Dawn Meats

The Challenge

High barrier flexible films for food packaging made from recycled and recyclable materials.

Technology Readiness Level 2 – 7.

In detail

Creating and manufacturing fit for purpose packaging and plastic requires sophisticated innovation and engineering, so that food stays fresh, quality is maintained, and food waste is kept to a minimum. Dawn Meats strategy focuses on removing unnecessary plastic, increasing recyclability and recycled content in our packaging, while removing complexities and designing products in support of a circular economy.

As a business Dawn Meats has saved 885 tonnes of plastic in the last two years as part of a 15% reduction in plastic use across its rigid trays, films and flexibles used for retail packaging. We have moved 100% of our rigid trays used for retail food packaging to recyclable materials. All our retail rigid trays now contain a minimum of 75% recycled content. The company has also set a target of the plastic it uses being 100% re-usable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Dawn Meats is also an industry partner in the 3 ½ year BUDDIE-PACK Horizon Europe project, running an industrial use case for re-usable PET skin pack trays for food service clients initially (www.buddie-pack.com).

Retail sale meat products are either packed in vacuum skin packaging (SP), modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) or Vacuum packs (VP), depending on the requirement of the food product, ensuring a safe, quality food product for as long as possible to prevent food waste. Each one of these types of packaging system has an element of High Barrier Flexible Film; as a top to the rigid base tray (SP & MAP), or as the packaging itself in vacuum packs. High barrier flexible films are also extensively used during the production process within food factories.

While significant advances have been made in increasing the recycled content and the end of life recyclability of rigid trays, flexible high barrier films still remain a challenge.
High barrier flexible films require high oxygen and water vapour barrier properties while maintaining flexibility, clarity and the ability to adhere and shrink to a rigid base (or seal and shrink to itself for VP). This is currently only achievable by using a laminate of materials, precluding the material from being fully recycled at end of life and limiting the recycled content that can be included in the laminates.

A solution, or set of compatible solutions, is required to produce a flexible film which maintains the high barrier properties and other essential functionality, but allows for increased recycled content to be incorporated into the film, and allows for end of life recycling.

There is an open brief for this challenge, in terms of materials, construction and end of life treatment”

What does implementation look like?

We are responding to, and aligning to, the requests of our retail and food service partners in multiple countries, and aligning to our own Project Four Zero sustainability plan in pursuing new solutions on high barrier flexible films.

Any solution should provide similar or better shelf life than current flexible films.

Flexible film design should take the following into consideration:

High Barrier: To create a long shelf-life anaerobic environment. To provide a high barrier for Oxygen, Moisture, and grease
Sealability/Peelability: The material chosen must be compatible with commercially available monomaterial, recycled trays.
Abrasion/puncture Resistance: To preserve the surface of the product, and prevent surface changes that could influence microbial growth.
Good elasticity: For shrinking around the product to create an anaerobic environment
Excellent Optical Properties: For attractive presentation.

Costs should be aligned with current flexible film costs, unless clear and reasonable justification can be made based on circular/bioeconomy principles.

Company background

Dawn Meats is one of Europe’s largest food processing companies, processing approx. 1 million cattle and 3.5 million sheep per annum and further processing into added value meat products, including consumer packs which are delivered daily to Europe’s and UK’s retail outlets. Dawn is a family-owned business with 8,000+ employees in 12 countries, supplied by 30,000 farmers and contributing 1.6 billion euro per annum to rural economies in Ireland and the UK.

Dawn Meats is committed to sustainability – we became the first European Beef and Lamb processor to have our science-based targets approved by the SBTi in 2019, and since then has been submitting annual reports on our improved sustainability performance to Origin Green, the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) and EcoVadis.

In December 2022 Dawn went a step further, by announcing the launch of our updated sustainability roadmap, “Plan Four Zero” planfourzero.com, representing an investment of €100m in our operations and supply chains in the period to 2030, and is in effect our blueprint for a more sustainable food system. Our company purpose remains unchanged, and “Providing consistent quality meat products from sustainable sources to support our rural communities, human health and nature’s ecosystem” continues to guide our strategy and evolving actions.

Explain your approach to sustainability

Our group-wide plan is governed by Three Values and founded on Four Ambitions, which describe how will we achieve our sustainability commitments and how our actions contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. We follow science when setting targets and making decisions, and will continue to scale up the right solutions to deliver long term sustainability, helping others along the way.

Our Three Values

  • The Right Measure We will be guided by data and science when setting targets, developing plans and making decisions
  • The Right Solution We will collaborate to scale up the right solutions and innovations for a more sustainable food system
  • The Right Balance We will focus on areas of greatest impact, taking a balanced approach to bring our communities with us along the way.

Our Four Ambitions

  • Environment We will protect and restore nature and biodiversity and work towards the development of a circular economy, powered by renewable energy
  • Farming We will inspire sustainable farming to foster better animal health and welfare, enhance meat quality and restore biodiversity, soil health and water quality
  • Food We will continue to provide high quality, natural, delicious food, rich in protein, essential vitamins and minerals, to support human health and wellbeing.
  • Society We will nurture inclusive relationships with our people and communities, help them to live more sustainably, and support the just transition to a Net Zero future.