Electronic switch bypasses Tetra Pak patent

By Chris Mercer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Tetra pak, Lund

Tetra Pak's own packaging machines could soon be used against it,
after rival group Alternapak claimed it had found a way to run its
own packaging reels on Tetra Pak production lines.

Alternapak said its new Alterna Switch, unveiled at the Anuga FoodTec expo, bypasses the patented barcode system on Tetra Brik machines.

Turning the switch on will make the Tetra Brik machine think it is using packaging reels from Tetra Pak when in reality it is using Alternapak reels.

The technology poses a new threat to Tetra Pak's dominance of the global packaging market, after years of ensuring that only its packaging could be used on its machines.

Alternapak, which has received technical and industrial support from Elopak and Fortapak, said it had developed an alternative packaging material specially for the job.

Gert Zweers, the company's commercial manager, told DairyReporter.com​ the group was looking to grab five per cent of Tetra Pak's packaging volume, roughly six billion packages, over the next few years.

"There has been lots of interest. People say they are pleased to have a more competition in the market, and there are lots pushing us to come out with this faster,"​ he said.

Alternapak has sought to avoid any potential legal battle with Tetra Pak, claiming its Alterna Switch merely bypassed Tetra Pak's register system patent, and did not infringe it.

The switch consists of a small electronic card slotted on to the filling machine, and a switch fixed next to where the packaging reel is fed into the system. The technology can be installed in around eight hours.

Alternapak already has a patent application pending on the switch, and said it was looking for licence deals with companies around the world. Aside from Elopak, it has a partner in China called Tralin Pak.

The group has created an initial production capacity of five billion cartons per year, but said this could be expanded later on.

It aims to target the milk and juice sectors, where it said the market for aseptic carton packaging was growing by around five per cent annually.

Dennis Jönsson, head of Tetra Pak's Carton Ambient division, said he was not worried by the Alterna Switch.

"We are seeing many companies trying to focus on specific parts of the business that we are in,"​ said Jönsson at a press conference held during Anuga.

He said Tetra Pak wanted to enhance its image as an innovator and assistance provider.

"As long as we do that I think we will always be able to stay ahead of companies trying to take parts of our business, and companies who cannot guarantee the same performance and safety standards."

Tetra Pak spends around three-and-a-half per cent of its annual sales revenue on research and development.

The group increased net sales by 6.7 per cent last year, to €8.1bn. And, as part of a series of product launches, it recently unveiled Tetra Brik SimplyTwistMaxi, which has a 50 per cent large pouring area than its predecessor.

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