UFlex Asepto - Riding high on international markets’ prospects

In just four years, UFlex has established itself as a leading aseptic liquid packaging manufacturer in India, with a growth rate of more than 100%, Ashwani Kumar Sharma, president and CEO of Aseptic Liquid Packaging Business at UFlex, tells Rahul Kumar

11 Mar 2022 | By Rahul Kumar

Ashwani Kumar Sharma of UFlex

Rahul Kumar (RK): How far has aseptic packaging come?  
Ashwani Kumar Sharma (AKS):
In just four years, UFlex' Asepto has established itself as a leading aseptic liquid packaging manufacturer in the Indian subcontinent. As the ‘first Indian manufacturer of aseptic holographic liquid packs’, Asepto has built a solid place for itself with the cutting-edge greenfield project in Sanand, Gujarat. We are now the fastest-growing aseptic liquid packaging company in the world, with a year-on-year growth rate of more than 100%.

Currently, the Indian aseptic liquid packaging market is about 12-13 billion packs annually. It is increasing at a CAGR of 12-15% per year. We have gained a domestic market share of about 20% in less than four years, resulting in full capacity utilisation (3.5-bn packs per annum). We are in the process of doubling the capacity from 3.5-billion to 7.0-billion packs annually, addressing increased global demand. We must be prepared to serve these clients in the future perfectly. The commissioning is in full swing, and it will be ready to fulfil these demands shortly.

With the growth, we will take advantage of enormous prospects in international markets.  We already export to regions like Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. With increased capacity, we will continue to add new clients and meet their needs. Currently, we serve over 100 customers in India and around the world.

We are highly competitive with our value-added products, which include holographic and foil stamping techniques. Recently, we partnered with the pharma company FDC to deliver holographic aseptic packaging for its flagship brand ‘Electral Z+ (ORS + Zinc Solution)’, ready-to-drink OTC product, having this formulation manufactured by Halewood Laboratories.

The growth steps we've taken so far reflect Asepto's strong market position and forward-looking mindset. It is the outcome of ever-increasing demand for aseptic packaging. With this approach, we want to build additional factories in India as well as beyond, in the future, to fulfil market demand. 

RK: What precautions does a company take to ensure its sterilisation? 
Our Sanand production facility performs a highly automated operation that requires minimal human interaction, considerably reducing hygiene challenges. The production plant meets the highest industry standards, and it adheres to the strictest regulations to mitigate the potential of contamination. To begin with, sterilisation of packaging material is achieved on the aseptic filling machine where the packaging material is sterilised by utilising hydrogen peroxide and/ or UV rays, and then the product is filled and sealed for final production.

RK: Since aseptic packaging deals with ensuring the products are sterile how did it manage the Covid outbreak?  
In order to ensure safe manufacturing, UFlex – Asepto has always prioritised health and safety for its employees, customers, and partners. Asepto enhanced hygiene as a safety standard rigorously in its preparation to protect everyone in our manufacturing facility from pandemic. Our primary goal is to provide safe, continuous supply and timely delivery of our packaging material to our clients. From entry to exit, our plant is well-equipped and maintains the highest sanitary requirements. PPE kits are given in accordance with the mandate and requirements. Masks are required during the whole operating process. Gloves are required due to the handling of FG and secondary components.

Protective shields are used to provide extra protection when interacting with individuals. We have even set up hand sanitiser stations in high-traffic locations, and departmental backup personnel have received emergency training. In
times of crisis, a well-managed supply chain is essential, and we immediately launched the scenario planning technique that took into account various demand environments across the whole supply chain. We enhanced raw material stock levels to provide production security to mitigate supply disruptions.

RK How does a company ensure aluminium-free full barrier packaging materials for aseptic carton packs? 
In the current composition of our six-layer aseptic liquid packaging, a very thin coating of aluminium is used acting as a strong light and oxygen barrier, eliminating the need for refrigeration and preventing spoilage of the product without the need of preservatives. Aluminium is also for induction sealing, since induction technology is used in aseptic filling machines. Indeed, we anticipate that in the future, high barrier paperboards with outstanding sealing and protecting properties can be employed as a single component in aseptic packaging. However, in order to implement this single component paperboard modification, there will be a technical change on both — the paperboard manufacturers and the existing filling technologies — sides of the manufacturing process.

RK: What types of processes are being deployed to preserve quality and process low or high acid products?
Our packaging material is composed of six-layers of barriers; all of our raw materials are FDA certified and serve a significant role in ensuring the integrity of any product filled within. Depending on whether the product to be filled is low or high acid, the PE structure is supplemented according to the application or product filled within.

RK: How the product and packaging is sterilised separately and filled within an aseptic chamber?
Aseptic packaging is sterilised before being filled with UHT (ultra-high temperature) processed food, resulting in a product with a shelf life of more than six months. In the aseptic packaging technique, the flat and unformed packaging material, as well as the sealing strip, is passed through a heated hydrogen peroxide bath and or UV ray. Hydrogen peroxide is then removed from the packaging material using pressure rollers or hot air. The laminate’s edges (sealing) are then sealed to create a tube, and the product is filled through a sterile pipe in a closed aseptic chamber. This preserves the product's overall sterility. This means that filling and sealing machinery must be sterile prior to packaging and during the manufacturing process to guarantee that the environment is free from any contaminating micro-organisms. 

RK: What are the tech specs of the machines (speeds/sizes/ formats, etc)?
It is imperative to have an efficient and flexible filling system for beverages. Aseptic liquid filling machines from Asepto are versatile and efficient. With the unique servo motor mechanism, our Asepto Flexpress 10000 packs per hour have the flexibility to fill multiple Asepto Brick format sizes in portion packs, including 100-ml, 125-ml, 160-ml, and 200-ml. We provide the fast format, volume, and design changeover times imaginable, as well as the capacity to handle several product variants on a single machine.

The machine is optimum for dairy, beverages, alcohol, and dairy alternatives. The Asepto Flexpress 10000 is a state-of-the-art machine with superior performance and a compact structure, as well as an operator-friendly human-machine interface with an advanced PLC-integrated for sheer performance, resulting in a low cost of ownership for manufacturers. Our fully automatic machine fills the roll fed six-layer packaging and allows a smart approach to liquid filling needs. You can adapt swiftly to changing customer needs, optimise output, and lower system costs.

The Asepto Smart 7800 is a modern and automated, sophisticated aseptic liquid filling line, with a capacity of 7,800 packs per hour; it delivers pack sizes ranging from 100, 125, 160, and 200-ml slim packs. The machine is equipped with specialized tools for enhanced and optimum performance. It has numerous notable advantages, including enhanced integration with PLC, less mechanical parts, and greater human interface, making it operator-friendly, in addition to offering the best production speed of any comparable machine. The machine requires less maintenance, which is a huge plus for our clients because it lowers the total cost of ownership.

RK: What QA is done before and after you outsource your packaging material?
We guarantee quality and safety of our packaging to our consumers. We have a fully equipped in-house lab for testing and validations, satisfying product specifications, and quality control of packaging materials. These high-end machines ensure consistency to produce a quality packaging material. We assess and qualify the manufacturers with whom we collaborate to ensure that they fulfil our compliance criteria. Our packaging raw materials, such as paperboard, aluminium, and PE, are procured from reputable worldwide / national sources. As part of our mission to preserve, protect, and promote, we adhere to all applicable regulatory frameworks and maintain the highest standards.

Our facility is accredited in line with the International ISO 9001:2015, ISO 14001:2015, ISO 22000:2005, and OHSAS 18001:2007 (45000:2018) management systems, as well as the BRC Global Standard for Packaging and Packaging Material, in addition to official Indian regulations. Our paperboard, which is 70% of our packaging material, complies with all international regulations, including FSC certification and strict global manufacturing processes. All of our goods are in accordance with USFDA regulations. SEDEX certification has also been granted to our facility.

RK: How does aseptic packaging deal with sustainability and growing consumer needs?
The Covid-19 pandemic has made customers extremely cautious of the products they want to consume. Aseptic packaging emerged as the safest way to offer quality packaging, with high functionality and sustainability standards. Moreover, it’s the ideal packaging for on-the-go customers. Our packaging has several stages of production offering barrier properties to keep products safe and the packs anti-counterfeit. It is pertinent that food products not only remain safe in packaging for a long period, but also that a quality product gets packaged.

Therefore, good packaging plays a pivotal role in today’s scenario for all food brands. Keeping sustainability as the core of our operations, our aseptic liquid packs are made up of 100% renewable and recyclable paperboard (FSC-certified) that can be recycled, in line with our philosophy to make product packaging sustainable.