The science and business of packaging at WPC

As IIP’ golden jubilee celebrations continue, hosting the World Packaging Congress in Mumbai was an ambitious job. It must be said that the job was well done, when 1200 packaging minds gathered at Powai’s Hotel Renaissance on 9-10 October. A special report from the action-packed two days by Ramu Ramanathan, Priya Raju and Tanvi Parekh

11 Oct 2015 | By Ramu Ramanathan & Priya Raju & Tanvi Parekh

The inaugural session by union food processing minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal , Padma Vibhushan Prof M M Sharma, additional secretary Rajani Ranjan Rashmi and set the tone for the two-day confabulations.

The union food processing minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal delivered a stirring speech. The highlights of her extempore address were the government’s commitment to 42 mega food parks (MFP) approved by the government which Badal said could be operational by 2019. A rough estimate suggests this will yield a potential investment of about Rs 14,000 crore and should benefit 12.5 lakh farmers plus generate 3-4 lakh new jobs, too.

The minister focussed the attention of the gathering to the food scarcity problem and said packaging plays a crucial role. She said, wastage in the supply chain is a serious issue, and after becoming minister the statistics has baffled her. She felt, food processing and packaging can solve these issues and create better value for farmers, employment for women, reduction of wastage and address the glut and scarcity issues.

She said, wastage is a global phenomenon and worldwide percentage of food waste is close to 30%. Her statistics reveals that the waste quotient in India is 15-20% which she felt was a conservative number. She pointed out that in the developed economies, the wastage happens on the plate whereas in India it happens on the farm or post-harvest. She mentioned a slew of schemes which the government has rolled out for increasing food processing in India.

She hoped that the establishment of a strong food processing industry backed by an efficient supply chain, which includes collection centres, a central processing centre (CPC) and cold chain infrastructure will achieve faster growth for food processing industries. Creating mega food parks – a hub and spoke of a model where the hub is a food processing zone having a size of 50 acres with facilities for setting up various food processing activities.

The subsidy for a food park is Rs 50 crore. Currently, there are 198 such parks in India There is a subsidy scheme for setting up of cold chains for perishable items. There is a lower excise duty (6%) for machinery related to food processing and waiver of sales tax. The government has set up a corpus of Rs 2000 crore with Nabard to ensure lower credit for small scale food processing units.

Also a subsidy scheme for modern abattoirs (slaughter houses) for scientific production of meat. The government has developed a portal called the food map of India where a user can find what is produced plus quantify the consumption patterns. This data can be used by investors to set up of units.

Prof M M Shah, Padma Vibhushan winner from ICT, Mumbai underscored the importance of plastics as “the greatest invention in chemical technology and has contributed to the all-inclusive growth. If we take the overall cost of any other form of packaging the resources they consume either in making or distribution (freight) are much higher and plastics are sustainable in that way. He cited the instance of PE both LD and HD having revolutionised packaging; plus how India has made huge strides from its modest beginning of 9000MTPA to having manufacturing capacity of 1.5 million MTPA, in the here and now.

He mentioned that humble “sachets” are an Indian phenomenon and the possibility of packing something in small sizes increases outreach and boosts growth. He stressed that research continues on newer plastic variants which can extend the shelf life of fresh produce and India being one of the largest producers of farm fresh goods should lay its focus on these technologies. Professor Sharma highlighted the power of EVOH and PVDC (trade name Saran). He felt, in India, we are in dire need of such products in order to preserve our food. Currently, food wastage in India is among the highest. This will ensure a simple square meal is available on the plate of every single Indian citizen. He extolled the audience to consider setting up large scale manufacturing of these materials in India similar to what we have achieved with PE, PP and PET. 

Rajani Ranjan Rashmi, additional secretary, the ministry of commerce and industry spoke about how the Indian Institute of Packaging can play a larger role in shaping packaging technology. He hoped it diversify into other ventures besides being a premier institute for packaging education and research. He explained the role of the government; and how incentives for growth and development does not always work. He felt the packaging industry should start getting organised and set their priorities right. He said fragmented nature of business can create challenges for the government for addressing their needs and the industry should consolidate and put up a common voice which can then be addressed by the government. He feels that the institute can play a key role in this process.

World Packaging Organisation’s president Thomas Schneider stressed the importance of education in packaging which he explored in his keynote address. Schneider was pleased to report that the packaging industry, world-wide, continues to thrive and prosper. He said, “In every corner of the globe, we see more value being placed on the humble package, whether it is for consumer goods, industrial applications, food, beverage, or pharmaceuticals.” He added, “This fundamental value translates to steady growth across the globe as well.”

According to a new study by Smithers PIRA, the compound annual growth rate for packaging world-wide is projected at 4.1% on an annual basis through 2018. And by 2018, the sale of packaging products will approach USD 1 trillion. Schneider stated, “And within the eight distinct regions that PIRA studied, Asia has the highest rate of 6.3% per year.

Finally, of all the countries in Asia included in this study, India is projected to have the highest growth rate which is 10.7% per year through 2018. This is a phenomenal growth rate and will be difficult to sustain without more focused education for future packaging professionals and users of packaging materials and machinery.”

While interacting with PrintWeek India, Schneider said, “Today’s packaging innovations include, shelf-stable packaging, safer packaging for pharmaceuticals, infra-red and UV readable inks for products security, cross-border tracking software for food and beverage products, intelligent films for meats.” After these guests spoke, what followed was presentations of representatives from Dr Reddy Laboratories (DRL) and Tetrapak.

GV Prasad of DRL spoke about how the Hyderabad-based pharma manufacturer has applied design thinking to facilitate better patient centric packaging. He spoke about how DRL is providing tear guides and information of every piece of medicine could be torn off so that the local pharmacist who has the habit of tearing strips and issuing medicines across the counter, could do it easily and the torn piece would still carry the medical information.

Kandarp Singh, managing director from Tetra Pak, spoke about how aseptic packaging is sustainable and easy to recycle. Tetra Pak is stressing their recycle and reuse initiative. This is visible at their kiosk at Indiapack plus during the presentation. The Pune plant which was completed in May 2013 has achieved the highest rating of ‘Platinum’ from the Indian Green Building Council, for its sustainability initiatives. In addition, at the kiosk one can see Tetra Pak substrates being recycled into diaries, roof tiles etc. The facility in Chakan which produces materials for Tetra Pak’s aseptic packaging products is the second largest facility in the world after Sweden.

There was a panel discussion chaired by Dr Sahawherein the user companies along with the manufacturing companies of packaging material discussed the opportunities in the packaging industry in regards to Make in India.

Agro packaging
In a parallel conference on packaging of agro commodities, the primary focus was on the developments in food quality and safety initiatives. A WPO member Dr Johannes Bergmair, director, Austria Research Institute discussed the myriad (and at times bewildering) regulations for food safety and packaging in Europe, USA, Australia and China. He said that in Europe the situation is complex and the governing authorities are yet to arrive at a proper legislation. He spoke about the role FDA in USA and EPA in Europe and similar institutions in other parts of the world. According to Dr Bergmair, we cannot avoid migration completely but can only minimise its quantity into the food product. He also expressed his worry about the different acceptance criteria in different legislations for a much hazardous chemical Bisphenol A. He said WPO is working on aggregating and consolidating such information at one place.

Messe Dusseldorf’s V Bernd Jablonowski, highlighted the global initiative - Safe Food and emphasized on the necessity of innovation and infrastructural conditions in the field of direct communication, sales and promotion. This initiative involved working with the entire food chain from farmers, processing units, supply chain and also consumers to educate them to reduce wastage. He said, “One-third of the total food produce world-wide is wasted. The world’s population is expected to touch nine billion by 2050 and there can be food security issues in the future.” The Safe Food programme is in partnership with UN food council.

Paul Dunmore, product manager at Hubergroup ink safety for food packaging applications. “Hubergroup adheres to all the norms related to food safety; especially issues like set-off and migration properties,” said Dunmore. Sharing his views on the trending demands on safest solvent based liquid inks, Dunmore said that the company is approaching to achieve safe packaging inks with full compliance.

A senior research scientist at Dupont, India, Dr Srinivas Cherukapalli highlighted the utility of Tyvek in food processing. A 100% HDPE product, Tyvek is water and chemical resistant, reflects 99% sunlight, has extremely high strength but light weight. Another interesting feature is that it is breathable. It has immense opportunity in packaging of perishable products. A fruit is even named after the product and is called Tyvek orange.

He mentioned how Dupont is pioneering the creation of green houses to cover the farm thereby preventing moisture evaporation and protecting perishables when the cold chain is broken. The breaking of cold chain as a problem is huge in perishables as if something is supposed to be at five degrees centigrade till it reaches consumer. “This is particularly valid for India, where vehicles break down; or there is delay in getting material loaded on a ship or a train,” added Cherukapalli.

The audience was delighted to get a glimpse of the world of nanotechnology and its application in food packaging. Kuruvilla Joseph, professor at ISRO, India gave an interesting presentation on the subject. Joseph said, “Nano particles are used to make sensors which can be used in medicines for pre-cancer diagnosis, for detecting cholesterol, dental and many more at preliminary stages.”

He also spoke its application in active packaging as it can act as oxygen scavengers and enhance shelf life. It can also create sensors to detect ripening, oxygen levels, freshness, etc. to show if the food has expired or faced harsh conditions.

Dave Atkinson, vice president at ITW presented on global trends, opportunities and emerging innovations in resealable flexible packaging. He presented technology of zip pouches and its utility. “In an age of anti-static zipper bags, tamper-proof bottom resealable, flexible zipper package, Zip Pak offers a nifty solution which can be retrofitted to existing form/fill/seal (FFS) equipment and thereby ensure faster, cost-effective zipper implementation. Briefing the attendees with the product range, including Fragrance-Zip, Vector (self-mating resealable), Zip 360 degree, Pour & Lok (lok not lock), Inno-Lok (pre-zipped film) and many more, the speaker stressed on flexibles and resealability as being the product differentiator and the new age packaging.

Shehbaz Singh, scientist at Apio, USA presented technology of modified atmosphere packaging through the use of special films which alter the oxygen-carbondioxide content and increase shelf life by delaying oxidation and degradation. They have developed ideal oxygen-carbondioxide content for each kind of food item and can have packaging materials which can maintain those conditions without reaching the anaerobic state. The membrane is called breathway. According to Singh, the multilayer laminate is applied on a hole in the package that controls the oxygen and carbon dioxide penetration in and out of the package.

Singh shared various case studies on perishable food items like broccoli, avocado, berries, cucumber, etc where the film has significantly increased the shelf like from a mere one or two days to as long as30-40 days (as per the product). Effectively this means, manufacture lemons in September and sell them in November when there is better demand. The company is the largest food processor in North America and says food processing opens up new business models and markets.