BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA — Some analysts think the PET bottle market in Argentina is mature —but not the experts at Schmalbach-Lubeca Plastic Containers SA.
The Pilar, Argentina-based subsidiary of Schmalbach-Lubeca AG expects 12-15 percent growth rates each year for the next five years, according to Pilar plant manager Mario Kexel.
``The Argentine market still has a long way to evolve toward substituting glass and PVC in high-consumption areas such as mineral water and edible oil,'' Kexel said in a telephone interview.
According to Kexel, domestic consumption of PET packaging in 1997 totaled 253.5 million pounds, up 18 percent from 1996.
Schmalbach-Lubeca's plant was designed to exceed the food industry's demanding hygiene standards and includes controlled ambient air and positive atmospheric pressure.
The facility concentrates on injection molding preforms, preferring not to take part in blow molding bottles to avoid potential conflicts with its captive clients, Kexel said.
``In Argentina, the majority of bottlers blow mold their own bottles,'' he said.
The 40 million-pound-per-year plant is equipped with six Husky injection molding machines, three of which were installed in 1997, doubling the unit's capacity.
``Throughout 1998, we shall continue to grow with the market,'' Kexel said, without disclosing the firm's investment plans.
About 35 percent of the subsidiary's sales go to the mineral-water sector and 65 percent to soft drinks.
``We would like to increase our share in the water segment and enter other areas; that's why we'll continue to expand,'' he said. Schmalbach-Lubeca AG, the top global PET bottle manufacturer, is based in Ratingen, Germany.
Husky's local subsidiary, Husky Injection Molding Systems Argentina SA, sold 10 preform molding lines last year, according to Fabio Seabra, the unit's area manager.
``The market's scale requires equipment with up to 48 cavities, even if the client is in the soft drink segment,'' he said.
The Argentine packaging sector is starting to see small molders processing PET and an increased use of this resin in niches such as cleaning and hygiene products, Seabra said. Husky's Argentine operation is based in San Isidro.
In the blow molding area, Sidel Group of Le Havre, France, sold 12 PET machines in 1997 in Argentina.
``The six-cavity machine is the main type used in the local market,'' said Sergio Crisi, commercial manager at Sidel's Argentine affiliate, which was established in Buenos Aires in September.
During Argenpl s 98, Sidel's booth showed the new SBO 1/2 model, which was built based on the conventional SBO 1 model.
``It possesses one mold and two heating modules and was designed to house larger molds,'' Crisi said. The machine was ordered by a packaging processor that serves the mineral-water and edible-oil markets and will blow mold 95-gram preforms into 5-liter bottles.
According to resin suppliers, an assessment of the maturity of the Argentine PET market inevitably results in a comparison with its closest neighbor, Brazil.
``Today, PET consumption per capita in Argentina totals 2.3 kilos and in Brazil 1.3 kilos,'' said Ernesto Leiserson, market manager for Argentine sales at Rhodia-ster SA of SÃo Paulo, Brazil.
Eastman Chemical Co.'s first Argentine sale took place in 1978, its first Brazilian sale in 1988.