(Feb. 18) MINNETONKA, Minn. — When it comes to packaging, trends that catch on in Europe usually follow suit in North America within a year or two.

Cargill Dow LLC, manufacturers of NatureWorks PLA, a 100% corn-based polylactic acid packaging material, are certainly hoping that trend continues.

Many produce companies and retailers in Europe are already using clamshells made from NatureWorks for their products, and some American retailers — such as Wild Oats — are picking up on the trend.

European retailers have even begun to use the latest innovation, flex-fill bags for ready to eat salads made from NatureWorks.

Mike O’Brien, Cargill Dow spokesman, however, said the bags may not be able to make the transition into the U.S. market for quite some time, if at all.

“In Italy, where the bags are being used, the field, the processor and the retail store are all within 100 miles of each other, so they don’t care as much about shelf-life,” he said.

“The bags are not modified-atmosphere packaging,” said Lisa Owen, commercial leader of Cargill Dow’s rigid packaging division. “So they are not directly translatable to the U.S. market. There are lots of retailers looking at the application in Europe because their salads are prepared domestically. You can pick, pack and offer them to the consumer in a short enough time to not need modified-atmosphere packaging.”

NatureWorks PLA is made by breaking down cornstarch into plant sugars. Then the carbon and other elements in the sugars are drawn off through fermentation and separation. A polymerization process is then used to make the NatureWorks plastic.

More retailers in North America are catching on to the corn-based containers.

Wild Oats Markets recently introduced NatureWorks clamshells in three of its stores in the Kansas City metro area. The store recently reported that deli sales in its Oregon stores jumped 4% after the NatureWorks containers were introduced there.

For more information, visit Cargill Dow at www.cargilldow.com.