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Packing food, drugs at a blistering pace

The Indian packaging industry is turning a new leaf.

The more than $25 billion Indian packaging industry, growing at a rate of about 10 per cent, is initiating major steps to develop innovative packaging for all segments, but mainly for pharmaceutical and food products, even as the country bids to radically boost its exports.

These efforts are aimed at reducing the import of packaging materials and to produce those materials in India so that the country becomes self-reliant and emerges as a key supplier base for the world.

Currently, India imports large volumes of packaging material. Both the industry and the government are working to reduce such imports. India imports packaging materials of more than ₹360 crore per year for packaging of pharmaceutical products alone.

Developed countries use, and demand, advanced packaging for pharmaceuticals to keep products safe. These are done through cold-form blister packaging which is used extensively around the world. India is now beginning to adopt such packaging techniques in a major way.

Imports at 80%

Currently, 80 per cent of cold-form blister packaging is imported. “Why does it have to be imported? Why can’t we make it in India? That is the direction in which we are working,” said Amitava Ray, an industry veteran and wholetime director at Uflex Ltd.

In packaging, India has traditionally looked to post-World War II Japan for inspiration. While the industry there derived from western packaging methods, they were integrated with the traditional Japanese concept of packaging called Tsutsumi - which is described as the concept of gentle concealment, which in turn, is a part of the traditional Japanese sense of beauty.

Similarly, the Indian packaging industry started manufacturing cold-form packaging material for pharmaceuticals, tablets and capsules in India, industry consultants said. “We brought in the latest equipment, we learnt the technology because we did not have the technology partner anywhere in the world and then we developed our own technology,” Mr. Ray said.

‘No import needed’

“Our objective is not to go for any import. Are we there as yet? No. Still imports are coming but I am absolutely sure that in the next year or two, there will be no need to import,” he added.

The product [laminate] that is being made has biaxial oriented nylon on one side and Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) fills on the other.

“Both these are imported. To avoid importing it, we developed packaging using isotropic polyester film on both sides which does the job and now we have given it to 50 pharmaceutical companies to do the testing.” he said.

Once proven successful, these will be introduced for the exports markets and then in the domestic market.

“We believe that in the next 2 years neither would we have to import for the rest of the world packaging nor for the regulated markets,” Mr. Ray said.

Modified atmosphere packaging

Since India is one of the largest producers of agriculture products, mainly fruits and vegetables, maximum emphasis is now given to increase the shelf life of these products and to reduce wastage through innovative packaging.

As per rough calculations, up to 40 per cent of such produce gets wasted at farms due to lack of appropriate logistics and a cold chain.

To deal with this problem, the packaging industry has developed modified atmosphere packaging.

Each fruit and vegetable has a certain respiratory rate. If a set of fruits is packed using modified atmosphere packaging, which in turn uses Nano technology, its shelf life gets extended.

“This is a vast field. We have not even scratched the surface of this. Equipment will measure the respiratory rate of each item and accordingly the Nano percolation test will be done.

“Ultimately, I see an India where there will be thousands of such units put up all over the countryside to enhance exports of farm products,” Mr. Ray said.

The same is with floriculture where India has already made a name in the international market.

A few weeks ago, the Flexible Packaging Association (FPA) of America, regarded as tops in the field of packaging, awarded India a gold medal, its highest recognition for modified atmosphere packaging because it has extended the shelf life of fruits and flowers being exported from India.

A higher standard of packaging obviously has advantages for businesses organisations but more importantly, it has potential to bring significant benefits to the country’s economy.

Every day planeloads of raw meat is exported to the Middle Eastern countries and we just get the basic price as value addition is done there. “It is the same old story. Cotton was grown in India and sent to England for processing so value addition went there. The hard work was done here. So why can’t we do the value-addition here by processing, packaging and supplying,” asked Mr. Ray.

Higher standards soon

India has its own packaging standard in the form of BIS certification which is voluntary in nature but a far higher standard, at par with the developed world is in the works and would be made mandatory for packaging of products for the export markets.

The Union Commerce Ministry has constituted an expert committee comprising importers, players from the packaging industry and other experts to review existing standards and formulate new standards which will be implemented within a couple of years.

“The Government of India has formed an expert committee to study the packaging standards required to be met by the country in a highly competitive global market,” Dr. Inderjit Singh, Additional Secretary, Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry had said.

“India’s packaging standards must match the rest of the world or the western world so that we are able to compete with them, rather exceed their standards. That is the purpose,” Dr. Singh had said.

“Once we have those standards, our products will have demand in the international market, our international trade will increase and our balance of payments will come down. Our exports will see a quantum jump. That is one aspect the government is keen on seeing,” he said. It is important to adopt very high standards both for domestic and export markets because packaging helps in enhancing the value and life span of a product.

To begin with, importance has been accorded to pharmaceutical packaging which has vast potential for growth.

Since 55 per cent of the pharmaceutical export market is regulated where little more needs to be done as the importers lay down specific standards that are required to be adopted while packing, the focus is now on to improve packaging for exports to the RoW markets.

Worldwide packaging is a $975 billion industry and is expected to reach close to $1000 billion this year.

The Indian packaging industry is estimated at $25 billion and is set to grow to $30 billion by 2020. The objective is to grab a pie of the global market, industry insiders said. The industry has also scope for providing large scale employment.

Longer shelf life

Though the primary objective of packaging is to enhance the value of the product and to ensure quality standards, the broader objective is to increase the shelf lives of products through affordable packaging. And this gels well with the ‘Make in India’ initiative of the government.

Dr N.C. Saha, Director, Indian Institute of Packaging, the apex body for packaging, said the government had identified a few products that have export potential. “There we need a packaging standard,” Dr. Saha said. India has an old packaging standard for tea which is being upgraded. It is also updating packaging standards for spices. These sectors have significant export potential.

“The standards committee will take up (products) one by one. We have our own packaging standard, the BIS is just voluntary. The new standard will be mandatory for exports.” Dr. Saha said.

“We will go by the priority (accorded to) sectors and the standards will be established in a year or two,” he added.

Source: The Hindu

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