Flexibles, films and rigid plastics come to the fore in East Africa

Joseph Nyongesa, secretary general of the Institute of Packaging Professionals Kenya provided an overview of the East African packaging market’s trends, opportunities and challenges at last month’s Propak East Africa Conference held in Nairobi, Kenya“Nyongesa told delegates that the Kenyan packaging industry more or less mirrors what is happening in the rest of the East African community (Tanzania, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Uganda). He characterised the packaging market as being internally
dynamic and intensely competitive, with a total cost approach borne out of necessity as one material stream’s gain results in another’s loss.
“There is an emphasis on new technology, packaging systems and distribution systems. Development costs are being allocated to research, design, models and samples in a bid for brands to connect with consumers and to complement an attitude of  seeking improvements to stand out on shelf from competitor products.
• “The plastics sector has over 100 suppliers who have made good investments in all major plastic conversion machinery (with high injection/blow/extrusion cycles) sourced from Europe and the Far East. High speed decorating equipment has also been installed by many companies.
“The sector supports basic mass market products like salt, bread and carrier/shopping bags. There is evidence that the East African community is on a major value addition drive and creating many new packaging opportunities,” he stated. “For instance, milk moving from polycartons to films and blow moulded containers; margarine/fats transferring from metal packaging to plastic tubs; beverages shifting to PET along with increased branding of mineral water in PET bottles; major tea brands are changing from paper to plastic films/laminates; prepacks for horticultural exports; and plastic crates are replacing wooden ones.
“Challenges in this sector are raw material import costs, logistics and storage issues; low economies of scale; high energy costs; inadequate structural design capacities, and threats/uncertainties surrounding environmental issues.”
• According to Nyongesa, Kenya’s paper industry faced a major challenge when the Pan African Paper Mill based in Webuye town, Bungoma County collapsed in 2009. Mufindi Paper Mills from Tanzania has taken up some of the supply slack.
“There are several corrugators installed in the region to meet local and regional requirements. There are also major converters for basic packaging of wheat and maize meal.
“Additionally, major decorating facilities are catering for designers’ imagination to meet the growing demand for paper to support horticulture and to package products like bulk tea, daily maize meal and cement. This trend is thanks to the positive environmental perception surrounding paper.
“Challenges in the industry include paper quality and supply, low availability of specialists, lack of cost competitiveness and conversion inefficiencies,” he said.
• Glass packaging is supplied primarily by Central Glass, a subsidiary of Kenya Breweries; Milly Glass in Mombasa and Kioo Glass Works in Tanzania. “It is being utilised for beer, sodas, wines, whiskies, sauces and specialised juices. The biggest challenges for this material stream are supply chain and energy costs as well as infrastructural defects.
• Sacks are increasingly used to package cereals/grains, sugar, seeds, animal feeds, fertilisers and cement.
Challenges in this sub-sector include importation logistics, finance and storage conditions management.
• Metal packaging is still being used in traditional markets such as processed meats, shoe polishes, paints and Del Monte juice exports. It is, however, facing an onslaught from plastics. Its other challenges include financing importation, logistics and storage as well as managing these aspects correctly.
• Fresh produce packaging is on the rise thanks to a growing skillset, which is making these products increasingly available. The costs of complying with ever-increasing safety and health standards as well as environmental, quality and traceability demands are the main challenges being faced.”
Government policy framework and support
Although no specific ministry and/or institution has been clearly mandated to be in charge of packaging, Nyongesa emphasised that product development and packaging technology was mentioned and taken up in several governmental documents under the framework of enhancing competitiveness.
He explained that the Ministry of Industrialisation and Enterprise Development’s 4K MSE Vision 2030 Initiative, for instance, aims to create and maintain a platform for mass production of quality products by medium and small enterprises (MSEs). The responsibilities of the four parastatal partners are as follows:
1. Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (KIRDI): technology, product design and development. KIRDI also provides technical advice and information on packaging suppliers and selection of materials. The institute is currently exploring possible solutions to label design and printing issues.
2. Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS): standardisation of parts and components through quality assurance, metrology, testing and conformity assessments. KEBS plays an important role in recommending and ensuring the supply and use of safe packaging materials.
3. Kenya Industrial Property Institute (KIPI): protection of innovation and branding of products.
4. Kenya National Federation of Jua Kali Associations (KNFJKA): identification of MSE entrepreneurs and products.
Nyongesa added that the ministry’s other two main initiatives, with support from the Japanese government, are the One Village One Product Programme (OVOP) and Trade Training Programme.
“OVOP aims to support value addition of locally available raw materials through technical assistance in product development, packaging, branding and marketing to various groups at community level.” This, according to the ministry, in turn facilitates transfer of skills and technology, enhances income generation opportunities and wealth creation for local communities, and promotes and improves market access for and use of locally produced products in Kenya.
The Trade Training Programme, which is supported by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, includes packaging aspects in its curricula. For example, the function of packaging, types of packaging materials, requirement for labels, etc.
The other government institution supporting packaging is the Export Promotion Council (EPC). Nyongesa said the EPC is committed to facilitating product design, development and test marketing in its strategic plan. “The council has assigned sector champions in each major export sector who provide advice on various matters concerning export practices and product development as well as information on packaging materials suppliers.”
He listed the international organisations supporting the packaging sector as:
• The United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, which has organised several seminars on packaging and intends to establish a regional centre for packaging.
• The International Trade Centre has continuously assisted African countries to strengthen their packaging export competitiveness. It has, for example, conducted comprehensive studies into Kenya’s packaging industries in 2006, 2008 and 2010.
• The Japan International Cooperation Agency has organised several training programmes in packaging, especially through the EPC. It also supports packaging in Kenya through the One Village One Product programme.
Nyongesa: Tel +254 20 231 9103 or +254 738 340 761; info@ioppk.com; website: www.ioppk.com