One of India’s foremost private sector companies, ITC, recently introduced a new range of milk-based drinks with fruit pieces while expanding their juice portfolio with a variety of premium 100% Indian fruit, 0% concentrate, and 0% preservative juices. With both, they trusted Sidel and their proven expertise in aseptic packaging, investing in a complete line, featuring the first dry preform sterilization in India. Besides helping this manufacturer gain higher productivity and flexibility, Sidel designed and tested their three new PET bottle formats for absolute food safety and powerful packaging differentiation on retailers’ shelves.
ITC Limited, founded in 1910, is a leading company in the Indian market. With a gross sales value of US $ 10 billion (approximately Rs 75,000 crore) and a diversified portfolio covering many industry sectors – food and beverage, packaging, agriculture, and hospitality services – ITC is headquartered Kolkata (West Bengal) and employ 34,000 people today. This innovation-driven company applies a holistic approach of ‘Integrated Crop Engagement’ to its products, thus meeting the most stringent international food safety standards. In addition, they have received several certifications for their organic and sustainable farm practices.
Surfing the healthy consumer wave in India
Indians are more and more looking for ‘better-for-you’ beverage options, offering added nutritional benefits daily. Busy and stressful lifestyles are increasingly representing the rule for the majority of the Indian population, looking for convenient ways to cope with their time constraints and willing to pay a premium for so-called ‘naturally healthy’ beverages in small formats.
Recognizing this shift in consumer preferences, ITC recently decided to expand its product range to include liquid dairy products – they launched Sunfeast Wonderz Milk, a new milk-based drink bottled in PET. Available in 200 ml and 300ml formats, it is offered in four different flavors – Vanilla Milkshake, Mixed-fruit Milkshake, Mango Milkshake, and Badam Milkshake. In parallel, they added a portfolio of premium Not From Concentrate (NFC) juices with source certified premium fruits to their existing B Natural brand. The portfolio includes the exotic range of Himalayan Mixed Fruit, Ratnagiri Alphonso Mango, and Dakshin Pink Guava, making it the first fruit beverage brand in India to offer a portfolio of source certified fruit beverages with 100% Indian fruit, 0% concentrate without any preservatives to their customers.
To make this move, ITC needed a highly flexible PET packaging solution. “Strengthening innovation across the organization is a key business imperative for us in rapid business change and heightened competition. It also ensures that we enlarge our market share, create brand differentiation and are future-ready. All of that while pursuing ‘Responsible Competitiveness’ – a socio-economic-environmental framework that is pushing us always to guarantee that growth is sustainable and inclusive,” explains Rajesh Ponnuru, category manager Juices and Dairy at ITC.
More than just pioneering a packaging innovation in India
ITC widened their nutritional drinks portfolio by expanding the packaging material choices supporting their B Natural juices and launching the new Sunfeast liquid dairy products in PET. The resulting aseptic complete line project was a first in many ways. For example, it was the first time ITC partnered with Sidel, the first time they entered the dairy-based beverage market. The first time UHT milk-based drinks with fruit pieces were launched in India leveraging the benefits of aseptic PET production with dry preform decontamination.
“Our global leadership in this field, based on more than 40 years of expertise and more than 150 references of our Aseptic Combi Predis installed worldwide, was also a key driver for ITC’s decision, further strengthened via the opportunity of taking care of the process phase through Tetra Pak Processing System (TPPS) technologies,” says Gaurav Kumar, project manager execution, Global Key Accounts at Sidel. “We are really proud to be the first ones in India to leverage the benefits of aseptic PET production with dry preform decontamination,” continues Ponnuru from ITC. “This unique system perfectly supports the complete aseptic PET solution Sidel provides, offering flexibility, sustainability and efficiency. Plus, the Predis system uses no water and minimal chemicals during production.”
Expert advice along every step of supply chain
ITC chose PET because this packaging material facilitates the creation of more innovative and functional packages, thus helping the leading Indian player surf the rapid changes that are happening in the local market by gaining a competitive edge through product differentiation. The latter aspect was especially important for them, as the majority of milk products in the country are packaged in pouches, glass bottles, and cartons. Bottled in PET and decorated with colorful sleeve labels, the B Natural and Sunfeast products immediately gained a distinctive look and feel while providing an enhanced brand experience, therefore receiving a very positive response from local consumers, the company mentioned in a press release.
As ITC was unfamiliar with aseptic PET production, Sidel provided them thorough advice along every step of the supply chain. “The experience they have shown around packaging, beverages, and raw materials was key in winning our trust,” highlights Ponnuru. The customer visited Sidel’s center for packaging expertise in Octeville-sur-Mer (France) multiple times to check the new bottle designs, developed around two main shapes – round and squared. The latter representing another first in this project; the first squared PET beverage bottle offered to Indian consumers.
Moreover, Sidel’s Liquid Package Interaction (LPI) laboratory ran shelf life tests on several juices and milk-based recipes to simulate real-life distribution conditions and ensure, in advance, the products’ quality, safety, and organoleptic properties. The resulting insights helped ITC decide which recipes to launch on the market and which PET barrier material to choose; the goal being to protect their dairy drinks and juices against microorganism growth and alterations caused by the effects of light, oxygen and temperature. To meet the highest food safety standards and ensure a 6-months shelf life, Sidel’s packaging scientists recommended that the customer use an O2 PET barrier for their milk-based product range and an O2 – combined with a light – barrier to protect their 100% organic juices.
“To find out more about aseptic PET production with dry preform decontamination, we decided to visit a similar installation in Indonesia. During this visit, we had the opportunity to experience the Aseptic Combi Predis in action and talk with operators,” says Ponnuru. Based on this positive experience, ITC’s order for the Sidel complete aseptic PET line was placed. The scope includes Tetra Pak Processing System (TPPS) technologies and, as the heart of the line, the Aseptic Combi Predis complemented by Capdis, the company’s dry cap decontamination system. The line also features a RollQuattro labeler, a sleever, packing and stretch wrapping systems, a PalKombi palletizer and EIT (Efficiency Improvement Tool), with the latter, significantly improving production efficiency.
The aseptic PET complete line – operational since early 2019 – was installed in a new area of the ITC production site in Kapurthala (Punjab) and laid-out to account for production operations and raw material logistics. It ensures the highest level of ease of operations and maintenance, hygiene and food safety while offering outstanding flexibility to switch easily from one product to another.