With the motto of ‘Freshness Preserved’, ASEPTO – from the house of Uflex Ltd. becomes India’s first aseptic liquid packaging material brand with state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in the industrial hub of Sanand in Gujarat. FMT recently spoke with Ashwani Sharma, President & CEO at UFLEX Group to gain his perspective on aseptic liquid beverage packaging and the road ahead.

ASEPTO is India’s first liquid carton manufacturer. What differentiates ASEPTO from other beverage packaging companies?

Ashwani Sharma: Innovation is the key to our approach towards creating disruption in aseptic liquid beverage packaging. Asepto from the house of Uflex has ascended from several key aspects of packaging. We want to offer maximum benefits to our customers who want to revitalize their branding through unique packaging solutions. Our packaging serves safety, aesthetics and longer shelf life. The brand is constantly striving for excellence in aseptic beverage packaging. 

We are very proud of the fact that Asepto from the house of Uflex is the first Indian manufacturer to enter the aseptic liquid packaging material business. There are many factors which differentiate Asepto from other beverage packaging companies:

Product differentiation: With the various kinds of never seen before holographic effects, multi-lens, fresnel lens, embossing and foil stamping effects on aseptic packs are revolutionary innovation. When we conceived this project, three years back, we studied the liquid carton industry and what we realized is that there is obviously one global leader and there are two or three big companies. By and large, as a final product, the difference is only in the shape and sealing technology. But nobody is able to come up with packaging that makes the product look really different and attractive at the retail shelf because these days, packaging plays a significant role in attracting customers’ attention when the product is on the shelf. And that’s how we introduced our value-added innovation for the first time to the world of aseptic liquid packaging. Eye-catching dazzling effects: ASEPTO – Spark, Premium and Eye holographic, are innovations that separate it from other beverage packaging. It stands for its uniqueness to offer smarter pack versions, promising high visibility value, a strong attraction quotient to brands. These ostentatious packaging give brands an evolutionary edge to their existing packs or altogether create a new brand proposition to their existing line of products.

Engineering Capabilities: With Asepto, Uflex has adopted a backward integration strategy to move the innovative packaging strategy forward. With our in-house engineering capabilities, we manufacture the filling and sealing machine at our Engineering Division facility in Noida. For best results of seamless productivity and performance, we offer technical support to our clients in an endeavour to assist them with real-time intervention to ensure operational continuity, because we do understand that your every single minute is precious. Above all, we have a demonstration machine too in addition to a testing laboratory that helps our customers understand the total efficacy and performance of the laminate and packaging. Materials are also periodically sent to internationally approved labs for establishing globally accepted norms and certifications for the laminate and the process. 

Reliability on Quality: We promise reliability on quality, assured timely delivery, efficient commissioning of projects in the shortest possible time with lowest capital cost, efficient operation of the plants with higher productivity, innovative packaging concepts, providing higher growth opportunities. In the short span of our inception, we have been able to obtain all the mandate certifications to ensure the best quality to our customers. 

Longstanding Customer Relationships: We maintain a strong relationship with many global brands for a long, both from the domestic and offshore standpoint. We will continue to maintain the existing relationship, and take them a step further toward excellence through innovation offerings the aseptic liquid packaging business holds.

FMT: What is Asepto’s manufacturing capacity and infrastructure capabilities? 

Ashwani Sharma: The manufacturing plant we have in Sanand, Gujarat is world-class. It is one of the best plants you will get to see in the packaging industry with the latest technology in place. The Asepto plant is located at a distance of just a 75-minute drive from Ahmedabad airport. The project’s magnitude and its purpose are comparable with the world’s best with unique and thoughtful architecture. The plant facility has the latest top of the line converting machines, which can manufacture world-class aseptic packs. The facility with a production capacity of 7 billion packs per annum is a first of its kind. It is spread over 21 acres of the sprawling 72-acre land parcel that Uflex had bought in Sanand, Gujarat. The investment towards the aseptic packaging plant is INR 580 crore (approx. USD 85 million), and currently employs about 250 people and in full capacity has a potential to employ 2000 people Our total investment over the next two to three years is INR 1500 crore in a phased manner.

Future Ready: The plant has been planned keeping in mind the growth, capacity choices, an optimal requirement where output can be achieved with limited capex on infrastructure. Therefore, we are well-positioned to address the varied needs of changing times ahead. We have ensured world-class manufacturing standards at the plant, focusing on cost efficiency. Overall Equipment Efficiency (OEE) improvement is imperative for us to achieve sustainability and a cost agenda that directly relates to our responsible growth mission.

Compliance & Certification: Together with official Indian standards, our plant is certified in accordance with the International ISO 9001:2015, ISO 14001:2015, ISO 22000:2005 and OHSAS 18001:2007 management systems as well as the BRC Global Standard for Packaging and Packaging Material. It is also FSC certified which is very important for aseptic packaging. All our products are compliant with the USFDA norms and are SEDEX certified. 

Our process owners and key machine operators at the Sanand plant have rich experience in the liquid packaging industry. Therefore, they contribute significantly to help establish the unique Asepto laminate. In addition, Asepto has built up strong engineering and technical teams. The production block of 300,000 square feet contains the raw materials and finished goods stores, services, printing, laminating, slitting and rewinding machines, materials testing and quality control laboratory and automated logistics. The space is completely air-conditioned and hygienically maintained to keep the microbiological load of the production environment to global standards. 

Sustainable Manufacturing: We accord very high importance to sustainability and it forms the cornerstone of our business processes and the packaging solutions that we develop. Innovation remains inalienable to sustainability at Uflex. Our multipronged approach towards sustainability includes but is not restricted to light-weighting, down-gauging; reduction in production waste, transforming production waste-to-energy, optimizing post-consumer-recyclate and economies energy consumption. Our aseptic liquid packaging manufacturing facility at Sanand Gujarat is gold-rated. It’s a zero discharge plant, so zero liquid discharge. So, from a facility point of view, sustainability, water consumption, electricity consumption, are all dialed-in so that we are contributing in a big way to the environment. When you come to the plant, you will see and you will appreciate the kind of facility we have created. It’s really, really world-class.

FMT: Which factors have been critical to push Asepto to emerge as a strong Indian brand, domestically as well as globally? 

Ashwani Sharma: Innovation is the founding pillar for the brand Asepto. Innovation guides all other aspects that make Asepto emerge as a strong brand. Even the manufacturing plant, for example, highlights Asepto’s focus on innovation. The indigenous plant in Sanand, Gujarat, aims at being progressive to help food and beverage brands achieve a sound aseptic packaging solution from us to help them be competitive on a global platform. 

Innovation benchmarks our growth: Uflex already commands more than 150 patents and Asepto came as a feather in the cap. We took forward the concept as briefed above integrating value-added features in aspetic liquid packaging which was deprived from ages in its aesthetic presentation. Now, with Asepto’s dazzling luxurious appealing packs on the shelves will do the talking. 

Operational Efficiency: We are well-known for our operational efficiency having delivered effectively even during the on-going global pandemic. We have manufacturing facilities par excellence, large capacities to strategically address different locations in the country and other parts of the world, efficient project commissioning in the shortest time with the lowest capital cost, reliability of quality, assured timely delivery, etc. We are known for consistency and efficiency that bring about strong competitiveness among our customers. 

Market Reach: In the past few years, we have created a niche in the market for the brand name. Asepto has created a strong customer base for itself in different segments majorly for the speedy approach we take for our targets. In a short time period, we have created a significant market base for Asepto in the home ground and globally in all three key segments — juice, dairy and alcohol.

FMT: How challenging is the business for Asepto especially when you already have one company with a major market share? 

Ashwani Sharma: Challenges are opportunities for us. We started from that step. So everything that followed was the only opportunity for us. Asepto has an inherent advantage of being an Indian company, solely using indigenous capabilities at a time when we need to promote Indian manufacturing and sustenance. Our own heartland gives us a big market to serve and penetrate into. Being part of the Asia Pacific, which counts as the top-most growth market in the world for aseptic packaging, India is a key growth country. For being the home-grown brand, we stand an advantage to address the needs of the country in aseptic packaging. The tireless efforts have been, therefore, since the launch of Asepto, concentrated upon reaching and educating this market to imbibe the strength that we propose through Asepto. Although we have ventured into the international markets and global companies are leveraging our know-how and capabilities of our product offerings, we want to consolidate our position in the home front. There is a lot of ground we are yet to cover and reach out to. India, thus, is a definite dominant market for us where we have made substantial inroads for Asepto, yet it is just a beginning for us still, given the size we are looking at.

FMT: How are you positioning Asepto in the market? What value are you offering to your customers?

Ashwani Sharma: The strong fundamental approach of Uflex enables it to create a holistic picture of packaging. We are positioning Asepto as a total system supplier for aseptic liquid packaging. Our backward engineering is the strength that helps us project that position. We enjoy the distinction of being a total system supplier for the aseptic liquid packaging and exceeding global standards while reducing the total cost of ownership. As a system supplier, our offering includes packaging material, design solutions and filling lines under the name Asepto Smart 78 and the generation next Asepto Flexpress 10000. In fact, now with the multi-format machine (Asepto Flexpress 10000) launched last year which is servo-based offering advanced integration with PLC will be a revolutionary move to the entire beverage industry. 

It also comes with operator-friendly HMI (Human Machine Interface). Uflex is pitching this unique machine for optimum packaging in the dairy, dairy product, juice and alcohol segments. The advantage of ASEPTO Flexpress 10000 machine is that it offers high flexibility for all-in-one portion packs from 90ml to 200ml. Having operator-friendly HMI, this machine works on a servo-based drive mechanism and is a highly flexible machine with low changeover times and has a low TCO (total cost of ownership). It offers high output with minimal machine downtime.

These filling and sealing machines have strengthened our laminate advancements on the back of smart engineering and technical prowess that Uflex boasts of. Our aseptic filling machines augurs the outcome of aseptic packaging and takes forward our endeavour to consistently deliver a quality product. 

We are also providing a very strong technical support to our customers on the machine and spare parts side. Aseptic liquid packaging needs special technical skills and expertise. We deliver end-to-end personalized support, ensuring packaging material machine interface that includes assistance and maintenance of packaging material from concept to commissioning.

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