With less than three months to go before the nationwide ban on single-use plastic straws comes into effect, beverage makers are scrambling to come up with alternatives. The plastic straw pierced into Tetra Pak cartons has become one of the most common modes of consuming cold beverages in India and the ban will majorly impact brands like Amul, Real, Tropicana, Mother Dairy, Go, Frooti and Maaza. All of them are looking to change their packaging so their beverages may be consumed without a straw. “We are looking at alternatives that are sustainable and consumer-friendly, but whatever we do, the changeover will increase packaging costs,” says RS Sodhi, managing director of Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF), which owns the Amul brand.
The stakes are big. Small packs of juices and dairy products dominate the mass market in India and annual sales are estimated at Rs 5,500 crore. Players include global giants like The Coca-Cola Company, Pepsico, Dabur and Britannia. The industry has created a lobby group called Action Alliance for Recycling Beverage Cartons, which has attempted to stop the ban, which starts on 1 July, saying Australia, China and Malaysia still allow plastic straws. But the environment ministry has so far refused to play ball.
Parle Agro, with its Frooti brand, is a major mass-market player and a large part of its sales comes from small cartons. Nadia Chauhan, joint managing director & Chief Marketing Officer, Parle Agro, says: “There are substitutes being considered to replace plastic straws. Paper straws in one of them. However, they are manufactured at a higher cost as they need to be of the right quality and strength to pierce the cover and give customers an easy-drinking experience. There are a few other alternatives as well that are yet to be given the green light by the authorities.”
GCMMF has a long association with Swedish-Swiss packaging company Tetra Pak (it was the first to market long-lasting milk in Tetra Pak cartons in India in 1994) and is experimenting with various packaging alternatives, which will be gradually introduced into the market over the next two months to gauge consumer acceptance. Tetra Pak offers a range of carton options that eliminate straws. Amul packs its bestselling buttermilk, lassi and flavoured milk in Tetra Pak cartons, but one-litre cartons for home consumption are fitted with plastic caps. In anticipation of the coming ban, Amul has introduced caps on its smaller 200 ml cartons as well, which allows customers to drink straight from the carton. Small cartons of Amul Lassi are now advertised with cap packaging.