Automation will transform Middle East's packaging industry

Published: Monday, November 7, 2016

Food manufacturers are moving into ready meals, pre-packed ingredients, fruits and vegetables similar to Western trends

DUBAI: With convenience, ease of production and reduced costs dictating the future of the food industry, more manufacturers will opt for sophisticated automated solutions in packaging their products, experts say.

Exhibitors at Gulfood Manufacturing —the Middle East’s biggest food manufacturing, processing and packaging, logistics and materials handling exhibition—which ran from November 7-9 at Dubai World Trade Center—said the demand for more automated food packaging will likely double in the next five years.

UAE-based Al Thika Packaging says that’s because the food processing sector strives to become more competitive in response to increasing consumer demand for convenient products.

“Automated solutions are being sought as companies try to reduce overhead labor costs and keep up with global supply trends,” said Tim Ansell, Al Thika’s Sales Director. “International trends in food products are coming to market much quicker in the UAE as people see through social media what is being offered elsewhere – it’s prompted this market to react faster to global trends.

“Food manufacturers are moving into ready meals, pre-packed ingredients and fruits and vegetables—we are following Western trends. The growth over the past six to seven years has not let up and, put simply, there is a desire to implement new technology; the regional industry is more open to innovation.”

High-end automation now represents 20 percent of Al Thika’s sales with Ansell predicting that number to double within five years.

Leading the pack

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are leading the high-end automation process.

Of late, manufacturers and processers from Oman and Kuwait have also noticed a pick-up on demand for high-end automation.

The packaging automation changes required new systems and innovations in the industry.

“We’ve moved from offering just a tray sealer or x-ray for example, to providing turn-key production lines with process equipment, conveyors, packaging machines and automated carton erector loaders. Customers want a one stop service, hassle free installation and local service, so this is playing to our strengths,” Ansell explained.

By 2019, the Middle East and Africa packaging industry will register the highest growth of any region at 5.5 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR), based on Euromonitor’s forecast.

The report pointed out Ishida, a leader in the design, manufacture and installation of complete weighing and packing line solutions for the food industry, could further be impacted by the emergence of export-oriented ‘power’ players within the Middle East, particularly from snack, dates and poultry producers.

Ishida is planning to capture a growing market share with packaging system demonstrations at ProPack Middle East featuringweighers and X-ray inspection systems.

“Apart from rising automation to reduce packaging and waste costs at the manufacturing, retail and end-consumer stages, to increase speed and efficiencies there will also be increasing demand for check-weighers, metal detectors, X-ray inspection systems and seal testers to secure quality control for exports outside the region,” said Torsten Giese, Marketing Manager.

Giese foresees huge changes within the food production sector, all of which will impact the packaging sector.

“There will be polarisation. Politically stable countries will experience growth in convenience and ready-to-eat sectors and ‘luxury’ goods while politically unstable regions will fall back to a more agro/self-sufficient positions,” said Giese.

“Some large players will expand to produce and distribute their food products more efficiently and into more regions, thus becoming regional ‘power players’ while others will look to expand down or up in the food logistic chain. For example, growers will move into manufacturing and distribution; so potato growers currently producing potato chips and snacks will diversify to include frozen chips and other potato products,” he added.

Rapid transformation

ProPack Middle East will be a weather-vane to the food manufacturing industry’s transformation, according to Trixie LohMirmand, Senior Vice President, Exhibitions & Events Management, DWTC, the Gulfood Manufacturing organiser.

“Through the state-of-the-art exhibits, visitors will be able to track the evolution of this vibrant regional industry which is at an undisputed high point in its development,” said LohMirmand. “With Saudi Arabian and UAE producers looking to satisfy increasingly sophisticated domestic demand and also eyeing lucrative export markets, innovative packaging and weighing solutions which meet regional and international standards will be high on buyers’ shopping lists.”

At this year’s event, local, regional and international participation from ingredients, bulk and commodity suppliers at Gulfood Manufacturing increased by a third for a total of 407 exhibitors from 41 countries.
Organizers attributed the increase to growth in regional demand for convenience and health products.

Industry heavyweight Döhler, the Germany-headquartered global producer of technology-driven natural ingredients, ingredient systems and integrated solutions for the food manufacturing sector, said an increasingly discerning regional consumer base is driving change.

“Healthy and natural products are in high demand in the region and the potential will grow further with time. Imported products in retail and hospitality indicate demand for more innovations in this direction and we expect the local manufacturing industry will soon be compelled to adapt to these forces. Local policymakers have also been urged in some quarters to moot a ‘Sugar Tax’ which will further compel manufacturers,” said Shashank Vengsarkar, Managing Director of Dohler Middle East.

Industry powerhouse IFFCO says “healthy food” has huge potential in the Middle East, where campaigns have led to greater consumer awareness of health related issues.

The UAE-based Group is planning to conduct its own education initiative focused on ‘Market Product Trends: Naturally Lowering The Glycaemic Index’ at this year’s show. The initiative, says IFFCO, is part of its focussed commitment to health and wellness.

“IFFCO’s mandate is to provide quality, healthy food products for customers to enjoy as part of their balanced diet and wellness-driven lifestyle. Our product development teams are constantly reformulating products to lower or remove trans-fat, eliminate artificial colours and flavours, and minimise saturated fat, salt and sugar,” said Fernando Alberto Arias, CEO-Food Services, IFFCO Group.

Gulfood also featured segmented areas like Ingredients Middle East, featuring fine and functional ingredients and the latest bulk and commodity ingredients, innovations, tastes and flavours; and Logistics Solutions Middle East, a showcase for firms involved in material handling, transport and commercial vehicles, IT and technology solutions, warehousing operators, facilitators and service providers.