It is the first major sales initiative on the Indian subcontinent for Ingeo, a bioplastic with commercial uses in rigid and flexible packaging.
Natur-Tec India Pvt., a subsidiary of Northern Technologies International, is leading the marketing and sales effort in India and the subcontinent.
Indian market outlook
Vineet Dalal, VP and director global market development at Natur-Tec, told FoodProductionDaily that the partnership was a good fit.
“As far as the Indian market is concerned, it is a pretty big market when you look at the middle class and the consuming class and over the past decade most of the multi-national consumer and food product brands are in India,” he said at the European Bioplastics Conference.
Dalal said that the growing middle class is driving the demand for consumer packaged goods.
“What happened is because of this consumer culture it has given rise to a lot of plastic waste in the environment and there are significant issues with litter in the environment. As a result, the Supreme Court of India, about a year and a half ago, banned the use of conventional plastics for packaging certain class of food and tobacco products," he said.
“That has led to some brands looking at compostable biodegradable packaging as potential solutions for packaging their products and that is where we are seeing a lot of the demand.”
Initial emphasis is focused on flexible films for food and branded consumer goods, paper-based packaging where a thin film of Ingeo provides barrier properties and rigid containers for products like yogurt and food service.
Dalal said with the government coming into force and the Supreme Court holding firm, it is likely that early next year some of the bans will go into effect.
“The brands that we are working with are definitely scrambling to make sure that they comply with these mandates,” he said.
“The way the law is worded it talks about biodegradable versus non-biodegradable and that’s what the industry is looking at. What can we do to marry Ingeo with other structures like paper and create hybrid structures with metallized PLA film and laminated to paper for example, to get maybe not as good barrier properties but similar barrier properties for certain class of applications.
“That is where we are working with our convertor partners in India as well as the brands to replace existing packaging.”
Northern Technologies has been manufacturing and marketing biobased and compostable flexible films, rigid injection molded materials, and engineered plastics in India since 2006, initially through a joint-venture and since 2013 through the subsidiary.
Bio-based industry in the country is being driven by the ban, said Dalal.
“I think there are some lessons that you can take from what has worked in the US and Europe but you also have to think outside the box because you look at India, China and some of the emerging countries and they are very cost sensitive and the dynamics of the market are different," he said.
“You have to look at hybrids, you can’t just take a PLA film and say ‘oh well we’ll sell it there’. You have to look at can you marry this to a paper for example and create a structure that is more cost effective than just taking a thick film and trying to sell that into the market. I think that’s where a lot of the application development will be done.”
Steve Davies, director of public affairs and communications at NatureWorks, told us it has been fielding calls from India for years.
“We thought it was time to have a more structured, formal approach to the market. We have worked with NTIC for many years in the US at the industry association level.
“Nobody knows better how to do it than the people on the ground who have the science background and the market knowledge.”
Meanwhile, NatureWorks recently received $2.5m to support a program to sequester and use methane as a feedstock for the Ingeo biopolymers and intermediates.
The US Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Bioenergy Technologies grant supports a multi-year joint development program between NatureWorks and Calysta.
The goal is to transform, via a fermentation process, renewable biomethane into lactic acid, the building block for Ingeo.