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Tetra Pak looks to grow shelf-stable milk use with school pilot, new size

By Alyssa Mitchell


Photo courtesy of Dairy MAX

SHELF-STABLE MILK — Dallas Cowboys mascot Rowdy celebrates the launch of a shelf-stable milk pilot study in the Dallas Independent School District (DISD). Earlier this year, Tetra Pak teamed up with DISD and Dairy MAX to test the benefits of shelf-stable milk in nine schools throughout the district. The milk comes packaged in recyclable aseptic cartons that do not require refrigeration until they are opened. Initial results of the pilot are promising, and Tetra Pak hopes to expand this option into other schools in the coming months.
 Photo courtesy of Dairy MAX
SIP SIP HOORAY — Every year, schools in the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) supply
students with more than 1.5 gallons of milk. These aseptic cartons of shelf-stable milk can solve issues with spoilage and food waste because they can stand on the shelf more than six months with no refrigeration.

DENTON, Texas — While the consumption of shelf-stable milk packaged in aseptic cartons has been popular in Europe for decades, it’s still slow to catch on in the United States. One solutions provider is looking to change that through its participation in a school milk pilot project and other innovations.

Tetra Pak, a world leader in liquid food processing and packaging, is part of the Tetra Laval Group, which also includes Sidel and DeLaval. The company has developed a range of carton packages to protect both the nutritional value and the​ taste of the products inside. Today, Tetra Pak offers more than just packaging equipment — it also provides a range of processing and packaging technologies for use with a broad array of products, from ice cream and cheese to fruit, vegetables and pet food.

Tetra Pak supplies complete systems for processing, packaging and distribution, designed to optimize the use of resources. Its processing systems are not only developed to treat products gently, but also to minimize the use of raw materials and energy during manufacture and subsequent distribution.

“We are committed to reducing the environmental impact of our operations and to enhancing the environmental performance of our products and solutions, including the continued development of environmentally efficient packages that protect food and prevent it from being wasted,” says Pedro Goncalves, vice president of marketing for Tetra Pak U.S. and Canada.

While the company is based in Switzerland, it has locations all over the world, including Denton, Texas.

Tetra Pak earlier this year partnered with the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) and Dairy MAX, a regional dairy council representing 900 dairy farm families across eight states, to launch shelf-stable milk in nine schools throughout the district. The milk comes packaged in environmentally sound aseptic cartons that do not require refrigeration until they are opened. The cartons are made primarily of renewable materials and are recyclable.

Every year, Dallas ISD schools supply students with more than 1.5 million gallons of milk. With this in mind, schools are looking to provide milk in the most responsible way, officials say.

Shelf-stable milk can stand on the shelf more than six months with no refrigeration needed before opening. The milk undergoes ultra-high temperature (UHT) processing and is then filled in Tetra Pak aseptic cartons.

UHT processing combined with an aseptic carton retains the nutritional values of dairy milk without the use of additives or preservatives, Goncalves notes.

Tetra Pak aseptic processes allow liquid food to retain color, texture, natural taste and nutritional value for up to 12 months, without the need for preservatives or refrigeration. The combination of aseptic processing and packaging reduces waste, makes distribution more cost-efficient and converts product into a consumer-ready format as well as making it possible to reach consumers in remote locations.

Tetra Pak has seven aseptic packaging systems: Tetra Brik Aseptic, Tetra Classic Aseptic, Tetra Fino Aseptic, Tetra Gemina Aseptic, Tetra Prisma Aseptic, Tetra Wedge Aseptic and Tetra Stelo Aseptic.

For the Dallas ISD pilot, Dallas ISD Food and Nutrition Services partnered with Tetra Pak and Dairy MAX to study students’ previous dairy milk consumption and waste versus the same statistics after shelf-stable milk was introduced.

Goncalves says official results will be released in the coming months, but initial data is very promising. One of the key incentives of launching the pilot was to provide an alternative to traditional packaging and distribution practices of chilled milk to increase efficiencies and cut down on waste, he adds.

“A lot of traditional milk cartons — you can’t reuse them. Kids have to consume the milk in school or throw it away,” Goncalves says.

Shelf-stable milk, however, can be kept as long as it’s unopened, so students have the option to take it home with them at the end of the day.

Additionally, because the milk has a long shelf life and does not need to be refrigerated prior to opening, there is less food waste.

The nutritional value of shelf-stable milk, including protein and calcium, is the same as traditional school milk, Goncalves notes.

“There used to be some discrepancies in taste, but technology has come a long way,” he says. “It really has the same flavor, and if you do want it cold, it can be refrigerated. But the fact that it doesn’t have to be kept cold frees up a lot of space for other perishable food items.”

The carton packaging is environmentally sound because it reduces food waste, is made primarily from renewable materials and is recyclable, he adds.

“Traditional milk cartons often are transported in plastic crates that you have to store, clean or throw away,” Goncalves says. “Shelf-stable milk in aseptic packaging, however, can be distributed in recyclable cardboard boxes that are biodegradeable and easy to break down or reuse.

“We’re exploring the idea that we can create a new cost model for schools and other institutions that’s beneficial for them and for the dairy industry,” he adds.

Goncalves says Tetra Pak also is talking with other school districts and working with Dairy MAX and Dairy Management Inc. on the possibility of introducing shelf-stable milk in other locations.

“If it is a benefit to the industry, we want to expand that benefit,” he says.

Goncalves adds there also are future possibilities for innovations in packaging design, perhaps adding games or other educational aspects to the aseptic cartons.

“I tend to believe it is the future of milk,” he adds. “When you look at schools, no distribution model is alike. Some schools have warehouses, some don’t. And sometimes availability of milk in certain regions is not steady. So dealing with this complex value chain, and product that can easily spoil — the traditional way doesn’t seem like the best way. It needs to get simpler, so we would like to offer a product that doesn’t require so much adaptation and rather provides more flexibility.”

Increased efficiencies and flexibilities lend themselves to another area of growth the whole industry can root for — consumption. Studies have shown nutrition is critical to a successful learning environment, and milk can benefit a student’s overall well-being as it is packed with 13 essential nutrients, including protein.

Tetra Pak also is looking to expand consumers’ horizons beyond the classroom setting. This fall, the company will be testing a larger format for shelf-stable milk in a 1,500-milliliter (48-ounce) aseptic carton for retail.

“Although it’s shelf stable, we have designed it to sit on the chilled shelf of the store near traditional milk since there is not really a package of that size that has more than 70% renewable content,” Goncalves says.

“Aseptic technology has been around for years, and we’ve managed to perfect it,” he adds. “Now, we want to expand its use around the world.”

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