Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Never Give Up: The Story of Technology That Changed the World

Время на чтение 8 мин.

In 1918, the Swede Ruben Andersson, who had already changed his last name to the more sonorous Rausing (after all, Andersson in Sweden is like Smith in Britain or USA), graduated from the Stockholm School of Economics. His family did not live in poverty, so the young man continued his studies overseas, enrolling at Columbia University. At those time, self-service stores appeared in the United States. Customers no longer had to come, for example, to the grocer with a list of purchases that the seller had collected in the store, but chose the goods themselves and paid for them at the checkout. Rausing realized that this format lacks convenient packaging so that products can be conveniently transported and placed on shelves.

Great Packaging For the Future

Rausing’s idea was that the goods should be packaged directly at the factory. This would be more practical and safer than the common practice of wrapping food in paper or filling glass bottles right behind the counter. Rausing decided to organize his own packaging business, but he did not have the money for this. So, he went with his idea to big Swedish businessmen. However, those enthusiasm was not appreciated. This was probably because the traditional trading format was too familiar, and supermarkets were just beginning to appear, and their future looked uncertain.

Be that as it may, Rausing had to look for other ways. In 1929, together with his friend Erik Åkerlund, he bought a cardboard factory in Malmö, which was on the verge of closure, and founded Sweden’s first packaging company, Åkerlund & Rausing. However, business did not go well, and in 1933 Åkerlund sold his share to Rausing, considering the idea unpromising. Subsequently, Eric apparently kicked himself, because the company became the largest manufacturer of cardboard packaging for dry products.

But Rausing’s goal was to replace bulky, breakable, and awkward-to-carry glass bottles for milk, cream, and other liquids. The businessman presented the following requirements for a new type of packaging:

– be as ergonomic as possible in transportation and placement in the store;

– ensure hygiene;

– be made from a minimum amount of raw materials;

– be cheap enough to compete with bottling.

These principles are embodied in Rausing’s famous maxim: packaging should save more than it costs.

Should We Make a Tetrahedron?

Although Åkerlund & Rausing was doing moderately well, the company could afford a research lab, to which Rausing tried to attract talented developers. One of them was Eric Wallenberg, a man who largely determined what the modern world would look like.

The development of a new packaging was carried out for several years, before in 1944 Wallenberg came up with a brilliant idea (according to legend, he saw it in a dream). The tetrahedron turned out to be the ideal shape, allowing the use of a minimum amount of cardboard. The next problem to be solved was the sealing of the packaging. Here, cooperation with pulp and paper mills and chemical companies was required, and a solution was found: the inside of the cardboard was covered with a thin layer of polyethylene. This not only made the packaging waterproof and therefore suitable for liquids, but also made it easy and quick to heat seal.

The third problem was how to fill the packages with product. Again, according to legend, the idea came from Elisabeth Rausing, Ruben’s wife. She suggested using the same principle by which sausages are formed. The long intestine is filled with minced meat, and when it has accumulated enough for one portion, it is simply tied up and they continue to stuff the same intestine with the next portion. The machine for the new packaging poured milk into paper cylinders, then shaped them into a tetrahedron and sealed them. And so, it turned out the pyramid, which was called Tetra Classic.

Ruben Rausing realized that Tetra Classic was exactly what he was going for and patented the invention in his name. Therefore, over the next 50 years, it was he who was considered the inventor of the tetra pak, and only in 1991 the authorship of Eric Wallenberg was officially recognized, and the engineer received the Big Gold Medal of Engineering from the Swedish Academy of Sciences.

The Birth of Tetra Pak

In 1951, the research laboratory headed by Wallenberg was spun off as a subsidiary of Tetra Pak, headquartered in Lund. In the same year, the first line for bottling milk into tetrahedrons was installed at the local dairy. Pretty soon, manufacturers appreciated all the benefits of the new packaging, and tetra pak began to triumphantly spread throughout Sweden. However, consumers took longer to get used to the new product, so Tetra Pak even had to launch a large advertising and information campaign to explain to customers how to open tetrahedra correctly without spilling most of the milk.

At the same time, the beginning of the 1950s was a time of rapid development of supermarkets in Europe, which finally reached the Old World across the ocean. Distributors also praised how beautiful and comfortable lo huddled on racks, so Tetra Pak has a favorable environment from all sides. Already in 1954, the company entered the international market: manufacturers from other European countries became interested in the new packaging.

Packaging research continued and in 1961 the company introduced a major new product: the Tetra Classic Aseptic. A layer of aluminum was deposited inside the tetrahedron at high temperature, after which the package was subjected to sterilization. The product poured into such a tetra pak could be stored for several months without even being refrigerated. This achievement greatly strengthened the company’s position.

In 1963, the company introduced the next generation of the tetra pak, the Tetra Brik. The shape of the parallelepiped made it possible to stack goods tightly in containers or on pallets, so retailers were immediately interested in it. Consumers also appreciated the novelty: it became easier to open a new tetra pak and, unlike the tetrahedron, nothing spilled out of it.

Tetra Pak Walks the Planet

Since the 1960s, the global expansion of Tetra Pak began. The company opened factories first in Mexico, then in the US and Japan. New production facilities also appeared in Europe: by the beginning of the 1970s, enterprises to produce tetra pak were operating in Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. Researches also did not stand still: Tetra Rex packaging appeared, the same parallelepiped with a scallop that has become the most popular tetra pak in the world: more than 200 billion of them have already been produced. In 1986, Tetra Top enters the market — a tetra pak with a plastic cap. In subsequent years, the company continues to experiment with the form — Tetra Prisma, Tetra Fino and Tetra Wedge appeared.

In the 1990s, the company began to be criticized for not being environmentally friendly. Tetrapack is a composite package that is difficult to recycle, so most juice or milk cartons end up in landfills. In response, the company has adopted a strategy that includes packaging made from 100% recyclable materials, using recycled resources, and reducing emissions to the environment. In addition, nearly all tetra pak board comes from FSC-certified manufacturers, the Forest Stewardship Council, which develops standards for responsible forest management.

Now Tetra Pak operates in 170 countries around the world, and the heirs of Ruben Rausing continue to lead it, remembering with gratitude their grandfather, who did not give up after a series of funding refusals.

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