In conversation with Uflex Ltd30 May 2017
In conversation with Uflex Ltd Converting Today speaks with Anantshree Chaturvedi , Vice Chairman & CEO, Flex Films International
In conversation with Uflex
Converting Today speaks with Anantshree Chaturvedi , Vice Chairman & CEO, Flex Films International
Q1. Please can you start with an overview of Uflex: markets, size, reach and innovation?
Uflex is India’s largest fully integrated flexible packaging materials and Solution Company. It enjoys a formidable market presence in more than 140 countries. Since its inception back in 1985, the Company has grown from strength to strength to evolve as a USD 1 Billion Indian multinational with consumers spread across the world. Uflex today has state-of-the-art packaging facilities at multiple locations in India with installed capacity of around 100,000 TPA and has polymeric film manufacturing facilities in India, UAE, Mexico Egypt, Poland and USA with cumulative installed capacity in excess of 337,000 TPA.
Uflex caters to markets spanning across the globe in countries like USA, Canada, South American countries, UK and other European Countries, Russia, South Africa, CIS, Asian and African nations.
Broadly our company’s business can be classified in two segments (a) Films; & (b) Flexible Packaging.
Flex Films is the global film manufacturing arm of Uflex. Under Films Business vertical, we manufacture BOPP, BOPET, CPP, Metalized films and other Speciality Substrates in India, UAE, Poland, Egypt, Mexico & UAE.
Under the Flexible Packaging Business vertical, we manufacture packaging laminates (in roll form); prefabricated pouches, flexi-tubes (laminated) and big bags among others. Soon our aseptic packaging material manufacturing plant in Gujarat (India) will be commercially operational that will complete our bouquet of product offering.
Supporting our core flexible packaging business are associated activities involving manufacturing of converting & packaging machines; rotogravure printing cylinders, flexo-polymer plates, elastomers & sleeves; inks, adhesives, coatings & polyols and technically advanced brand protection and anti-counterfeiting solutions.
Our business strategy rests on the fundamental pillar of “Innovation to create value added differentiation” across all our product offerings. We believe in offering absolutely bespoke flexible packaging solutions to our global clientele. No two packaging solutions that we engineer are likely to be the same—such is the level of customization Uflex offers.
It gives me immense pride to say that you would not find any other Company in the world that services each and every aspect of flexible packaging across the entire spectrum. This is one of the biggest differentiators that have helped Uflex achieve the stature it enjoys on the global turf today.
Q2. Where is the main growth taking place?
While growth is taking place in both Films and Converting/ Flexible Packaging businesses, it is more prominent in the value added flexible packaging solution segment which has immense potential both in India and abroad.
Q3. What separates Uflex from other film manufacturers?
The fact that our Films Business is absolutely aligned and integrated with our Flexible Packaging Business and allied activities, gives us the competitive edge that has helped us earning an irreproachable reputation of a fully integrated multinational flexible packaging materials and solution company.
We have always maintained that the Art of Converting starts with the Science of Film Manufacturing. It will only be prudent to acknowledge that in the field of flexible packaging everything starts with the basic substrate and there comes the pivotal role of Flex Films.
Other activities that are fully integrated to our Films Business are:
- Flexible Packaging: Producing Laminated rolls; pre-formed pouches; laminated flexi-tubes & big bags;
- Engineering: Producing a wide range of flexible packaging converting and packaging machines;
- Cylinders: Producing rotogravure printing cylinders; flexo-polymer plates; elastomers & sleeves;
- Holography: Producing anti-counterfeiting & brand protection solutions that prevent look alikes/ body doubles from eroding the brand equity of our clients;
- Chemicals: Producing inks, adhesives, coatings and polyols that are used in printing and lamination processes.
The entire business has been steered by our Founder, Chairman and Managing Director, Mr. Ashok Chaturvedi.
All our businesses perfectly complement each other giving us an edge above competition thus qualifying us as India’s largest multinational fully integrated flexible packaging materials and Solution Company. We have the unique ability to beta test almost any product internally and perfect it to get it "First Time Right" when we launch in the market.
Q4. In such a competitive market, how do you stay ahead and in growth?
You watch the market trends carefully and you consistently look for two kinds of innovation; (a) - One that keeps you ahead of the competition and keeps your current product offerings relevant and (b) - One that allows you to leapfrog the competition and aim much higher than anyone else in the business so that you raise the bar across the board for the entire industry. This innovation to create value added differentiation is the guiding vector at Uflex.
Q5. Do you feel there is a gap in innovation between systems and machinery and substrate development? If so, how does this affect your markets and what could be done to improve the situation?
This is an interesting question! For imparting a clear understanding to the readers, it is important to understand that simultaneous innovation at all the four nodes of developing flexible packaging solutions is pivotal. These nodes are Polymer Manufacturing; Material Science and associated Substrate Formation; Converting Machinery Development and Packing Machinery Development.
Globally there are big companies that make polymers like polypropylene, polyethylene etc. by cracking of gas/naptha in high-temperature furnaces. Polyester is made out of PTA (purified terephthalic acid) and MEG (mono-ethylene glycol). PTA is obtained from para-xylene which is again a crude derivative. Innovation at this stage by the petrochemical scientists decides the basic structure of the hydrocarbon that will in turn decide the properties of the ensuing resin.
In the second stage one has to consider the material science. Here the concoction or the formula for a substrate is made by adding various additives into the resin to prepare the final recipe required to extrude a substrate as per the requirements of the client. This requires serious Material Science Innovation that has bearing on the physical and barrier properties of the ensuing substrate/ film. The properties of substrate can further be enhanced by various in-line; offline coatings and treatments which again happen to be a subject matter of innovation at the material science level.
The third node for innovation is at the converting machinery level where various jobs like printing and lamination to form flexible packaging material are carried out. Here major R&D/ innovation take place in engineering machine hardware and software to enhance the converting efficiency. Additionally innovation also plays an important role in terms of arriving at the optimum barrier properties (using combination of various substrates through lamination) required by the product to be packed. At this stage innovation is also infused for crafting superior aesthetics, pack functionalities like re-closability, ease of carrying and imparting infallible anti-counterfeiting features among several others.
Finally to complete the whole circle, packaging machines that are required to form pouches out of the laminated roll and subsequently filling and sealing the same with the product (to be packed) are required. In case of pre-formed pouches, only filling and sealing is required. Innovation again plays an extremely important role over here to design machinery that enhances the overall efficiency of the packers.
The first stage i.e. Resin formation is a ballgame of oil and petrochemical companies therefore the converting/ packaging industry does not really has a role over there.
Considering that enhanced experience by end users will decide the success of a product and that packaging cannot be alienated from the overall product experience, a perfect linkage between the remaining three nodal points is critical and required at all times. These three nodes have to be continually nourished with innovation. Other companies that are not fully integrated will have an in-silo/ fragmented approach towards each of the three nodal points and thus find it difficult to keep pace with the ever evolving converting/ packaging needs of clients. This gap in innovations at the three nodal points will eventually tell upon the utility and efficiency of the final packaging and the overall end-user experience. This gap of innovation between the three nodes seriously restricts and impedes the growth of packaging as a whole.
Being fully integrated flexible packaging materials and Solution Company that we are, Uflex has a big advantage of perfectly integrating and synchronizing these three nodal points and continually innovating on those fronts to come up with bespoke and customized converting/ flexible packaging solutions for the global clientele. This is clearly the ‘Uflex Advantage’.
Q6. What are some of the core converting strengths of Uflex?
Some of our converting strengths are as under:
- We are the only fully integrated flexible packaging materials and Solution Company that can engineer varied packaging designs with myriad functionalities and required colour schemes simultaneously offering converting machines to be able to manufacture such packaging material and also the packing machines that are required for forming, filling and sealing the packaging material;
- Our unwavering focus on Bleeding Edge Innovation to create Value Added Differentiation gives us an edge over competition;
- We have world class manufacturing facilities at the most strategic locations across the globe to maintain proximity with customers;
- We have Technical competence and expertise with some of the sharpest brains in the field of converting/ flexible packaging.
- We have the ability to service any quantum of order ensuring Just – In-Time delivery anytime, anywhere.
- Our Robust Global Sales and Distribution Network further works to our advantage.
- Speed to Market - We have a 9 month average concept to finished product cycle for most of our new developments – that is benchmarked in the Indian Converting Industry. We ensure that there is least time lag between product development and launching it in the market to reap the prime-mover advantage.
- Designed and Made in India for India - We are the quintessential Market Leader in India with the largest market share in terms of volume clubbed with the most strategic R&D and operational execution methodology. The Indian Subcontinent and what we do there as the largest convertor of the country in terms of volume (approximately 75,000 MT Per Annum) is surely one of our core strengths.
Q7. What are the biggest trends in converting in 2017?
To my mind the following trends will shape the contours of the converting/packaging industry through 2017 and perhaps beyond:
Sustainability will be the key: There is an ever increasing clamor for down gauged packaging. Light weighting and reduction at source therefore will be important governing points for packaging companies. Moreover, the pull now coming straight from the end users assuming greater responsiveness towards the environment, packaging will irrevocably echo these sentiments in their designs and processes. Yet more emphasis will be paid by the buyers towards recycling and reprocessing of post-consumer waste propelling the packaging suppliers/ convertors to contribute significantly towards Circular Economy;
Application of High Barrier Films: Newer variants of films having high barrier to oxygen, water vapour and other atmospheric gases yet being thin are likely to come up;
LED Curing: Inline LED Curing to enhance printing aesthetics on a substrate without the risk of burning / charring it will also be a significant trend;
Value added brand protection features: With counterfeiting plaguing the brands and eroding their hard earned equity, there will be an invigorated attempt in FY 2017-18 to take this menace head-on. Looking at the long term positive effect that anti-counterfeiting measures have on brand image, more and more brands will chose for impregnable brand protection solutions;
Digital Printing: For the plethora of benefits that digital printing has to offer, convertors are likely to make the most of it through 2017 and beyond;
Packaging shapes and structures congruent to brand image: Brands are well personified assets and enjoy an image that the marketers are very conscious and sensitive about. It is hoped that several consumer packaged goods companies world over will opt to give their packaging designs a fresher look in line with the attributes that their brand stands tall for. One must not forget that ‘Good packaging protects your product while Great packaging protects your brand’.
Coming to terms with online shopping: FY 2017-18 will be throbbing for e-commerce and online shopping particularly in the FMCG space. Custodians are likely to leave no stone unturned for making their brands look as appealing and striking on click and mortar as they do in the case of a brick and mortar set up. Packaging will be revved up for rendering an unmatched online experience on e-tailing front. There will be more personalization and simplification of messages for the end users. E-commerce being a growing market, there will be a rise in protective packaging as the trade has made inroads to the smallest of towns apart from hitting the metros across the country.
Functionality zoom: In FY 2017-18 brands will pro-actively work with their packaging suppliers to increase functionality of the packs that are seen as a clear extension to the overall product experience offered to the consumers/ end-users. More emphasis will be laid than ever on re-sealability; re-closability; ease of opening; ease of carrying and disposing etc.
Pushing up the product to package ratio: Efforts will be invigorated and streamlined to ensure that more product is packed inside a pre-defined enclosure. The size and shape of packaging will be continually pruned and optimized for making economic sense out of the expensive retail shelves across the globe. Thus boosting the numerator and pushing down the denominator will be the earnest attempt by the brands and packaging suppliers.
Intelligent packaging: In an ever evolving landscape, packaging intelligence is likely to get more astute, intuitive, active and smart through FY 2017-18 taking a leap into Industry 4.0. With IoT (Internet of things) already ruling the roost, packaging as an enabler will be far more intuitive and help providing instantaneous information to the consumers about the packed products. Be it the ingredients; physical location of goods in transit; conditions in which the product was produced and packed or the real time condition assessment of the product packed inside the packet. Packaging will pave way for accessing all pertinent information through the hand held devices used by consumers and other actors across the value chain. Thus packaging will be rendered more engaging for the GEN-Y, Z in FY 2017-18 and the years that follow.
Q8. What are the leading regulatory developments that are affecting Uflex in 2017?
There is no regulatory development that is affecting particularly Uflex so to say. However I would like to point out that globally, packaging industry in general is being vilified without giving any rational thought. It has been proved beyond reasonable doubt that flexible packaging is low on energy than its rigid counterpart in all the three stages of its life cycle i.e. manufacturing, transportation and disposal. According to INCPEN, typically ten times more resources go into the contents than the packaging. Efficient Flexible packaging with plethora of functionality benefits in fact curb wastage of food in a world where 1.3 billion tons of food produced for human consumption is wasted every year.
Q9. How do you navigate the multiple requirements to produce sustainable, convenient, easy to dispose of and cost effective products in the volumes needed worldwide; is there a hierarchy that needs to be applied to decide what is most important?
We internally split this into two categories. Solutions that we have to work on right now as there is a customer requirement or a Market Segment or Geography that is primed for us to enter into with a particular product line and the second category is products that we have no valid customer market for as of now but we believe in the strengths of the product features and are confident that the product will create a market globally. For converting we always begin with launching the product in the Indian Market. For films and substrates we can look into launching in which ever relevant market in proximity of any of our 6 Global Manufacturing sites i.e. in India, UAE, Poland, Egypt, Mexico and USA.
In all our flexible packaging material research & development endeavors we lay a strong emphasis on down gauging; reduction at source, light-weighting and using post-consumer-recyclate (PCR) to leave least possible carbon footprint and fulfil our commitment towards ecological sustainability.