Containing the Food of our Future

Promens Dalvik, Iceland

Our planet’s vast oceans, seas, lakes, and rivers have been a major source of sustenance for people for nearly 165,000 years (Scientific American, 2007). Today, seafood remains an integral part of the diet of millions of people. In 2011, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) found that seafood contributed to approximately 17 kilograms of a person’s annual diet, supplying over 15 percent of their yearly animal protein intake (FAO, 2011). Keeping a ready supply of seafood for so many people requires a massive industry, which supports the livelihoods of approximately 540 million people worldwide (FAO, 2011).

Promens Dalvik gets part of it's name from the village it is based in - Dalvík, in the north-central part of Iceland (Photo: Flickr/Gudny Olafsdottir)

Although global warming is taking its toll on the fish stock in the North Atlantic Ocean (Northeast Fisheries Science Center, 2009), seafood from the region still represents nearly 11 percent of total global production (Íslandsbanki, 2013). Countries situated in the region therefore enjoy great potential to tap into this vast resource for sale on the international market. The Republic of Iceland (Iceland) is one such country, where catching fish for domestic and international export has been a mainstay of its economy since the 12th century (according to the country’s tourism board, Promote Iceland). With Icelandic companies catching over 1,440 thousand tons of fish annually, it is an integral industry to the country’s economy (Statistics Iceland, 2013). This long, rich heritage and a wealth of knowledge crafted over centuries has made Iceland home to some of the world’s most innovative companies involved with fisheries and related equipment.

Once such example is Promens Dalvik Ehf. (Promens Dalvik), which is today one of the world’s leading plastic container manufacturers but has its roots firmly entrenched in the fisheries industry. Originally established under the name Sæplast in 1984 in the northern Icelandic town of Dalvik, Promens Dalvik has been a leader in the development of molded, double walled, insulated plastic containers for the fishing, fish processing and logistical industries (according to the company and Green Marine Technology). Over the years the company has developed sturdy, lightweight recyclable storage containers that aid in sustainable fishing (Green Marine Technology). With a robust intellectual property (IP) portfolio through patents and trademarks, and partnerships with green technology promoters and organizations, Promens Dalvik aims to use innovation to make a lasting contribution to the sustainable fisheries industry.

Research and development

When you think of fish containers, the importance of the product might not come readily to mind. You may ask yourself why a container to hold caught fish needs to be so special. As fish is caught and first loaded onto a boat, then to storage facilities at a dock, processing plants, and finally trucks for delivery, it is handled by many people and goes through a myriad of environments. Each time fish is loaded and unloaded it is susceptible to damage caused by either human error or machines (UK P&I Club, September 2006). A flimsy, weak container to hold recently caught fish can damage the product, and improper insulation can cause temperature changes, potentially making the fish unfit for human consumption. For example, freshly caught fish is only viable for 15 days at 0 degrees Celsius (°C), 6 days at 6°C, 3 days at 12°C, and a mere 1.5 days at 18°C (FAO, Containers in the Fishing Industry). The easier a container is to grip and move around, the better chance there is that fish will not spill or get contaminated. In many countries, up to 30 percent of fish spoil due to a lack of suitable containers (FAO).

According to the Food & Agricultural Organization, on average seafood contributes to 15 percent of a person's annual protein intake, which makes safely transporting fish an important undertaking (Photo: Flickr/Jens Schott Knudsen)

Recognizing the importance of high quality fish containers for the fishing industry in and outside of Iceland, in 1984 Promens Dalvik entered into research and development (R&D) on a new line of containers, marketed and sold under the Sæplast name. Extremely versatile, Sæplast containers are also suitable for other processing industries. The ease of use, stacking ability, strong insulation, and strength of Sæplast containers propelled the company to the top of the Icelandic fishing industry, and they soon entered international markets. As the company continued to expand in the fisheries industry, demand increased from all over the world from Promens Dalvik's customers for fish containers that could be refined and tailored to specific needs. These included features such as effectively holding fish that are delicate and require careful handling, increased thermal protection, and more eco-friendly construction, thus serving to assist in the movement towards more sustainable fishing practices (World Fishing & Aquaculture, 2012).

Promens Dalvik was able to meet the needs of its customers, the fisheries industry, and environmental challenges through the introduction of a number of innovative products. First, it developed a new fish container that is marketed under the already well-known Sæplast name. Second, Promens Dalvik put in additional R&D into developing a new type of unloading cage to be used with the company's updated containers, making for safer, more efficient unloading and loading. Lastly, through a fruitful industry partnership Promens Dalvik developed a special container that can cost-effectively transport shellfish (such as clams, oysters, and shrimp) in a more environmentally friendly way, while keeping the shellfish alive, fresh, and safe for human consumption.

Inventions

Made with recycled plastics, Promens Dalvik's updated container design features a number of innovations. For example, the weight of the container was reduced but the cubic usage inside increased, offering more storage space (World Fishing & Aquaculture, 2007). This means that fewer containers need to be used to hold the same amount of fish, allowing for a fishing vessel to bring back a bigger catch.

The container features rounded edges and surfaces, making it easy to wash from all sides, and prevents dirt and other contaminants from entering (according to Promens Dalvik). Because it is easily stackable, more containers can be stacked and carried at once, requiring less human and fossil fuel burning mechanical power (such as forklifts) when moving the containers, thus increasing efficiency and cost-effectiveness. The new model also features a double wall of polyethylene (for heavier, stronger containers) or polyurethane (for lighter, more flexible containers) insulation, which ensures that the fish inside are not as susceptible to outside temperature changes, thus increasing their shelf life (World Fishing & Aquaculture, 2007).

In addition, this innovative container is completely recyclable, comes in many different colors, and can be decorated with a client's logo, serial number, or other text to promote their brand and products. Furthermore, Promens Dalvik's years of R&D into radio frequency identification chips (RFID) has paid off, in that RFID chips can be embedded into the new container at the customer's request. This ensures that containers do not get lost or stolen, or in the event that they do, can be more easily found (Eurofish Magazine, 2012).

A complementary invention the company introduced in 2014 was the Safe2Land unloading cage, which is designed to quickly, safely, and efficiently move freshly caught fish from a fishing vessel to a dock (World Fishing & Aquaculture, 2014). This unique system reduces the risk of stacked containers falling during moving, which makes for safer loading and unloading of the company's Sæplast containers. While not yet ready for full-scale production as of late 2014, the invention was exhibited at the Icelandic Fisheries Exhibition in Norway in September 2014. Speaking to World Fishing & Aquaculture magazine, Holmar Svansson, Sales and Marketing Director of Tubs Europe at Promens (the holding company for Promens Dalvik), said, “…we have seen a lot of interest in investment. We are very positive after this show.”

Moving caught fish from trawler to dock is a labor intensive task, and Promens Dalvik's innovative container helps ease the mechanical and human power required (Photo: Flickr/John Nuttall)

Partnerships

Promens Dalvik's long history in the fisheries industry has provided the company with the opportunity to see the need for improvement, and one such area was in the movement of shellfish. Traditionally, shellfish are transported in small quantities via airplane, which makes live shellfish (such as lobsters or crab) exceedingly expensive, demanding up to a 500 percent markup (Packaging Gateway, 2009). If shellfish could be shipped via ocean freight, the company surmised, the price gap could be decreased and the environment could benefit, as carbon emissions by ocean freight rather than airfreight can be up to 70 percent less in terms of harmful emissions (Packaging Gateway, 2009).

To solve this problem Promens Dalvik partnered with Aqualife, a company based in Denmark that specializes in the transport of live seafood, to develop the Shellfish Tank, which keeps shellfish in their natural biological state right from when they are caught and allows for their transport via ocean freight (according to Aqualife and Promens Dalvik), keeping them alive for up to two months (Packaging Gateway, 2009).

Working to continue playing a role in sustainable fishing and environmentally friendly solutions, in 2013 Promens Dalvik partnered with nine other Icelandic companies (such as Thor Ice, Dis Solutions, and 3X Technology) in the fisheries industries and introduced Green Marine Technology, a marketing initiative emphasizing the eco-friendly and sustainable technologies that these ten companies have innovated (World Fishing & Aquaculture, 2013). Through this initiative, which aims to promote renewable energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and develop eco-friendly technology, Promens Dalvik has been able to take part in an important movement that highlights the qualities of Icelandic technologies (according to Green Marine Technology).

Patents, trademarks, and domain names

With the development of the company’s unique open-topped stackable container, in 2006 Promens Dalvik filed an international patent application through the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) system, managed by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), designating key markets such as the European Union, the USA, and Canada. In addition, the company has previously filed a PCT application in 2003 for its method to simulate tide ebbs and flows in a container for shipping marine species such as shellfish. This technology is used in the Shellfish Tank, developed and marketed through the partnership with Aqualife.

The company's innovative container, a subject of a PCT application
(Image: PATENTSCOPE/WO2007054980)

To protect its corporate brand, the company's name and logo was the subject of an international application through the Madrid system (managed by WIPO), and was registered in September 2007, while its name – Promens – was registered through the Madrid system as a wordmark in the European Union, Switzerland, and Norway. The company also made an additional application for its Sæplast brand of containers through the Madrid system, which was registered in January 2014.

To maintain its presence on the Internet, Promens Dalvik’s parent company – Promens – owns the promens.com domain name, where all subsidiary companies (such as Promens Dalvik) are introduced and promoted. Through this online presence, visitors can learn about Promens Dalvik's products, history, and sales contact points.

Environment

As the world's fisheries continue to be exploited and more people rely on oceans, seas, lakes, and rivers for sustenance, sustainable fishing is a topic of great importance. Through Promens Dalvik's inventions, such as its unique container, the carbon footprint caused by fishing activities can be reduced. The long lasting, robust, recyclable container yields maximum storage space while reducing contaminants, which decreases the time taken to load and unload containers, which in turn decreases the amount of emissions caused by boats, forklifts, and the running of other logistical equipment (Green Marine Technology). Products such as the Shellfish Tank also help to decrease logistical emissions while providing end customers with fresh, safe products (Packaging Gateway, 2009). This combined with the launch of the Green Marine Technology initiative puts Promens Dalvik on the path to making positive environmental contributions in the fisheries industry (World Fishing & Aquaculture, 2013).

Commercialization

Since 1984 Promens Dalvik has provided the fisheries industry with safe, innovative, and durable containers. Starting out as a domestic small and medium-sized enterprise in Iceland, the company’s commitment to quality, the environment, and meeting its customers needs has made it one of the largest companies and most well-known in the industry (Eurofish Magazine, 2012). By 2014, Promens Dalvik not only commercializes its products for the fishing industry, but also for other sectors, which is due to the versatility of the company's containers. For example, because they are lightweight, durable, and recyclable, they are popular in the meat industry, bakeries, and recycling plants (Eurofish Magazine, 2012). The containers cost less than those made of steel and can be easily cleaned, moved, and recycled, which has increased their domestic and international appeal.

Promens Dalvik has become one of the leading suppliers of sustainable, environmentally friendly containers for this fishing industry (Photo: Flickr/Ubac)

Business results

By 2014, Promens Dalvik was one of the Promens group's most lucrative businesses, with product sales in Europe, North America, South America, and Africa. As of 2010 the company enjoyed a 75 percent worldwide market share for insulated containers (World Fishing & Aquaculture, 2010) and the Sæplast name is one of the most well-known in the industry. In 2012 the company opened a new factory in Dalvik and exports its products to over sixty countries throughout the world (Plastic News, 2012). Promens Dalvik's innovations have also been internationally recognized through winning various awards. For example, through the partnership with Aqualife the Shellfish Tank won the World Packaging Organization (WPO) WorldStar Sustainable Packaging Award 2009 and the Nordic Scanstar Innovative Packaging Award in 2008.

An ocean of innovation

For over 160,000 years humans have relied on the Earth's oceans for sustenance. Ensuring their continued sustainability could be integral to the continued health, well-being, and livelihood of millions of people. With innovative products, patent applications, and a strong brand name, one forward-thinking company from a small island nation is taking this challenge to hand.