Unveiling the dynamics of India’s food packaging industry

India’s food packaging industry is undergoing a seismic shift, fueled by consumer demand for convenience, safety, and sustainability. With a projected global market expansion, the sector is witnessing exponential growth, driven by urbanization and evolving consumer lifestyles.

This article delves into the dynamic landscape of India’s food packaging industry, exploring key trends and emerging technologies. From eco-friendly solutions to innovative packaging formats like pouches and containers, the industry is embracing transformative advancements. Challenges such as regulatory compliance and sustainability imperatives are met with strategic solutions, while industry insights provide valuable perspectives on navigating this evolving terrain.

As India’s food packaging sector evolves, businesses have a prime opportunity to innovate and capture market share. By aligning with consumer preferences and embracing sustainability, players can drive economic growth and shape a more resilient future.

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The food packaging is a dynamic and fast growing sector. Consumer demand for convenience, food safety, hygiene, and sustainability, coupled with innovations in packaging technology, urbanization, and strict food safety regulations, are driving market growth of this industry. According to IMARC, the global food packaging market size was valued at US$ 385.1 billion in 2023 and is expected to reach US$ 611.6 billion by 2032, exhibiting a CAGR of 5.1% during 2024-2032.

Jeevaraj Pillai, Director – Sustainability and President – Flexible Packaging business and New Product Development, UFlex Limited, comments, “The Indian packaging industry is witnessing a double-digit growth – fuelled by the growth in the FMCG sector.” Packaging is the only industry that is involved with every single product produced in an economy, and is a major contributor to industries like Food, Pharmaceutical, FMCG and Electronics. India’s Food and Beverage Packaging Market size is estimated to US$ 35.93 billion in 2024 and is projected to reach US$ 49.27 billion by 2029, growing at a CAGR of 6.52%.

India food packaging industry_TPCI

Source: Mordor Intelligence, Figures in US$ billion

Types of Food Packaging in India

The surge in India’s packaging demand is propelled by the surge in consumer markets, particularly in processed food, personal care, and pharmaceutical sectors. Factors such as increasing population, rising income levels, and evolving lifestyles are catalysts fueling consumption across diverse industries, thus amplifying the need for packaging solutions. Furthermore, rural appetite for packaged goods is heightened by increased media exposure through the internet and television, further highlighting the industry’s growth trajectory.

In India, packaging can be classified based on its type of use, which is primary, secondary, tertiary, and ancillary packaging. It is also segregated based on the types of materials used, such as plastic, paper, paperboard, glass, and metals.

Primary packaging: Primary packaging consists of products that come directly in contact with the actual product for example – food, accessories, clothing, gadgets etc. These products essentially include retail packaging, food packaging and void fill options. A few examples of primary packaging include:

  • Laminated pouches
  • Plastic containers
  • Parchment paper
  • Tin Can
  • Glass containers
  • Cling film
  • Paper bags
  • Bubble wraps

Secondary packaging: Secondary packaging involves the products that help secure bulk quantities of primary packaging with the final product inside it. Most of these products are used in warehouses, industrial areas or institutions where goods are stored and transported in large quantities. Types of secondary packaging include:

  • Plastic crates
  • Plastic Trays
  • EPS Trays
  • Wooden crates

Tertiary packaging: Tertiary packaging is used to protect manufactured goods for shipping or storing and is meant to protect both secondary and primary packaging along with the product itself. This type of packaging is not seen by consumers as it is used by transporters, retailers before the products are displayed for sale. Some of the tertiary packaging example include:

  • Corrugated Fiber Board
  • Wooden Crates
  • Wooden Containers
  • Wooden Pallet
  • Plastic Pallet

Ancillary Packaging: Ancillary packaging includes packaging materials required to support primary packaging. Auto-ancillary packaging materials prevent contamination, improves strength, bind packaging and safeguard the main packaging from damage during transit. A few examples of ancillary equipment include:

  • Adhesives
  • Printing Inks
  • PP straps
  • Caps and Closures
  • Tapes
  • Labels
  • Cushioning Material

Trends in Food packaging

Over the last few years, packaging has emerged as an important sector driving technology and innovation growth in the country and is adding value to various manufacturing sectors like food, agriculture and FMCG segments. In India, food packaging industry has witnessed the maximum number of innovations as the consumers prefer their food products to be hygienic, safe and packaged attractively.

Here are some of the trends in India’s Food & Beverage packaging industry:

  • Busy work schedules, rising number of working women and on-the-go consumption are some of the key reasons leading to innovative and sustainable packaging across the food sector.
  • Growing awareness about the eco-friendly and sustainable food option has led key market players to focus on sustainable solutions, which is further becoming a business imperative.
  • Pouch packaging has emerged as a popular alternative in the food industry as these are adaptable, portable and light. Moreover, they offer features like resealable closure, spouts and tear notches and offer technologies that reduce production costs, making pouches more affordable.
  • The post-pandemic era is witnessing a boost in online food sector and packed food products. According to a report by IMARC India, the market size of packed food products is expected to grow to US$ 3.4 billion by 2027. Major food delivery players like Zomato and Swiggy have expanded their base in two tier and three tier cities leading to increased demand of containers, trays and bowls.
  • As the government of India has imposed ban on plastic packaging in several states, paper packaging businesses have witnessed a significant growth over the years. Packaging products in paper includes folding cartons, corrugated boxes, paper bags and liquid paperboard.

Sharing his outlook on the current food packaging scenario, Vishal Ganju, Secretary General at Institute of Packaging Machinery Manufacturers of India (IPMMI) states, “India’s packaging industry indeed stands as a beacon of potential, especially in the realm of flexible packaging, which mirrors the nation’s commitment to progress.”

Cutting-edge technologies in food processing

India’s food and drink packaging industry is thriving. It’s getting a lot of attention because packaging is becoming more innovative, ensuring safety, attractiveness, and environmental friendliness. As people around the world purchase more food, packaging methods are evolving to meet the demand. However, with goods moving freely across borders, packaging must also preserve food freshness and meet international safety norms. This means embracing new technologies to satisfy consumer preferences, global standards, and market requirements.

  • Nanotechnology: The use of nanotechnology to create nanoparticles has attracted considerable interest in food packaging. These tiny particles play a crucial role in improving packaging by adding active and smart features, which help maintain food quality and traceability across the supply chain.
  • Robotic Technology: The integration of robotics into food packaging offers substantial benefits to manufacturers, particularly in assembling items like frozen meals. Robotic packaging facilitates swift and efficient processes, aiding workers in meeting market demands effectively. These robotic systems can arrange food items in containers, improving storage and shipping efficiency. Furthermore, they enhance store operations by assisting in item retrieval and inventory management, thereby streamlining overall processes with robotic assistance.
  • Retort Packaging: Retort packaging technology can emerge as a game changer in food packaging as these flexible heat resistant pouches find utility in packaging pharmaceuticals and convenient food items. These pouches undergo high-temperature sterilization to safeguard contents from spoilage. Laminated with layers of plastic and lightweight PET films, they not only extend shelf life but also preserve flavors for an extended duration, offering convenient storage and handling of the product.
  • PET Packaging: Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a type of polyester thermoplastic elastomer, enjoys widespread use in packaging applications. When heated, it becomes flexible and can be molded into diverse shapes with ease. PET stands out for its cost-effectiveness compared to materials like glass, aluminum, and copper. Its lightweight nature cuts down on transportation expenses, presenting an economical packaging option for consumers. Moreover, PET packaging offers excellent dimensional stability and resistance to moisture, solvents, and alcohols.
  • Aseptic Technology: Aseptic packaging is widely embraced in the global food and beverage industry as a secure and high-quality packaging solution. Aseptic processing involves packaging a sterile product, typically food, in a sterile container in a manner that maintains its sterility. This process sterilizes food items by eliminating harmful bacteria and pathogens through precise thermal control, combining the sterile product with sterile packaging material in a sterile environment. Consequently, the resulting shelf-stable product requires no refrigeration. Aseptic packaging offers significant advantages, including food safety, convenience, affordability, cost-effectiveness in transportation and storage with minimal environmental impact, and the elimination of the need for a cold chain.

With respect to the current problems and future direction, Jeevraj Pillai comments, “EPR obligations are a few challenges facing the industry except for companies like UFlex who have made the necessary investments in the recyclability arena over the years. Although it is heartening to see the government’s seriousness in implementing the EPR guidelines, it is our humble submission to give a PLI status to the Indian packaging industry. This will incentivise the producers.” He also proposes GST concessions on recycled materials and to include recycling infrastructure as a part of CSR investments. This will provide the much-needed impetus to recycling in the industry.

To this, Vishal Ganjoo adds, “Streamlining organizational processes could help the industry grow at a faster pace. Today, it is essential to advocate for government support in key areas like innovation, infrastructure development, and policy frameworks. These initiatives are crucial for nurturing growth and overcoming regulatory obstacles that impede the industry’s advancement. By aligning efforts with governmental support, the packaging sector can harness its full potential and contribute significantly to India’s economic development.”

The packaging industry in India presents a lucrative business opportunity amidst its rapid growth and technological advancements. With the global food packaging market set to expand significantly, India’s food and beverage packaging sector stands at the forefront of this growth trajectory. Businesses operating in this space have the chance to capitalize on the increasing demand for safe, sustainable, and innovative packaging solutions. Moreover, aligning with consumer preferences for eco-friendly options and investing in cutting-edge technologies like nanotechnology and robotics can give companies a competitive edge in the market.

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