Gulfood 2013 – Here’s What Caught My Eye….

Dear all

Another year of Gulfood is over, and as ever it was bigger and better than the previous one. After the vagaries of the Processing & Packaging Conference I was back in more familiar territory, roaming the halls to see what’s new and what’s hot.

gulfood-2013-here-what-caught-my-eye-1Our 2012 beverage and dairy reports are published, but we need to keep our eyes open for 2013 introductions of course. So here are just a few notes on things that had caught my eye doing the rounds this time around….

Let’s start with dairy and beverage packaging – always a focus for us as a company of course. SIG Combibloc Obeikan splashed out on launches of two new filling systems that have become available globally but were not yet familiar to a MENA audience – combidome and combiblocXSlim. combidome (the small ‘c’ is important….) is positioned as a bottle/aseptic carton hybrid, or in Combibloc’s words, “the bottle made of cardboard”. Strictly speaking from a visual perspective the new packaging format does look distinctive from other carton solutions, with branding differentiation opportunities pretty obvious to me. It certainly provides what it says on the tin (pardon the pun….) – it has the feel of a bottle in terms of handling and closure while being entirely made from a laminated cardboard composite, with the exception of a plastic, one-step screw cap. Coming from a German company, the environmental message accompanying the launch is of course never very far. As always I am a little sceptical, sadly, that very many regional producers indeed share the same environmental concerns – efficient recycling is still

Flexibility combidome

Flexibility combidome

something I am waiting to see in any MENA country, frankly, and while some producers try hard to bring the message across the wider populace is still far from caring much. But I salute any company’s efforts in trying to drum the importance of the issue into both the industry’s and consumers’ heads. But back to combidome….  in an interesting technological departure for SIG Combibloc the package will be filled upside-down, and the bottom sealing for the first time won’t feature the distinctive Combibloc seam, using two foldover flaps instead. Production managers will be intrigued.

The company’s other launch, combiblocXslim, aims at introducing ever-smaller aseptic carton size filling to the region. Given the current margin woes throughout the MENA region, with GCC producers suffering especially from rigid consumer price points, the attractions to me are obvious. Dairy and JNSD companies will undoubtedly be very interested in the possibility of producing pack sizes of as little as 80 ml in the near future (the machines’ seven distinct size settings are currently being tested before being made available commercially). Smaller pack sizes are invariably more attractive in countries with young populations – small hands, small packs – and the ease of adjusting discrete pack sizes coupled with high-speed output should make this solution particularly attractive to some of our MENA friends.

Staying with aseptic carton, Tetra Pak of course was not easily outdone. While this year the company refrained from major product launches, it won the Gulfood Award for “Best Stand Above 100 square metres”, and deservedly so. The centrepiece of the stand was a roof structure (or was it a funnel? Actually,

Tetrapak 'Product Fountain' at Gulfood

Tetrapak ‘Product Fountain’ at Gulfood

it later transpired it was termed a ‘product fountain’) adorned with hundreds of Tetra Pak cartons, making the stand look very 21st Century and putting a lot of the more old-fashioned stalls at the fair to shame. The days of a booth with a table and a couple of camping chairs at Gulfood are well and truly over! Tetra Pak’s Tetra Evero Aseptic bottle/carton hybrid was showcased to be sure (albeit with less fanfare than Combibloc’s counterpart), with the major difference probably that the ‘dome’ of the pack is made of plastic, not cardboard. But tried-and-trusted formats – Tetra Brik Aseptic, Tetra Prisma Aseptic and the relatively recent arrival Tetra Gemina Aseptic took centre stage. Otherwise, Tetra Pak this year were more occupied with showing ‘subtleties’ – such as juice/cereal blends already available in other markets but keen to be introduced to MENA. From looking at some of the JNSD producers’ stalls at Gulfood, it certainly seems like the MENA market is slowly but surely ready for ‘subtleties’ – how many more variants of orange juice can possibly be showcased? Innovation was also the topic of Tetra Pak Global VP Marketing & Product Management Charles Brand’s presentation at the Conference that I chaired last week – new beverage hybrids (juice/milk, yoghurt/juice, soy/juice etc.) are pretty much on the company’s agenda, and the growing middle class across the region should pave the way for more discerning consumers, we hope. Why else would Al Ain Dairy and Al Rawabi (another winner of a Gulfood 2013 Award for its NUTREE BOOST drink) both be active in cultured drinks with cereals in the UAE? I hope it’s a sign of things to come.

Ecolean was a newcomer to Gulfood 2013. The Swedish company (the brainchild of a member of Tetra Pak’s Rausing family) produces lightweight plastic stand-up pouches and corresponding filling systems

Ecolean Plastic Stand-up pouch

Ecolean Plastic Stand-up pouch

and has recently broken into our part of the world with installations in Iran and, most recently, Pakistan. Ecolean’s message, if possible even more so than for our aseptic carton friends, is very much taking the environmental angle, trying to convey the message that energy needs to be preserved during production, transportation and waste handling. My take is that MENA producers are more likely to see the ‘lightweight’ as a commercial advantage than an environmental one – shipment and storage cost for packaging material, and distribution cost for finished product is probably more at the forefront of current MENA thinking is my guess. The fact that Ecolean is now available in an aseptic version (Ecolean Air Aseptic versus its Ecolean Air version for pasteurised products), and in single-serve sizes of 200 ml plus, should help the company in breaking into the Arab world, too. Their stand certainly was big enough to make a splash, for sure.

Running out of space here – so let’s stay with another packaging innovation to finish off what has caught my eye. Successful Saudi bottled water company National Plant for Healthy Water finally launched its extension to the HANA water brand, HANA JUICY, at Gulfood. In a GCC first, HANA JUICY juice drinks are now filled in 250 ml aseptic PET bottles – a technical novelty as so far all PET filled here is either pasteurised or ambient but hot-filled. Presented to the world at Gulfood 2013, before commercial volumes even hit Saudi shelves, the bottles certainly made a visual impact with attractive full-sleeved labels. In

Hana Juicy by National Plant for Healthy Water, Saudi Arabia

Hana Juicy by National Plant for Healthy Water, Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia the company has made significant inroads in its core sector, bottled water, simply by making investment in direct distribution facilities which has made all the difference. If they can capitalise on that strength, HANA JUICY should be available pretty widely, pretty quickly. It remains to be seen whether they can make their margins work for themselves. An APET product at One Riyal – a challenge for anybody I would have thought. But I do like an innovator – I’m sure there were detractors to Adel Aujan’s launch of RANI floats way back when. And look what happened to them…

I hope Gulfood has been as informative as it has been for me. Looking forward to 2014 already! Who needs global trade fairs if a regional one is that excellent?

Best wishes,

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