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August 2004

Plastic Packaging Made from Corn Spreads to Japan

Tokyo, Japan— Market research shows that consumers want more environmentally sound food packaging solutions. With the recent food contact approval for a plastic made from corn, Japanese shoppers will soon be able to purchase their favorite salads, fish, meats, bakery goods and produce in 100 percent nature-based, “see-through” containers.

Called NatureWorks™ PLA, in June 2004, the material received positive listing as a new base polymer on the Self-Restrictive Requirements on Food-Contacting Articles from the Japanese Hygienic Olefin and Styrene Plastics Association (JHOSPA). This listing signals a significant commercial milestone, as it allows NatureWorks PLA to be used in a wide range of food applications for everything from fresh fruit to sushi. Based on prevailing Japanese consumer attitudes, the timing is ideal to introduce branded food packaging that can help lessen dependence on limited fossil fuel resources.

“Where NatureWorks has been introduced in North America and Europe, retailers have seen significant positive shopper feedback and increased sales,” said Snehal Desai, global commercial director, Cargill Dow. “Given the importance of fresh food and nature-based materials to Japanese consumers, we expect NatureWorks PLA to be embraced in Japan. We believe it will be just as popular, if not more popular, than it is anywhere else in the world.”

According to recent market research by Grapentine Company, 56 percent of Japanese consumers ranked the concept of purchasing fresh food in nature-based see-through packaging as “very desirable.” Of those, more than 57 percent are willing to pay at least 5 yen more for products packaged in containers made from NatureWorks PLA.

“A majority of consumers want to be environmentally responsible and many are even willing to pay more for products to make it happen,” said Masayoshi Oku, general manager for Cargill Dow’s Japanese operations. “With NatureWorks PLA, retailers can simply switch out petroleum-based food packaging with corn-based packaging. And, shoppers get all of the benefits they expect from see-through plastic - such as freshness, safety and convenience - without the environmental compromise.”

In order to tap into the strong consumer interest and promising market potential of the nature-based plastic, Cargill Dow’s Japan operations and Tokyo-based Mitsui Chemicals have worked together to achieve food contact approval.

Based on the appeal of Cargill Dow’s innovative technology and partners like Mitsui Chemicals, Mitsubishi Plastics and Unitika, it is anticipated that fresh food packaging made from NatureWorks PLA will be on the shelf in Japan by this fall.

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