A cardboard box developed in a Northern Territory shed with inspiration from New Zealand has won its developer an innovation award.
David Hoseason-Smith has been honoured at the Northern Australia Food Futures conference for his unique fruit box, designed for the mango industry in the early 2000s and credited with transforming Australia’s fruit and vegetable packaging.
The Darwin local – working as manager for packaging company Amcor – was having trouble with boxes that were weak, sagged at the bottom and made the fruit flat way before they got to Sydney or Melbourne, as well as labour-intensive as every box was hand-directed by a team of casual workers.
A visit from a local mango farmer with a box sourced from New Zealand changed all that. “He threw it on my desk and said ‘can we make this?’,” Hoseason-Smith says.
Embarking on a fact-finding mission over the Tasman – including a trip to a box factory in Hastings – he knew the Kiwi boxes were the answer to his problem.
“And to cut a long story short, we bought two machines to Darwin and developed the box here as a one-piece box with a lid on it, so that’s how it started.”
But the Kiwi boxes struggled with the Top End conditions. “They’ve got much cooler conditions in New Zealand and their box-style doesn’t have to be as vigorous, so we actually had to develop a new box that was right for the Northern Territory,” Hoseason-Smith says.
Gathering all his packaging engineers, he redesigned the fold of the box to make it stronger and able to be stacked in columns on pallets.
Paper technologists then developed ‘functionally coated papers’ which had a thin plastic membrane laminated between two pieces of paper to act as a moisture barrier.
Now manufactured overseas or at facilities in Sydney, Adelaide or Brisbane, the flat boxes arrive in Darwin and are put through erecting machines located across the Top End before being transported to customers.
“The open-tray box [which we developed]is now the major box used for tray-fruit across Australia from apples to pears, plums, peaches, avocadoes and mangoes of course,” Hoseason-Smith says. “Every box in Australia now is an open-tray box because of the work we did here in the Northern Territory. If it wasn’t for this particular box, I don’t think we’d be sending 4.8 million trays of mangoes out of the Northern Territory. If we were using technology from years ago, every piece of fruit would be bruised or damaged and rejected in the marketplace. So basically it’s allowed fruit to travel from here to the markets [down south], it can go anywhere around the world which has opened up markets because it allows fruit to get there in good condition.”
Hoseason-Smith still works in the packaging industry, which he says is constantly changing, with people coming up with ideas to improve the paddock-to-plate process.