Uflex – Interview with R.K. Jain, president finance & accounts
INDIA • As the nation’s economy continues to grow along with its population, Uflex is quickly solidifying its position as one of the largest integrated manufacturing and packaging firms in Asia. With global aspirations in sight, the editors of Flexo & Gravure Global sat down to discuss the company’s past, present and vision for the future with its Group President, Finance & Accounts, R.K. Jain. [Note, this article is adapted from a version published in the June issue of Flexo & Gravure Global]
A successful global approach
Launched as a tiny manufacturing unit in 1983 by Ashok Chaturvedi, now the chairman and managing director of the Uflex Group, the company is today part of a vast integrated manufacturing and packaging firm with an annual turnover in excess of USD 1.0 billion. With its products sold in nearly 140 countries, in addition to plants in India, Uflex has nine greenfield facilities in the USA, Mexico, Poland, Egypt and Dubai.
Mr. Jain, how would you characterize Uflex for readers who may not be familiar with your company?
R.K. Jain: We have built Uflex to be one of the most integrated packaging companies worldwide, from beginning to end. We manufacture packaging films, value added flexible packaging materials such as laminated rolls, pouches, inks and adhesives. We also manufacture holograms, both as labels and in the web, which is a very complex undertaking. We manufacture gravure cylinders and carry on the entire process of film extrusion and printing. Furthermore, we are capable of creating packaging for materials of all sizes and we also make custom filling systems for handling these materials. Most companies are actually disintegrated. However we have been able to grow and compete in the market place because we developed a very wide range of integrated development strategies and capabilities.
Beginning this summer, we will also expand into producing liquid packaging – going head to head with global leaders like Tetrapak. Though we often rank a company’s standing in the marketplace in terms of numbers, more important is a company’s competence and capabilities.
With more than one billion citizens, as per capita income grows, the country is rapidly developing a consumer market. How is India’s flexible packaging industry changing?
R.K. Jain: India’s economy historically has been growing by 15-17% on an annual basis. Many economists believe it will begin to increase by 20% or more going forward. Our increasing standard of living and changing quality of life translates into people wanting more hygienic foods, consumer and ready-made goods. Previously most of our people bought products either loose or in more traditional ways. As shopping habits evolve, packaging penetration is increasing rapidly.
Of course, what is currently sold here in a packaged form, compared to other countries, remains pretty low, averaging only 4.5 kg per person. China consumes roughly 25 kg (55 lbs) per person. Germany is approximately 50 kg (110 lbs) and the US is more than 70 kg (150 lbs) per person. But as the economy grows, we expect this gap to rapidly narrow.
Environmentalism and sustainability is one of your company’s hallmarks. What’s your strategy there?
R.K. Jain: Uflex in the early 1990s became concerned that, since flexible packaging was our main business, this translated into the heavy use of plastics. As we grew and expanded, we began searching for better solutions to all the associated plastic waste. We were among the first to come up with solutions. Rigid plastic, whether its polyester or BOPP or other oft used plastics, can be recycled. But more plastics and laminates started to be used with materials, inks, solvents and other properties that simply could not be recycled and ploughed back into the circular economy. As the markets demanded that these products be used, the problem grew and we started looking for more sustainable solutions.
Eventually we developed a technology whereby we could reprocess particular types of mixed polymeric waste that arises out of the production process. So the normal waste that comes out of the manufacturing process, we can collect and reprocess. However, the growing amount of waste produced from households and consumers requires a system for collection and sorting for proper handling. If such a system is used for household plastic consumption, our technology could be used to handle that. We are also working with scientists who are developing solutions such as biodegradable or compostable polymers that automatically become degradable in the process of use.
What’s Uflex’s growth strategy?
R.K. Jain: Today we can provide packaging solutions for any product ranging from half a gram to 40 kg (88 lbs). We can bag solids, semi-solids, powders, granules, pastes and gels. And soon we should be able to package liquids: dairy products, liquor, and juices. We are going to compete with Tetrapak. They are the masters there, and we are ultimately going to provide similar liquid packs and aseptic cartons and bricks.
We have a business strategy to create distinction through innovation. Our in-house engineers create packaging to meet our customers’ requirements. The key here is that once you make the packaging product, you must have a filling device to assist the customer to bag their products. But most companies worldwide don’t make the filling equipment or have the manufacturing capacities of creating them. We do.
A second strategy is customer proximity.
Third, is speed to market—which is linked to innovation. If we delay our speed, we lose our first mover advantage and whatever we accomplish will be diluted.
For example, we use a laser technology that was initially developed for eye surgery to cut through extremely thin membranes. Since mechanical processes to cut smaller than five microns were not available, we had to innovate a technology that could carry out incision of laminates at varied depths and controlled speeds. Our laser scored flexible packaging solutions offer easy tear and convenience of opening to end users which cannot be alienated from the overall product experience.