at Schoonrewoerd. However, several weeks before the launch of the new Leerdammer® products, Bel came to the conclusion that they would achieve an even better presentation of their products on the shelf if they had another pack design. This late change provided an enormous challenge for the project team. “The time schedule for the project allowed no time for such a late change,” recalls Theo Dopheide.
But Bel had found a partner which keeps a cool head even in critical situations and is able to think outside the box, when they partnered with MULTIVAC. Two new types of pack insert, which were based on the designs provided by Leerdammer, were produced with the superb support of MULTIVAC Resale & Service. “We developed two new types of pack insert and tested these within a few days on the new production line at the Leerdammer factory in Schoonrewoerd, allowing a fi nal selection to be made. After the decision was taken, we were able to produce the fi nal inserts within the set deadline. This meant the new products could be launched onto the market in their new pack on time in January 2015,” recalls Paul van Heezik.
This practical approach and the active support in fi nding a solution to the problem – on time and to their full satisfaction – confi rmed to the Bel Group that they had made the right decision in choosing MULTIVAC: “The collaboration with MULTIVAC is a best-practice example of good cooperation between customer and supplier. Together, we were able to eliminate any problems that arose before they became acute. We defi nitely decided on the right partner. We will also do exactly the same next time,” says Theo Dopheide.