Packaging trends change rapidly, calling for an evolutionary style of operation in the packaging sector. While this can be challenging for many, those companies that manage to keep up with food company demands are seeing global growth, particularly in the Middle East region.
Ansell explains: “[The packaging industry] is in very good shape. We are seeing investment in packaging solutions by manufacturers throughout the region, but particularly strongly in Saudi and the United Arab Emirates. Although we’re seeing small pockets of growth in Oman and Qatar, I’d say Saudi Arabia is showing the greatest strength. The rate of growth of investment there has overhauled that of the United Arab Emirates in the last couple of years.”
Although the prospect of breaking into the Middle East offers potentially huge opportunities, for those companies not yet familiar with operations in this part of the world, recent political movements may have influenced opinions negatively. However, Ansell says events like the Arab spring have not affected his business plans and model.
He says: “Not for Al Thika particularly, since we are a Dubai based company and our core business has always been in the GCC. It’s fair to say that investors, both private and multinational, have taken a look around the region and are choosing the United Arab Emirates for its stability, and Saudi simply due to the size of the home market, as the smartest places to invest right now. Obviously the unrest is having a continued negative affect in the north of the region; I know of one multinational who this year replaced its destroyed Syrian plant with one in Jebel Ali for example.”
However, there are also trends in the packaging industry itself that may influence companies looking to operate within the region, such as the increasing move away from plastic materials to greener items, such as paper.
When asked whether the industry had moved towards greener packaging, Ansell said: “Regrettably not – perhaps that’s an inevitable consequence of being based in a market where oil-derived plastic packaging is in plentiful supply, and I’m sorry to say, where the consumer’s concern for the environment appears to be at a very low level. If this attitude is to change, regional governments need to take the lead through both education and legislation.”
But, overall, the future looks bright for the packaging industry in the Middle East as it catches up with the rest of the world and heads towards becoming a global leader in packaging. Ansell says: “Ten years ago I’d have said that the region was slow to adopt new methods and equipment but that’s no longer true. The moment new equipment is announced in Europe, we are receiving requests from our local customers.”