A NEWCASTLE-BASED food packaging company has secured a £250,000 investment to commercialise its ground-breaking manufacturing process.
Continuous Retorts Ltd (CRL) in Gosforth has already won several international patents for its technology which allows food packed in pouches and trays to be continuously pasteurised or sterilised, rather than in batches.
The process will save money and energy and allow food companies to radically increase their output. Flexible pouches and trays are increasingly being used in place of tins and glass jars and can be microwaved by consumers without first having to decant the contents.
Once fully commercialised, the new process – called a continuous retort – will mean pouches and packs can be produced at similar or even lower prices per unit than tins.
A single machine can process up to 1,200 packs per minute, using around half the energy and a quarter of the factory space needed for batch retorts. It has a closed loop cooling system, which also virtually eliminates the vast amounts of water used in batch production.
CRL has built a full-scale development rig and will use the cash from the Finance for Business North East Technology Fund to overcome the final few technical hurdles before full commercialisation.
CRL was founded by David Lambert, who also set up International Cuisine Ltd (ICL) in Consett, which processes more than a million servings of food each week.
“When I developed the retort process in ICL the only units available in the marketplace were batch retorts,” said Lambert, who is CRL’s managing director.
“Cost of manufacture was a major headache, and that was with relatively low energy costs by today’s standards. Despite 24 years passing since I founded ICL, the retort manufacturers have still been unable to develop continuous systems for microwave packaging so I decided to design a new system from scratch – this new technology has enabled CRL to be created and we expect to be selling complete processing lines in Europe, US and Japan by 2013.” The North East Technology Fund is a £25m venture capital fund able to invest between £50,000 to £1.25m in regional technology businesses with outstanding potential or those which are willing to relocate to the North East.
The fund is managed by IP Group plc and backed by the European Investment Bank, One North East and European Regional Development Funds.
IP Group investment manager, Nick Edgar, said: “Continuous Retorts have created a ground-breaking manufacturing process that looks set to revolutionise how many players in the food industry do business.
“Research shows the system will fill a large gap in the marketplace and the fact that labour and energy inefficiencies are stripped out will be of huge appeal to manufacturers who are fighting rising costs. The level of interest from the industry in terms of commercial partners is already very strong.”
Gosforth-based Tait Walker chartered accountants advised CRL on the deal.
Tait Walker associate Iain Richardson said: “It clearly demonstrates that funding is available to those companies seeking to develop products which have been derived from, amongst other things, identifying a gap in the market and have international potential.”