Brand brief – BL Agro
BL Agro is a family-owned company founded in 1945. The company produces Bail Kolhu, a mustard oil, and Nourish, which is the brand name for its food products and its refined oil category such as sunflower, rice bran, and soya bean oil.
With eight facilities in the area around Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh, BL Agro runs one packaging unit and two refinery units, where it manages a range of packaging formats such as bottles of 200 millilitres, 500 millilitre and one litre in American boxes; two litres and five litres bottles in wrap-around blanks; 15 litres polyethylene terephthalate (PET) jars – altogether accounting for 140 different SKUs. The company installed three lines of Sidel PET manufacturing machines between 2014 and 2019.
“We work with a simple objective to manufacture, process and market the purest products possible, delivering tastier and healthier food solutions to our consumers. And strongly believing in creating a brand that offers budgetfriendly and sustainably-sourced products to customers,” says Ashish Khandelwal, executive director of BL Agro.
The shift from poly pouch to PET
According to the ministry of agriculture,the per capita consumption of edible oil in India stands at 19 kg per year and is currently experiencing a growth of around six per cent annually. Previously, the majority of edible oils in the country were packaged in 15 kg metallic cans, while now this entire segment is shifting towards consumer packs. The first packaging that replaced the cans was the poly pouch, which accounted for around 80-85% of the volumes at one point. Then, the category experienced a move to rigid packaging, specifically to PET bottles.
Speaking about the factors that triggered this shift, Khandelwal explains, “The market is concerned about the environmental characteristics of the poly pouches as they are not recyclingfriendly.
Meanwhile, PET offers a number of advantages as it is bottle-to-bottle recyclable, it offers lightweighting opportunities that significantly reduce the amount of PET resin used. It also allows great design flexibility, transparency, affordability and especially absolute food safety.”
With eight facilities in Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh, BL Agro runs one packaging unit and two refinery units
The Bareilly-based manufacturer was among the first producers of edible oils, which recognised the trend towards PET early on. By using PET, the company wanted to distinguish itself as a brand that focuses on providing consumer experience. And in search of this key factor of brand differentiation, BL Agro started searching for newer container designs. “We always believed that a good usage experience is crucial and that is why we ventured into PET packaging way back in 1999,” says Pradeep Hada, who is in charge of sales and marketing for BL Agro.
BL Agro wanted something different from what was available on the market at that time, and hence, it experimented with disruptive packaging designs. “We were one of the first companies in India to introduce two litres and five litres bottles with a handle. At that time, PET bottles were still considered a breakthrough in India, attracting end users due to their innovation component and ideally presenting high quality products thanks to their transparency – both very important points for us. When we started working on what became our two litres and five litres bottle, Sidel proposed some creative and disruptive concepts to us. We thus found a design that was quite unique and iconic,” says Hada.
Sidel and BL Agro’s combined effort
The handle insertion, the orientation of the bottle for the insertion itself, and the definition of the labelling area on the bottle were all issues that BL Agro and Sidel had to solve hand-inhand to differentiate the BL Agro packaging options on the retailer shelves.
Giulio Bellanti, Sidel business development director for edible oil in Asia, Oceania and Africa, says, “Together, we were able to take this innovative concept, which offers a real marketing benefit and – via prototyping and extensive testing – turn it into an industrial reality within an operating packaging production line.”
Throughout the different periods of its development, BL Agro approached global manufacturer of packaging equipment for liquids, Sidel, to help them differentiate their bottle designs while saving resources and raw material and still being able to address the growing market demand with budget-friendly products.
The result of the thorough packaging development process with Sidel was a PET bottle for edible oil with a handle and a triangular design – a unique approach to this type of product. “Producing such a PET bottle with a handle is no easy feat; it was very difficult to find suppliers who were confident to take on this challenge. The packaging team at Sidel was the only one who agreed to do a prototyping of the bottle, including the two notches for the handle,” highlights Khandelwal.
To successfully overcome the twofold challenge, encompassing the PET bottle shape and the handle’s specificity, Sidel’s full set of packaging R&D capabilities was needed. Khandelwal explains, “We appreciated the initial design a lot; however, it was quite difficult to see the packaging design become a reality because the bottle is neither square nor round. To add complexity, it also has notches that need to be completely formed, so that the handle insertion can take place. On the other hand, the notches cannot be too deep, because the handle would come off.”
BL Agro approached Sidel to help them differentiate their bottle designs while saving resources and raw material and still being able to address the demand
“In the second step of the execution, we were sure that the proposed designs would also be executed well when it came to blowing the bottles. After all, this is what Sidel is internationally known for. In the end, we achieved an extremely precise blowing combined with exact notch positioning and formations,” says Khandelwal.
Lightweighting the bottles
Besides leveraging the marketing advantage and the brand differentiation, the edible oil company also wanted to significantly lightweight its PET bottles. “Usually, a two litres bottle with a handle weighs around 70g. By carefully reviewing the container design, we achieved a weight reduction of approximately 21% and we are processing a 55 g bottle today,” says Khandelwal.
He adds, “The successive lightweighting steps have always been done without compromising the bottle’s top load characteristics and other mechanical requirements for transportation and transit.
The bottle’s stability and resistance throughout the supply chain have been tested and validated by Sidel’s packaging experts. The result was an optimised large format bottle that facilitates the handling, while fully protecting the product inside.”
Similar to the two litres bottle, the five litres format was also lightweighted – with a reduction from 130 g to 110 g, excluding the handle. These weight reductions have a substantial sustainability impact and translate to more than 650 tonnes of PET saved per year, claims BL Agro. “These developments also clearly mark significant savings in terms of material costs in a highly competitive edible oil market, particularly in India,” concludes Khandelwal