Food Marketing and Technology Magazine, India interviewed Vandana Tandan – Country Manager, SIG Combibloc India. She talks about the journey of the company and how she has driven the growth over past years.  

1. Could you tell us about SIG Combibloc India Private Limited?

SIG is a leading systems and solutions provider for aseptic carton packaging. We work in partnership with our customers to bring food and beverage products to consumers around the world in a safe, sustainable, and affordable way. Our unique technology and outstanding innovation capacity enable us to provide our customers with end-to-end solutions for differentiated prod­ucts, smarter factories and connected packs, all to address the ever-changing needs of consum­ers. Sustainability is integral to our business, and we are going Way Beyond Good to create a net positive food packaging system.

Founded in 1853, SIG is headquartered in Neuhausen, Switzerland. The skills and experience of our approximately 5,900 employees worldwide enable us to respond quickly and effectively to the needs of our customers in around 70 countries. In 2021, SIG produced 42 billion carton packs and generated over €2.0 billion in revenue. SIG has an AA ESG rating by MSCI, a 13.4 ESG Risk Rating (low risk) score from Sustainalytics and a Platinum CSR rating by EcoVadis. 

In India, we were registered as a legal entity in Nov 2017. Since then, we have grown to have a sizeable installed base of over 15 high speed filling machines with leading beverage brands including Coca-Cola, Amul, Dabur, ITC, PepsiCo, etc.

2. How has your journey been as the head of the company over the last couple of years?

My journey with SIG as Country Manager India began in 2018. Since then, I have leveraged my extensive experience and knowledge of the B2B business segment and the food and beverages sector, to drive business efficiency at SIG. My prior experience in different stages of the product value chain helped me drive actionable strategies to develop and enhance customer relations, manage stakeholders, and lead high-performance teams across several verticals.

At a time when SIG has refocused its attention on the Indian market, I have helped bring about significant growth and development by delivering impeccable trust, goodwill, and customer satisfaction, throughout the last three years. Today, SIG works with several leading F&B brands including Dabur, Coca Cola, Amul, and more, targeting huge growth year-on-year, penetrating both the dairy and juice segments in the country.

3. Covid has brought back focus on healthy and safe food products. Have you seen a spike in demand for aseptic packaging?

Absolutely, a significant one, at that! While earlier, people were more inclined towards purchasing fresh, because of the Covid19 pandemic, the urgency for purchasing safe has taken over.  With the risk of contamination being the biggest concern, people no longer completely trust the sterility of fresh products, making aseptic packaging products a safer alternative. For every SIG product, the packs are sterilized and the products inside are treated with ultraheat treatment, which kills all the microbes in the product. While our packs give a shelf life of 6 months, they also do not contain any preservatives – thus they are safe and convenient.

Customer awareness around these benefits of packaged food and beverages has grown and this is reflecting an uptake in sales, particularly for in-home consumption. In addition, consumers have also been making healthier choices, resulting in a significant uptake in juice and dairy beverages in aseptic cartons.

Many of our customers also sell products at power price points of INR 10, INR 15 and INR 20 – All these also have a significant space in retail shelves and sell extremely well, especially during the summer months.

4. What challenges are manufacturers facing due to change in consumer behaviours and lifestyle as we are adapting to a hybrid work culture?

As far as consumer behavior is concerned, the hybrid work culture has primarily brought about a demand for stockability and longer shelf life for products, along with a focus on safety, nutrition, and hygiene. As such, they have been more a boon than a challenge for SIG, as our aseptic packaging specifically wins on all three factors.

The challenges for us during the pandemic have been more logistical and supply-centric, but by working with our partners and clients, we were able to assist with warehousing solutions and higher inventory levels to cover any shortfalls.

5. Are aseptic packaging cartons environment friendly? Can they be recycled?

A state-of-the-art environmental lifecycle assessment (LCA) conducted by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IFEU) in accordance with the recognized ISO 14040/44 international standards, recently confirmed that single-use beverage cartons outperform single-use PET bottles – across the juice and UHT milk market segments.

Cartons perform significantly better than the alternatives on climate change impact. The climate impact results for cartons are 37% lower than reusable glass bottles for fruit juices and 71% lower than PET bottles for UHT milk.

The high proportion of renewable material used to make beverage cartons – 75 to 80% on average, contributes to their strong environmental performance, together with their highly efficient design which reduces impacts from transport and distribution. The favorable results are also underpinned by the industry’s commitment to sourcing from responsibly managed forests. 100% of the paper we use is from Forest Stewardship Council™ (FSC™)-certified sources. SIG is also the first in the industry to achieve certification to the new ASI standard for responsible aluminum sourcing.

All of SIG’s aseptic cartons are completely recyclable. In India, we run 3  recycling projects – in Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, and Uttar Pradesh, where we collect and recycle used beverage cartons.

6. How do you see the growth of the packaging market? What trends do you foresee for 2022?

The Indian aseptic liquid packaging market is still maturing, and there is a lot of headroom to grow. We expect a strong double-digit growth in the next few years, with strong potential in all the categories that we operate in, whether it be dairy or non-carbonated beverages. SIG will be working with a lot of Indian players in 2022, including the likes of Amul, Coca Cola, Dabur, ITC, and more.

We are partnering with Haldiram and Amul for new launches this year itself and are also looking forward to working with VBL, KMF and Milky Mist for the very first time. We look forward to helping brands ensure greater safety and deliver nothing but the best for our consumers.

7. How was the growth in 2021 and what do you expect in 2022?

While we cannot share exact numbers, we have seen a very strong growth in the Indian market in 2021 and expect similar growth this year as well. We will continue to invest in building our capacities and people to serve this strategically important market.

8. How did you deal with Covid and what were the learnings?

We always maintained hygiene and quality at the highest standards and continued to do so during the Covid period. As such, we were confident that the products that we pack would be safe for all consumers. We made sure that all the people working on the production line were tested daily, and anyone exhibiting symptoms or suspected to have contracted the virus was not allowed to be anywhere near it. We provided our people all possible support for medical care and ensured people were always prioritized in our decisions.

All our customers also took the utmost care to make sure that everyone involved in logistics and transportation from their facilities were tested to prevent any possible exposure or contamination.

Furthermore, SIG also helped customers with warehousing solutions to ensure they did not face delays or logistical challenges and supply did not suffer, as shipping was affected heavily by Covid.

Some of our key learnings were to have strong and resilient processes to be prepared for the worst, always support people, value safety and health, and have a constant focus on quality.