Interview – Ashwani Sharma, president & CEO, Asepto-UFlex

Liquid aseptic packaging CAGR in India 12 to 15%

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ASEPTO
The pressroom of the UFlex Asepto plant in Sanand Photo UFlex Asepto

Asepto is a complete liquid packaging solution from the global UFlex group comprising the liquid packaging laminate plant in Sanand in Gujarat and liquid packaging filling and sealing machines manufactured at the UFlex engineering division in Noida. We have written comprehensively about the Sanand plant based on our visit there and we carry this interview with Asepto president and CEO Ashwani Kumar Sharma as the capacity in Sanand is imminently being doubled with the investment in a second and soon to commissioned Gallus press. – Editor

Packaging South Asia – Your comments on the increasing competition in the liquid packaging market in India and the overall outlook for growth in the market.

Ashwani Sharma – India offers great potential for the aseptic liquid packaging. The current market is poised at about 12-13 billion packs annually, and it is increasing at a CAGR of 12-15% annually. This offers the sector the opportunity to grow on the backdrop of emerging products that require aseptic packaging. It also shows that there is a large playing field available to seize the latent opportunities in aseptic packaging. In my opinion, the consumption for liquid products will only rise in the future, which will also increase the demand for products to offer longer shelf life, without preservatives, and to be packed safely and hygienically. Therefore, the scope of aseptic packaging will rise significantly, and only innovation and creation of newer product categories leveraging the aseptic packaging opportunities will be able to command a strong market position.

Since Asepto’s inception, we have seen significant growth with several new categories emerging such as energy drinks, ready-to-drink ORS, and plant-based drinks to mention a few. They’ve carved out a place for themselves across the country and are contributing significantly to the growth of the aseptic liquid packaging market. Another prospective category to watch out for is aseptically processed and packaged mineral water. This category is presently being reviewed by the relevant regulatory organizations. The leading mineral water firms in India are concentrating on increasing their market share through efficient marketing methods and appealing packaging.

Ashwini Sharma, president & chief executive officer, Asepto, UFlex. Photo PSA
Ashwani Sharma, president & chief executive officer, Asepto, UFlex. Photo PSA

In addition, India is the world’s largest milk producer, yet this doesn’t translate into adding to the share of its aseptic packaging, which remains dismally low. Aseptic processing (UHT) and packaging for white milk and milk products such as ghee, buttermilk, lassi, drinking yoghurt, milk shakes, and flavored milk among others, have huge potential in India.

Milk and milk products, being highly perishable, remain fresh and free from contamination for 6 to 9 months in aseptic packs depending on the product filled inside. The significant benefit of aseptic liquid packaging is that milk, a staple meal in India, can be readily made available in even the remotest corners of the nation without refrigeration or use of preservatives. Therefore, we anticipate great scope here as well for aseptic packaging.

Another aseptic packaging segment which will grow in future is the alcoholic beverages. It has a significant potential considering the fact that aseptic packs are anti-counterfeit and tamper-proof. End consumers are also becoming more aware of the benefits of aseptic packs versus glass or PET bottles, which will surely spill over to other product segments.  

PSA – When will the doubling of capacity at Asepto Sanand be implemented and what is the outlook for utilization?

Ashwani Sharma – Driven by a robust order book and consistent market growth, we are doubling the manufacturing capacity of our aseptic liquid packaging plant in Sanand. As a result, we want to drive expansion at a rapid pace. Our production capabilities will now be stronger than ever in order to fulfil the global demands.

We have already captured around 20% of the domestic market share in less than four years, which has resulted in our existing full capacity utilization. The doubling of our Sanand plant’s production capacity is lined up next and should be rolled out soon. This step will be a great achievement considering we have almost set up the line when the global economy has not yet recovered completely from the unprecedented stress caused by the Covid-19 crisis and has been cautious about expansions.

PSA – Is Asepto doing any R&D on the recyclability of the laminate it makes since we are getting reports from other companies of liquid packaging laminates without aluminium and we expect more developments from others in the field as well.

Ashwani Sharma – Yes, we are aggressively working on our R&D to make our products even more sustainable. In fact, you will be happy to know that UFlex is also working on a technology of upcycling the paper board component of the post-consumer Aseptic waste. The process employs an enzymatic de-lam technology to separate the paper portion and convert it into paper-pulp. This upcycling technology is not only unique but an example of sustainability in the real sense.

In the current composition of our 6-layer aseptic packaging, a very thin coating of aluminium is used that acts as a strong light and oxygen barrier, eliminating the need for refrigeration and preventing spoilage of the product without the need of preservatives. The metal (aluminum) is just used as an induction sealing agent in aseptic filling machines. To completely eliminate aluminium from the system, we will need to do a technological overhaul that will involve the paperboard supplier and the present filling technology of the production process, which may be accomplished in due course.

PSA – What is the progress of the Asepto liquid packaging filling and sealing machines in the market?

Ashwani Sharma – As a total system supplier, UFlex Asepto aims to provide the best filling speed, accuracy, and flexibility while ensuring product and packaging sterility throughout the process. So far, we’ve sold 17 machines, with 13 already installed and operational at our customers’ manufacturing facilities.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

It is the right time to support our high-impact reporting and authoritative and technical information with some of the best correspondents in the industry. Readers can power Packaging South Asia’s balanced industry journalism and help sustain us by subscribing.

– Naresh Khanna

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Editor of Indian Printer and Publisher since 1979 and Packaging South Asia since 2007. Trained as an offset printer and IBM 360 computer programmer. Active in the movement to implement Indian scripts for computer-aided typesetting. Worked as a consultant and trainer to the Indian print and newspaper industry. Visiting faculty of IDC at IIT Powai in the 1990s. Also founder of IPP Services, Training and Research and has worked as its principal industry researcher since 1999. Author of book: Miracle of Indian Democracy.

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