Ecolean Group arrived at ProPak China 2007 touting the company's green image and churning out midsized yogurt packages on the trade show floor.
As a young company that markets sustainable packaging to dairy producers, China quickly has become one of Ecolean's most lucrative markets - the country's young dairy industry allowing for the adoption of new packaging technology.
``The whole of the Asian market is growing, and [dairy] is a relatively new industry here,'' said Ulf Nilsson, president of Ecolean Asia-Pacific. ``About 25-30 percent of our business is done in Asia, mainly in China.''
Ecolean specializes in a part-calcium-carbonate, part-plastics packaging that remains flexible while being able to stand up on its own. The material, which Ecolean has dubbed Calymer, takes less energy to produce than the cardboard gable top or high density polyethylene bottles most used to store dairy products.
``The concept is we try to minimize the environmental resources to do the job,'' Nilsson said at ProPak China, held July 10-12 in Shanghai.
Ecolean Calymer contains at least 40 percent calcium carbonate, which is derived from limestone, and either polypropylene, polyethylene or a combination of both. The plastic acts as a binding agent, said Ecolean project manager Paul Mallbin.
``The material offers a lot of advantages,'' Mallbin said. ``It's stable, stand-up and low on resources.''
The calcium carbonate gives the material its stiffness, according to Mallbin, while the plastics add durability and strength. The packaging is approved for full contact with food.
Ecolean produces less solid waste, water waste and greenhouse gas in the manufacturing of its packaging than other dairy packaging companies, he said.
Ecolean, based in Helsingborg, Sweden, employs around 200 worldwide and operates two factories, one at its home base and one in Tianjin, China. The Tianjin factory is capable of producing about 400 million packages annually, using raw materials that are all sourced locally.
``Calcium carbonate can be found pretty much anywhere around the world,'' said Nilsson, who expects the Tianjin factory to be updated with new technology soon.
The company has found so much success in the developing world because the dairy industry is not as established, Nilsson said.
As part of the Ecolean system, a customer has to purchase the company's filling machines, which are specific to Ecolean's packages. In Europe, where many dairies already have invested in equipment, the market has been difficult to break into. China and Russia, Nilsson said, have offered a more open scenario.
``During the fall of the Soviet Union, a lot of state-owned dairies were privatized,'' he said. ``They had a lot of old equipment that needed to be updated.''
After its establishment in 1996, Ecolean focused its marketing efforts in Europe and Russia. Five years ago, the company arrived in China.
China's market also is relatively new, offering opportunities to implement the company's entire packaging system, Nilsson said.
``The milk market in China is already pretty dominated by other companies, so we have been focusing on yogurt,'' he said. Ecolean has contracts with a number of Chinese dairies, including Parmalat SpA, China Mengniu Dairy Co. Ltd. and Sanlu Group Dairy Ltd.
>From its factory in Tianjin, Ecolean also is starting to serve other markets around Asia.
In Australia and New Zealand, the company is finding some success with organic dairy companies.
``New organic milks want to look different on the shelf,'' Nilsson said. ``Our packaging offers a nice display and is easy to use and open.''
The company's sustainable packaging also fits in with the philosophy of many organic companies, he said.
In the future, Ecolean will be looking to enter other Asian markets while continuing to build its base in China and Russia, Nilsson said.
``We are still a small company,'' he said. ``We're looking to grow into a big, multinational company.''