(Feb. 4) MINNETONKA, Minn. — Cargill Dow LLC has found a new European manufacturer for produce packaging using its NatureWorks polylactic acid pellets.

Ilip, a Bologna, Italy-based manufacturer of produce packaging, has begun designing and manufacturing packaging using the NatureWorks polymer, according to a news release.

The polymer is derived from renewable resources, such as corn, mixed with unrefined dextrose and turned into a resin that can be used in manufacturing clamshell, packaging film and other products. The resin is biodegradable and can be made into any size container.

Cargill Dow licenses manufacturers to take the plastic pellets and form them into everything from fiber for filling pillows and comforters to yogurt containers and rigid plastic trays.

As with many trends, biodegradable packaging has taken off in Europe but has been slow to catch on in North America during the past year even though it is readily available. Mike O’Brien, communications leader for Cargill Dow, said North America is beginning to catch up.

“It’s developing very, very quickly in North America,” he said. “I think there will be more (NatureWorks) packaging for produce here by year’s end.”

In 2002, for example, Italian grocer IPER introduced a packaging alternative using NatureWorks PLA, selling salads and pasta in the containers. And now Ilip has gotten on board.

“The quality performance and competitive advantage of using a corn-based polymer for food packaging led us to NatureWorks,” Riccardo Pianesani, vice president of Ilip, said in a news release. “We’re confident that retailers will be receptive to our new packaging and hope to have products packaged in NatureWorks on store shelves by early spring 2003.”

Ilip premiered its new packaging designs at Fruit Logistica 2003, Jan. 16-18, in Berlin. The company manufactures a full line of trays, punnets and packaging inserts for the produce industry.

Lisa Owen, rigids leader for Cargill Dow, said in a release that the move will help NatureWorks get a better foothold within the European produce industry.

“Our new partnership with Ilip further expands the presence of NatureWorks PLA as a food packaging material throughout Europe,” she said. “Ilip’s positive response to NatureWorks and its high level of experience in the food retail industry are a great combination for success in stores as well as with consumers.”

Cargill Inc., a Minneapolis-based marketer and processor of agricultural, food and industrial commodities, formed Cargill Dow with Dow Chemical Co., Midland, Mich., in November 1977.

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