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Packaging ideas to take them home

Hrithik Kiran Bagade, Bengaluru, DH News Service, Nov 7 2017, 16:55 IST
Vimal Kedia

Vimal Kedia

Going grocery-shopping with a big shopping list and you find spices, mixes, teas, coffees, oils, beverages, ingredients et al wrapped, packed and sealed in safe, elaborate containers, bottlers, boxes and packets, waiting to be consumed. Behind the moment of being able to use the grocery shopping list, is the thought of 'how did all those products reach the store in the first place, and then, how were they able to be taken home'?

The answer sits firmly packaged in one of the most important, yet working-in-the-background sort of industries €“ Packaging. And Manjusjree Technopack is a packaging household name today, with innovations in the plastic packaging space, which is the driving force of how food, beverage, and other home FMCG companies seamlessly position, sell and supply their products today.

Way back in 1983, then Assam-based Manjushree Technopack set out producing flexible plastic packaging for the tea industry in Eastern India, supplying pouches, bags and other products. In 1994, it purchased a unit in Bengaluru.

"A thought occurred to me: Why not, we expand out of Assam?" reminisces Vimal Kedia, the Founder and Managing Director of Manjushree Technopack.

"We had a plan to work in the plastic PET bottle space. We went around government departments, and met stakeholders to understand the market. We set up this facility totally new. We thought this is a good area for PET bottles, because all the Southern states are industrialised, with high literacy rate and per capita income, resulting in greater spending power. Bengaluru is where logistics works out very well, because of its proximity to Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Maharashtra. If you cover all of South India, 60% of consumption is covered," he tells DH.

Manjushree's first facility in Bengaluru came up at Bommasandra, which also came to house a unique packaging heritage museum, exhibiting over 80 years of packaging.

The PET at home

PET or Polyethylene Terephthalate is one the greatest innovations in the packaging space, let alone plastic packaging. Over 20 years ago, PET bottles were not in vogue. When this innovation arrived in India, women were easily attracted to it because they could reuse the wide-mouthed PET jars, for keeping masalas, groceries, sugar, tea powder, salt, spices, and so on. Earlier, glass jars and tin cans were used. PET bottles are easy to handle, no breakage if dropped, and come in handy with the purchase of most items for the home and kitchen.

"Initially, we would send PET consignments of tea packaging by train all the way to Eastern India, because the demand was huge, with limited players," Kedia says.

Explaining the science behind PET packaging, with tea as an example, he says: "In tea, only 100 gm, 250 gm, 500 gm, and 1 kg are popular sizes in India. The 250 gm tea packs constitute 60% of sales, either in pouch or PET containers, 25% are from 500 gm, while the balance is between 100 gm and 1 kg. The science here involves knowing popular sizes and what should be the volume by density. Tea will require a particular size of capacity to pack. In the same way, oil requires different sizing. A 250 gm tea pack requires a 750 ml jar, but to pack 250 ml oil or water, one requires a 250 ml bottle."

A second factory came up in 2003, which merged its earlier factory within itself, setting up unified operations. As business expanded, Manjushree acquired land in the Bidadi Industrial Area and opened a large factory to manufacture preforms for cola and bottling industries, owing to high tonnage €“ Every day, that facility produces about 250 tonnes, while Bommasandra makes only 50 tonnes. Production level has risen to an annual output of four billion units of PET preforms, bottles and containers, which corresponds to 15% share in the overall Indian PET market.

"We moved up with all the industries, and our uniqueness was in service, quality and design. We invested in technologies and innovations, understanding customers' ideas. We imported bottle-blowing machines from Japan, preform machines from Canada, film machines from Germany, and multi-layer technologies from Italy, so as to never compromise on quality. The main crux here is reliability and integrity. If I get an order, which I don't deliver on time, my customer's factory will shut down. And if his product is out of the market for even one week, someone else will take over," Kedia says.

Industry mantra

Packaging has two formats: Flexible (wrappers), which is economical and cheap; and Rigid, which can be held in hand and is reclosable. General merchandise in India is packed in cheaper flexible packs, against expensive rigid packaging. Premium products like shampoos, cosmetics, and colas, are packed in rigid bottles, which are convenient to use, carry, refrigerate, and reuse.

Today, Manjushree is one of the largest manufacturers of 'anything in rigid packaging', supplying to a mega host of customers and industries. The company caters to 12 sectors including food and beverage, edible oil, alcobev, dairy, personal care, and home care, among others.

Last year, Manjushree acquired rival Varahi, emerging as a pan-India company €“ with seven operational plants in Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Assam, with a total annual manufacturing capacity rising to 1,25,000 MT. Today, the company's clients, who number around 200, include Patanjali, Dabur, SC Johnson, Marico, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Reckitt-Benckiser, Mondelez, and many others. It also exports to 10 countries.

"Totally, we have over 1,000 designs from 5-ml containers to 20-litre potable water bottles. We can manufacture any size for any industry. We are capable of making bottles for any product, be it acidic, processed food, or dry product, as we even have moisture and oxygen barriers. Besides PET, we work with Low-density polyethylene (LDP), High-density polyethylene (HDP), Polypropylene, LED bulbs made of Polycarbonate, and Polystyrene," Kedia says.

Plastic peril

India's plastic packaging industry, which is largely unorganised, is expected to reach $73 billion by 2020, at 18% CAGR, according to a report by FICCI and Tata Strategic Management Group, which also states that the size of the industry in India today is at $32 billion, constituting only 4% of the global packaging industry.

The largest consumer of plastic products is the beverage space at 40% in India (global is 60%), led by colas, followed by liquor (10%), pharmaceuticals (8%), and then other health supplements, and miscellaneous products.

With plastic comes the question of its inherent threat to the biosphere and its unfortunate ability to degenerate the environment, if not treated or disposed of properly.

"The biggest challenge is plastic mismanagement. The government has come out with the Plastic Waste Management Rules, which specifies producers' responsibilities. Even citizens must be disciplined enough to dispose of plastic in a separate bin, lest we all continue to suffer," Kedia, who is also the President of PET Association for Clean Environment, says, adding that awareness and stringent punishment is needed.

Manjushree is carrying out R&D on biodegradable plastics, which isn't in much use, owing to its high cost. "It has to be produced from plants €“ sugarcane to molasses, from which Monoethylene glycol has to be sourced. Biodegradable plastic doesn't fulfill requirements of all industries," he says.

A way out would be to reduce the weight of a plastic bottle or container, and also using recycled plastic. "We look at new designs through our dedicated design studio, on how to reduce weight and plastic use. By this, the customer reduces his packaging costs, and it is our objective to reduce plastic usage every year," he adds.

Till date, Manjushree Technopack has invested over Rs 500 crore. Last year, it logged a turnover of Rs 650 crore, and will close this year at Rs 850 crore, a growth of 30%. "We eye Rs 1,000 crore in turnover by 2019," concludes Kedia.

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