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As packaging and processing pioneer Tetra Pak marks 60 years of F&B innovation in Australia, Lindy Hughson sits down with Andrew Pooch, MD Tetra Pak Oceania, to talk about the heritage of the brand, milestones on the journey so far, and the view down the road ahead.

ny story on Tetra Pak must start with the classic tale of how the company’s founder, the late Ruben Rausing, while attending university in the US before World War II, witnessed the emergence of self-service retail and observed the gap in self-service packaging. On return to Europe, as Tetra Pak Oceania MD Andrew Pooch relates, he realised the trend would soon find its way across the Atlantic, and he set about filling that market opportunity.

“So unlike most entrepreneurs who have a fantastic idea, and then have to create a market for the product, he saw the market, and created the product for it,” Pooch says, “and it’s this form of innovative thinking that has been a hallmark of Tetra Pak since its inception.”

The global company was founded in 1951, and within six years it had established a presence in Australia. By 1959, Tetra Pak had packaging installations in Melbourne, Sydney, and Perth – the latter at Brownes Dairy Company, which remains a customer today. In fact, in 2019 Brownes made headlines when it became the first dairy in Australia to move to a fully renewable and recyclable milk carton from Tetra Pak, the Tetra Rex Plant-Based Carton – a packaging world first with carton and closure made entirely from renewable materials.

Back to the timeline, while the company was progressing the dairy side of the business, in the early 1960s it was the iconic Sunny Boy ice-lolly package that made Tetra Pak a household name. This pack marked Tetra Pak’s first foray into non-dairy products, a success the company would come to repeat many times over with the aseptic packaging for fruit juice, coconut water, water, and plant-based ‘milk’ products.

In the late 1960s, the pasteurised milk market – previously dominated by glass packaging – opened its doors to the gable-top carton, and by the 1970s, 20 per cent of Australia’s pasteurised milk was in cartons. Fast forward to the 1980s, the glass bottle share had dropped to two per cent, but the carton’s dominance was short-lived in fresh milk with the emergence of HDPE bottles, which remain prevalent today.

Meanwhile, by the 1970s, aseptic processing and packaging technology for UHT milk had been commercialised, and this boosted growth for Tetra Pak’s carton lines. Around the same time, the company opened its own packaging material plant for both pasteurised and aseptic material in Fairfield, Sydney. (This has since closed, with the company’s expansion globally seeing centres of excellence for material supply and production emerging in other markets, like Singapore and Taiwan.)

With a local material source, the company ramped up production and in the 1980s Tetra Pak cartons were again first used to launch Just Juice fruit juice, which is still on our shelves today.

In the 1990s, Tetra Pak UHT applications were adopted for the first plant-based UHT product, Australia Natural Products’ soy milk, also still available today.

STEP INTO PROCESSING

In the same decade, Tetra Pak’s owners purchased its long-time project partner, processing company Alfa-Laval.

“So suddenly, we had a company that could think about ‘cow to consumer’ and we still do today. This is probably one of the most significant changes that has impacted the dairy industry in Oceania,” Pooch says. “Now we were working closely with farmers, via our sister company DeLaval, and dairy processors, introducing our technology, ramping up innovation, and driving the proliferation of dairy products.

“In two generations we have seen an innovation explosion in the dairy category. You only need look at the many types of milk available today, yoghurts, butters, cheeses, creams and ice creams,” he says. “And the beauty of it is, as technology has advanced, we have been able to tailor products to consumer preferences in different markets,” Pooch adds.

“Product customisation, I predict, will be one of the biggest drivers of growth in our business. We can, for example, through ultra-filtration, concentrate the protein of a product, and through other processes we can modulate the fat content or add micro ingredients like lactoferrin – delivering consumers the perceived benefits they want to suit lifestyle or health management.”

“Consumers in Asia don’t mind paying for quality products, but they also want to be assured of the quality. UHT milk made in Australia and New Zealand is in high demand from Asian consumers, and I think that demand will continue to grow in the future,” Pooch says.

BEYOND DAIRY

Post 2000, Tetra Pak turned its attention to opportunities in the fruit juice and fledgling plant-based beverage markets, where soy milks were vying for shelf space with other nut and grain-based milks… all packaged in Tetra Pak cartons. In the last decade, coconut waters and milks have joined the fray, and most recently, water itself – with the JUST Water brand launched in 2019, produced in Australia by the company’s customer Slades Beverages and now exported to other markets in Asia. Pooch tells PKN the pack developed for JUST Water will soon be protecting other beverage brands.

Along with the advances in Tetra Pak processing technology, its packaging portfolio has expanded dramatically.

Pooch says, “When I joined Tetra Pak in the 1980s, we had only four different sorts of aseptic packages – 200ml, 250ml, 500ml and one-litre.”

Today the variety of shapes, sizes and closure combinations number in the hundreds, along with a range of material options, a portfolio designed and curated for the different markets it serves and attuned to the ever-changing consumer preferences in each of these.

Pooch alludes to a new packaging shape for plant-based beverages soon to hit Australian shelves, with rounded, softer edges. Another innovation that is due to emerge is the much talked about Tetra Recart, the alternative to metal cans for wet food products like tomatoes and corn.

“This pack has been a long time coming. Sustainably speaking, it scores much higher than glass jars or metal cans when you apply a full LCA analysis,” Pooch says.

And this leads to the subject that is at the heart of every product and process Tetra Pak develops: sustainability.

“We’re talking sustainability in the full sense, we’re working with our customers to help them operate more effectively – exploring how we can help them use less electricity, less water, all things contributing to their carbon footprint. And closely linked, we’re also developing traceability systems to enhance supply chain efficiency from farm to shelf.”

LOOKING AHEAD

So, what is next for the F&B industry and for Tetra Pak? With a billion more consumers by 2030 populating mostly Asia and Africa, and the expanding palate for Western-style products, Pooch says Tetra Pak sees a huge opportunity for food producing countries like Australia and New Zealand to supply dairy products and other foods to those consumers.

“As an industry, we should continue to focus on export, that includes plant-based yoghurts and cheeses. We are also seeing a rise in preference for products that are produced and consumer-packed at source, driving a move from powdered to liquid milk-based products, for instance.

“Our role in reducing food waste is also critical. Many people worry about how are we going to feed those one billion consumers? Well, we would have no problem feeding an extra one billion today if we minimised food waste. Part of the solution is proper, shelf-stable, long-life food processing and packaging technology, which we bring to the dairy and other industries.”

As it was at the outset, innovation remains the lifeblood of Tetra Pak.

“Tetra Pak is driving innovation from the outside – via insights-driven understanding of market and consumer trends – and the inside, engaging with a diverse spectrum of people from different industries, to enrich the R&D process and design processing and packaging technology that will be a fit for the factory of the future – one that is sustainable, that supports zero waste, that delivers customised, targeted products to consumers with optimum efficiency and the highest level of safety,” Pooch says.

And this is what Tetra Pak stands for, what it has always stood for.

This article was first published in the May-June 2021 print issue of PKN Packaging News, p40.

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