Varun Beverages, part of RJ Corp group, one of PepsiCo's largest franchises globally, has installed Sidel's Aseptic Combi Predis in its newly established plant in Punjab, India. This pivotal project aims to expand PET bottling capacity and provide production flexibility for the private label milk brand Cream Bell and Pepsi's Tropicana juice range. By choosing the new aseptic dry preform sterilization technology, RJ Corp is commercializing its liquid dairy products (LDP) in PET for the first time in India.
Since the early nineties, the privately-owned Indian company RJ Corp has made itself a multinational powerhouse with thriving businesses in beverages, fast food restaurants, retail, ice cream, dairy products, healthcare, and education. Through its operating company Varun Beverages, the group is one of PepsiCo's largest bottling partners in the world, currently holding 36 plants on the Indian subcontinent and in Africa and producing carbonated soft drinks, water, and hot-fill juices as well as LDP.
When production flexibility matters
With Indian consumers looking more and more for nutritional beverages, the market keeps shifting towards so-called "better-for-you" drinks. To remain competitive in light of this trend, RJ Corp decided to diversify its portfolio and emphasize its 100% juices with pulp and ultra-high temperature (UHT) LDP, thus gaining more production flexibility to switch product categories easily.
"Managing both juices and dairy products on the same PET packaging line flexibly was essential for us, and we could make it happen only by producing in aseptic," says R J S Bagga, director of Technical and Operations RJ Corp. "High-level food safety and hygiene standards were must-have features to answer Pepsi's demanding quality protocol as well as to pass internal and external validations."
To face these challenges, RJ Corp decided to go with Sidel's Aseptic Combi Predis, including dry preform sterilization. They were convinced that it is a very safe and easy-to-operate solution while visiting a French copacker who used and trusted this technology to handle both juices and milk for more than ten years. This technology, approved by the FDA for low-acid production since 2017, allows the beverage producer to switch easily and safely between four UHT milk flavors (white UHT milk, coffee, chocolate, and mango) and various kinds of juice recipes (that is an orange delight and 100% orange juice with pulp, mixed fruit delight, and 100% mixed fruit juice, guava, apple delight and 100% apple juice, and lychee delight) on the same line. This represents a significant turning point for India's companies, which were previously producing juices in PET bottles with the hot-fill process and milk in cartons.
Up to 200 hours of continuous production
The investment in Sidel's Aseptic Combi Predis marks two significant achievements for RJ Corp in India - not only is this the company's first step into aseptic PET bottling and its first experience with dry preform sterilization. Employing the injection of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) before the oven, Sidel's patented Predis technology requires no water consumption and can significantly reduce chemicals' use. This is a lighthouse project for PepsiCo worldwide regarding the processing and bottling of its high-acid products – the Tropicana juices. The Aseptic Combi Predis also features similar dry sterilization for caps, Capdis, as it was essential to optimize the cleaning process and handle the caps themselves to avoid deformation and ensure tightness between the cap and the bottle.
"RJ Corp chose Sidel because of our long-standing expertise in PET and aseptic technologies. Their new line allows for up to 200 hours of continuous production without any stoppages for cleaning, keeping the production running steadily without compromising product quality. Moreover, the equipment is easy to manage, and the operators find its functions intuitive and easily accessible," says Rohit Sawhney, sales director for Sidel India.
Optimized and efficient aseptic PET packaging line
In addition to the Aseptic Combi Predis, the complete line at RJ Corp in Punjab is equipped with a very competitive and flexible End of Line. It features the seamless shrink-wrapper VersaFilm Access, offering the best combination of production quality, performance, and the price at medium speed. It also includes the automatic and safe PalKombi layer-by-layer palletizer working with a steady, low-level pallet infeed and allowing easy access and control. To understand its line operations and maximize Overall Equipment Effectiveness, RJ Corp also invested in Sidel's Efficiency Improvement Tool (EIT). This modular and scalable software provides the most significant performance indicators, reports, and analyses, based on live and historical data to understand line flow better, uncover sources of efficiency loss and achieve in-depth performance evaluation. It monitors quality, losses, consumption, accumulation and traceability, and interfaces with inspection devices and business systems.
To make the most of this line, specific training was delivered to enable all RJ Corp technicians to get the right understanding of aseptic PET packaging, including the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point system (HACCP), and thus avoid any risk of contamination or detect root causes efficiently in case it happens. Since its implementation and validation, the line has been working successfully with an output of up to 36,000 bottles per hour. Overall, it expands production capabilities in terms of volume as well as a higher number of SKUs.
Ensuring packaging performance across the supply chain
Traditionally, in India, milk is packaged in pouches, glass bottles, or cartons. By choosing Sidel's aseptic PET packaging technology, RJ Corp has widened packaging options for its LDP products. The brand-new PET bottle assures high food quality standards and outstanding customer experiences, along with PET being a cost-efficient and sustainable material. During the packaging line implementation, Sidel also shared its experience in PET packaging and helped design the new PET bottle, enabling the same shapes and caps to be used for both Cream Bell UHT milk and the Tropicana juices. The capsize for all bottle formats is 33 mm, a common width for LDP but quite uncommon for juices. As a result, Sidel's packaging experts developed and designed an iconic bottle shape in three formats – 200 ml, 500 ml, and 1 L.
All of the bottle shapes and formats have been qualified internally. They were submitted to Finite Element Analysis (FEA) and on-site validations before industrial production to ensure the bottles' strength and performance across the supply chain. Sidel also designed specific preforms to reach optimized bottle weight to withstand the dry preform sterilization technology and avoid any thermal stresses on the bottle. Produced in white monolayer barrier PET, the new packaging ensures a shelf life of up to nine months for UHT milk. Furthermore, all the transparent Tropicana juice bottles passed the demanding PepsiCo validation protocols.
Considering the good experience and satisfaction with Sidel's complete aseptic packaging