Homo sapiens used to go hunting and gathering for their food, though they never knew what would be served up on their stone plates in the evening. These days our senses are aroused by the tightly packed shelves in the grocery store. When we're not gathering a meal in the fresh produce department, then we're hunting the shelves for packaged portions of vegetables, meat, bakery items, and dairy products. More often than not, however, these quantities are either too big for the individual household or small packages are too expensive by comparison – with the result that once opened they deteriorate quickly and wind up in the trash can.
To be more precise, food worth approximately four billion Swiss francs – equivalent to around 1,050 Swiss francs per household – ends up in domestic waste every year in Switzerland. In addition, more than 50 percent of household garbage comprises food packaging, which is often used solely for decorative or advertising purposes. This is equivalent to an annual volume of food packaging waste of 3.6 million tons or 450 kg per resident.
Active Packaging Preserves Food for Longer
Seeland-based start-up firm innveri has come up with a new packaging system that is due to be launched on the Swiss market in spring 2012. To be sold via retailers as well as directly, the new product gives food the best possible protection against the proliferation of germs and bacteria, as well as enables it to retain its visual appeal and quality – thereby ensuring it enjoys a longer shelf life. Compared with conventional methods of preservation, food can be consumed for a period between twice and 20 times as long. In turn, this means the food actually ends up being eaten rather than thrown in the trash can. It therefore makes an important contribution to waste reduction.
innveri's packaging system can be used for fresh produce, packaging that has been opened, as well as cooked food. What's innovative about the product is firstly that the active packaging – which was only used in industry in the past – can now be made readily accessible to households; second, it does not involve the production of any waste, or the consumption of any electricity. innveri's new secondary packaging solution is a substitute for the simple, limited options that have existed to date: aluminum foil, Tupperware, and small plastic bags, for instance. "What's important about the product concept is that when utilizing the new packaging system the customer recognizes familiar elements, that this world first is very easy and quick to use, and that it all works as a high-quality, cutting-edge system solution rather than an individual product," says Manfred Jüni. One example he mentions is the Nespresso system, where high-quality products, customer service, and customer loyalty are key factors.
An Eye on Self-Employment and Entrepreneurship
It all began six years ago, when Manfred Jüni was studying engineering sciences and mechanical engineering at the University of Applied Sciences in Fribourg. As a student, he frequently ate ready meals that merely required heating-up, or prepared dishes such as washed and ready-to-eat salads.
Buying and consuming all these neatly pre-packed fresh foods and oven-ready meals one day got Manfred Jüni thinking about whether it would be possible to seal the packaging again after it had been opened, to enable it to remain in the same condition as when we took it home from the grocery store. Or, in addition, whether fresh or cooked foods could be packaged in the same, attractive way as we find them on the shelves every day. This is how the idea of the product concept – due to be launched on the market in the spring – was born, and how the history of innveri and the associated dream of self-employment and entrepreneurship became a reality.
Six years later, innveri now has its head office in Murten on the Roland bakery site. Although pretzel sticks and rusks are still manufactured in a building on the site, Roland has relocated a lot of its office premises. That is how young entrepreneur Jüni found space here for innveri. The 28-year-old employs four people and shares the office with his brother, who is also a young entrepreneur and co-owner of MJ2B Architekten AG (which occasionally helps out with graphics work).
It's an emotional time for innveri: The idea Manfred Jüni has been working on tirelessly for years will soon be on the shelves of selected stores. At an early stage, Jüni received support from the IVE (Institute for Value-based Enterprise) in Fribourg. For more than three years, he has been assisted by the Institute's Claude Piccot and Osama Rifai. Claude Piccot is currently Chairman of the Board of Directors and Osama Rifai CFO of innveri AG. Jüni has also received support from Diepoldsau-based Noventa AG, now innveri's main production partner.
It's been a long journey, with big challenges, as well as highs and lows. "Besides the technical aspects, one of the biggest challenges was funding and the associated convincing that needed to be done. On that front, there's still room for improvement in Switzerland and within the canton. The active support given to early-stage firms in the form of government start-up capital to promote entrepreneurship and create jobs needs to be sharply increased. At a later stage, when they have achieved some progress, these firms can then approach private-sector institutions or investors," says Jüni.
Tackling the Urban Litter Problem and Reducing Waste
Although Jüni is busy working on the launch of his new packaging system, innveri is also involved in a pilot project with the city of Berne that is aimed at cutting the volume of disposable packaging used in takeaways. In a second stage, the objective is to reduce the litter problem and associated waste mountains across all Switzerland's urban areas. It's a small step toward eradicating the countless millions of tons of waste that we burden our planet with every year.