Posted on 10/27/10 No Comments

Inauguration of the NSERC / Saputo / Excel Pac Industrial Research Chair in Materials and films for safe, smart and sustainable (3S) packaging

Montréal, November 1, 2010 – This morning, with its partners and several guests from the food and packaging fields in attendance, Polytechnique Montréal inaugurated the NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Materials and films for safe, smart and sustainable (3S) packaging.

Imagine opening your refrigerator door and finding one of your favourite products showing you, by the colour of its packaging, that it is no longer fresh. Reality or far-fetched? It is one of the tangible research goals of the team headed by Abdellah Ajji, Associate Professor in Polytechnique’s Department of Chemical Engineering and holder of the Chair, for the benefit of consumers who have become increasingly aware of the issue of food safety since the most recent contamination crises in Canada and the United States involving meat and cheese.

The worldwide value of the flexible packaging market is estimated at $60 billion. North America alone accounts for half this market, with Canada comprising $2.5 to $3 billion of that amount. “The expected spinoffs from our research will benefit Canadian companies as well as consumers,” Professor Ajji says. “They will benefit from greater competitiveness and safer packaging. Over the coming years, annual growth of about 5% to 6% is anticipated. This shows the importance of pushing the limits of research into higher-performance packaging.”

This is the background for the creation by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), together with Saputo and Excel Pac and in partnership with Polytechnique Montréal, of this Industrial Research Chair aimed at developing innovative multi-layer packaging that uses materials and films with functional properties for greater safety, possible detection of bacteria and the use of biodegradable materials.

The Research Chair will have a total operating budget of $2.6 million spread over the next five years. The NSERC is investing $1.25 million, Saputo and Excel Pac are each contributing $625,000, and with a contribution from Polytechnique.

The work will cover four main themes:

  • Developing safe and cost-effective packaging that has greater airtightness and anti-bacterial properties;
  • Developing “smart” packaging that incorporates means of detection;
  • Developing sustainable packaging using recyclable, biodegradable materials;
  • Developing specific applications using multi-layer structures for pouches in which contents can be cooked.

A research team focused on industry needs

Professor Ajji will work closely throughout the Chair’s duration with a team of about 20 researchers, including two research associates, four postdoctoral fellows and 12 graduate students. The students taking part in the research will be specifically trained and informed of issues in this field. This is a real advantage for companies that plan to hire highly qualified staff in the future.

Leading-edge equipment

The research team will benefit from using the partners’ facilities, including Polytechnique’s  Centre de recherche en plasturgie et composites (Centre for Applied Research on Polymers and Composites – CREPEC) and Polynov Laboratory. It will also have access to unique equipment acquired through support from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and the Government of Québec. This is invaluable for the team of researchers, who up to now have had to do some of their testing in the United States.

Toward creating a centre of excellence

With his expertise in the field, and confident of breakthroughs in the research, Professor Ajji  is aiming for creation of a centre of excellence in the high-performance packaging field here at Polytechnique Montréal, building a true critical mass with extensive expertise and equipment in every aspect of packaging. Professor Ajji is seeking to round out the offering by making it multidisciplinary (with collaboration from chemists, microbiologists, physicists, etc.).

“Thanks to the work of this Chair, Montréal could become a world player in research in the smart-packaging field,” notes Polytechnique Chief Executive Officer Christophe Guy. “The city will benefit from infrastructure that is unique in Canada and from a high-quality basin of researchers.”

“At NSERC, we want to make Canada a country of discoverers and innovators,” said NSERC President Suzanne Fortier. “Dr. Ajji is highly respected in his field, and this research program fills a gap in Canadian R&D for packaging film engineering. Under this Research Chair, there will be developments in the safety and quality of food packaging that will bring new benefits to industry and consumers.”

“Saputo is dedicated to pursuing environmentally responsible business practices and is continuously seeking improvement in its environmental performance, states Claude Pinard, Executive Vice President, Communications and Social Responsibility. This is precisely why Saputo is proud to be part of this Research Chair”.

“The partnership between universities and business is logical, not just as a strategy for innovation but also as a major catalyst for it,” says Excel Pac President Vincent Musacchio. “Co-operation between people from business and from university circles is, in our view, the springboard for innovation. We encourage and believe in the importance of bringing these two communities closer.”

About Polytechnique Montréal

Founded in 1873, Polytechnique Montréal is one of Canada’s leading engineering university institutions in terms of both teaching and research. It is also the largest engineering university in Québec for the size of its student body and the scope of its research activities. With over 37,000 graduates, Polytechnique Montréal has trained nearly 30% of the current members of the Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec. Polytechnique provides training in 14 engineering specialties, has 230 professors and over 6,700 students. It has an annual operating budget of more than $100 million, in addition to a $70-million research fund.


NSERC is a federal agency whose vision is to help make Canada a country of discoverers and innovators for the benefit of all Canadians. The agency supports some 28,000 university students and postdoctoral fellows in their advanced studies. NSERC promotes discovery by funding more than 11,800 university professors every year and fosters innovation by encouraging more than 1,500 Canadian companies to participate and invest in post-secondary research projects.

About Saputo

Saputo produces, markets and distributes a wide array of products of the utmost quality, including cheese, fluid milk, yogurt, dairy ingredients and snack-cakes. Saputo is the 12th largest dairy processor in the world, the largest in Canada, the third largest in Argentina, among the top 3 cheese producers in the United States and the largest snack-cake manufacturer in Canada. Our products are sold in more than 40 countries under well-known brand names such as Saputo, Alexis de Portneuf, Armstrong, Baxter, Dairyland, Danscorella, De Lucia, Dragone, DuVillage 1860, Frigo Cheese Heads, Kingsey, La Paulina, Neilson, Nutrilait, Ricrem, Stella, Treasure Cave, HOP&GO!, Rondeau and Vachon. Saputo is a publicly traded company whose shares are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the symbol SAP.

About Excel Pac

Excel Pac is a company working primarily in the area of flexible packaging for the food industry. The company, founded in 1993, has experienced substantial growth over the years by adopting innovative technologies and processes. With its plant and other facilities at the leading edge of technology, Excel Pac continues to pursue the development of safer packaging, making the company a leader in this field.

Possibility of interviews with Professor Ajji

High-resolution photos of Professor Ajji and his laboratory, for use free of charge, are available upon request.

For more information:
Nathalie Rochette
Communications Advisor
Polytechnique Montréal
Telephone: 514 340-4711, ext. 2339
Cell: 514 941-5660