Uflex, India’s largest listed plastics and packaging company, says that the Covid-19 pandemic is creating new opportunities for growth especially in food and perishables segment amid heightened concerns about safety and sanitation following the spread of the virus..
Amitava Ray, executive director of UFlex, spoke to Biman Mukehrji of indoasiancommodities.com about the business outlook for the company especially in niche market segments.
With the ongoing pandemic, what kind of demand are you seeing for food and other perishables for packaging?
We are seeing high growth, revival of growth and high growth in food packaging, particularly types of food packaging. There are some areas which are down, like institutional sales, and on-the-go sales, impulse buying, but retail sales of packaged food, that’s up.
And the commodities, staples, grocery items, all this, I think is doing well. It is up and almost back to normal. There are some products which require cold chain movement, that has been restored.
There are products where there is huge wastage at the farm level. Now, we have innovated with packaging which will increase the shelf life of products by a good seven to ten days, which is enough for exports.
Though pretty early in its life cycle in our country, we have introduced Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP), for each product, there’s a different respiration rate and the packaging is designed accordingly. In five years time there will be great proliferation of this system of packaging to bring down the wastage and to give better returns to the farmers.
Given heightened concerns about safety and longer transport time for products due to more checks on highways, are you expecting an increase in demand for packaging ? In which segments do you see the maximum growth?
I do see that happening. And we are working very hard to make it happen. And yes, I would reckon that we have a good ten to twelve percent growth in demand.
Again, maximum growth as I say, will come from food, processed foods, maximum growth will come from staples, maximum growth will come from health, hygiene and pharmaceutical packaging,
You mentioned that UFlex is introducing some kind of very specialised packaging for food products. Could you please share how you are going about it?
We are fundamentally talking about fruits and vegetables, and to some extent flowers. There is no exponential growth at the moment. But I take it that in the next five years, this will grow to a very significant level because there are great benefits for the farmer, for everybody.
The significant wastage, which are taking place today, will get reduced by this process. So it’s something you know, a work in progress.
How much of your packaging is dependent on plastic products ? Does this not pose a risk to the environment?
Oh, we are a plastics processing company. So, most of demand, most of our production is related to the use of polyester, polypropylene, polyethylene etc. But we are not worried about that, because we have formidable actions in each of these areas.
Firstly, what do we do, what is our business? We produce multi-layer packaging. So, multi-layered packaging is totally recyclable. We have as a company, perhaps the only flexible packaging company in the country, who has put up major facilities for recycling.
Not only post-industrial waste, but also post-consumer waste. We have fully automated processors to recycle and reuse. It goes for various kinds of injection moulding, very multiple applications etc. And we are doing that and we are doing that not only for our products, we are doing that for your plastic bottles and so on and so forth. So, we are very mindful about sustainability.
People are saying that the onset of the COVID is seeing a rebirth of the plastics industry. Would you agree with that thesis?
I think it’s an acknowledgement that plastic is useful. That plastic is not a bad word. And that doesn’t take away from the fact that we need to focus on the environment.
Be responsible citizens. Focus on waste management, focus on sustainability. The problem of waste doesn’t go away. It’s how we handle that. And that is everybody’s job and certainly we believe it is our job and we are doing that.
Could you please elaborate upon what kind of measures you are taking for research ?
Yes, firstly, we are an Indian multinational company. Apart from India, which is our home and where it all started, we are operating in five countries around the world right now.
We have been doing that for some time. That’s Mexico, USA, Poland, Egypt and Dubai. And there are three more which should be in operation very shortly and that is Nigeria, Hungary and Russia.
So, eight countries. So, our employees and our talent pool cover, you know, many, many countries, many different countries. Most of our research and development is done within our plants, our R&D centres.