Upgrading food packaging industry

56116941a94c6 (Copy)THE three-day annual packaging exhibition held in Karachi in the first week of September has boosted hopes for better packaging solutions for the food industry.

Improved law and order situation in Karachi encouraged a large number of foreign companies from two dozen countries to participate in the exhibition. And, during business to business session, initial contacts have been established between foreign and local companies for manufacturing of better quality food packaging materials including a vast array of food-grade papers, cards and plastics.

Iranian packaging companies have offered to install modern machinery in local companies for producing food-grade plastic and paper sheets, cans, bags, pouches and open trays etc, officials of packaging companies say. Similar offers were made by participating foreign companies from Germany and France.

Pakistan’s food industry has been growing fast since the beginning of this century. But the lack of enough facilities particularly for manufacturing of food-grade packaging goods makes it difficult to exploit export potential of food items.

Industry sources say, in the Middle East and the UK, the demand for ready-to-cook South Asian foods has been on the rise, but the Indian companies outperform us as they have, in most cases an edge in packaging.

The lack of enough facilities, particularly for the manufacturing of food-grade packaging goods, makes it difficult to exploit the export potential of food items

During last 10 years or so, local packaging companies have started producing food-grade disposable packaging goods to capitalise on the growing needs of local food industry. Multinational food companies that have either introduced or expanded output of food items like packaged milk, curd, ice cream, milk cream etc. have created more demand for packaging materials. Chains of fast-food outlets like KFC and McDonalds have also emerged as major users of disposable packaging boxes and glasses for their French fries, burgers and juices etc.

Recently, the owner of Afeef Packages Private Ltd. had said that his company’s turnover in food packaging segment had crossed Rs1.2bn, indicating the size of food-grade packaging materials market. Many food processors are still importing food-grade packaging goods. “A key reason for this situation is that unlike packaging materials for other industries, manufacturing of food-grade and disposable packaging goods is still centered in the unorganised sector,” says a senior official of Packages Pvt Ltd.

“Except for multinationals or very large local food processing businesses, others are more concerned about costs rather than regulatory compliance or international best practices.”

So, on the one hand, there is a need to enforce regulations of food-grade packaging and, on the other, there is also a need to incentivise regular packaging companies for initiating or expanding existing facilities to boost production of proper food packaging materials.

Industry sources say that the overall packaging solutions for food industry have recently seen some improvements. They say the entry last year of the UK-based Ashmore in local production of aluminum cans for beverages and a joint venture project of a Pakistani and a Finish company in manufacturing of paper, paperboards and corrugated boxes and cartons have helped food processing industry.

“Meat exports are growing fast for several reasons but one of them is that export consignments of carcasses of goats and sheep are now wrapped in thin food-grade plastic sheets or aluminum foils instead of paper sheets of newsprint quality,” says an official of Flexpac, a platform of manufacturers of flexible plastic packaging products.

Companies such as Saima Packaging and Fazlee Sons, both based in Karachi, and some others in Lahore, have long been striving to expand their existing packaging facilities. And after this year’s packaging exhibition, these and some other companies have reportedly decided to prioritise production of food-grade packaging materials, official of one such company told Dawn. Fazlee Sons already specialises in manufacturing of flexible packaging solutions and is currently catering to Tapal and Cadbury.

Packaging industry sources say Flexpac is trying to establish a databank for the industry but so far little progress has been made due to lack of cooperation from unregistered companies and lukewarm response of government agencies.

An official of Sindh Bureau of Statistics told Dawn that the bureau can help packaging or any other industry develop a reliable database through its resource sharing programme whereby SBS lends the industry its human resources and the industry finances the primary data collection programmes.

Such a collaboration can help packaging industry’s become more organised. And that, according to industry officials, is the first step toward developing this industry on sound, internationally accepted standards to cater to the growing needs of food packaging materials both in local and foreign market. This would also help the country save millions of dollars it spends on imports of semi-finished articles of food packaging from Europe, China, India and Turkey etc.



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