Progress in the development of biodegradable packaging

The Biomat group of the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country and the company Yon Mikel Janariak are adapting the methodology for producing ready meals to the use of biodegradable packaging as a genuine alternative to plastic

  • Research

First publication date: 17/02/2021


Right now, consumers want products that can be eaten quickly, portion sizes that are not too large so as to prevent food wastage, presentation in sustainable packaging to reduce the generation of waste, and the offer of both economic and environmental benefits in line with the strategy of the circular economy. A new step in this direction is the collaborative work carried out between the UPV/EHU’s Biomat group and the company Yon Mikel Janariak, marketed under the Xumuxua brand, through the SOSPACK-Sustainable Packaging Development project, which has been funded by the Basque Government's Department of Economic Development and Infrastructure.

The market for ready, pre-cooked meals has expanded considerably in recent years. In fact, according to data compiled by the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment (MERCASA 2019 report), the highest percentage of ready meals consumed is concentrated in homes, followed by commercial catering. Over the last five years the consumption of ready meals has increased to 2.3 kg per person and spending has grown to €11.7 per person. These products are growing at a rate that is 2.5 times higher than the rest, in other words, people are eating ready meals at home. Regarding point of purchase, consumers mostly buy ready meals at supermarkets (74.1% of the market share), followed by hypermarkets (14.6%) and specialised outlets (3.1%).

As Pedro Guerrero, researcher in the Biomat group, highlighted, “on the whole, we have less and less time to prepare food and we are more willing to buy products that can be prepared quickly for added convenience. What is more, the culinary skills of our elders have not on the whole been passed down to the new generations, so this has contributed towards the growing demand for ready meals, which are adapted to the current lifestyle of consumers and type of home and family. So this boom is being driven, among other things, by the speed and ease of preparation and the great variety of pre-cooked products available”.

In this context, the challenge of the project carried out has been to present the wide variety of products prepared by Xumuxua in biodegradable packaging. That is why a production method that is adapted to the new packaging formats designed to maintain the quality and freshness of the food items has been developed, and their useful service life has been analysed. “Having developed the production methodology for using compostable packaging and presenting the products in suitable portions, the work focussed on achieving the service life needed to be able to market them across different points of sale, seeking a balance between the demands of consumers and distributors. That way a useful service life of 14 days was established. So the fact that consumers give priority to product quality over the criteria of duration and useful service life was taken into consideration, because they are concerned about their health,” explains the lecturer Pedro Guerrero.

One of the conclusions drawn from the SOSPACK project is that “there is a real alternative to the use of plastic and that consumers can demand it and find it on supermarket shelves”, explained the Biomat group researcher.