Magazine article International Trade Forum

Packaging Power

Magazine article International Trade Forum

Packaging Power

Article excerpt

High-quality packaging is becoming a key to successful competition in the most lucrative developed markets, ITC is spreading both the message and the means for small and mediumsized enterprises (SMEs) worldwide to embrace better packaging. ITC's work in Sri Lanka since the early 1970s exemplifies a turnaround in a country's packaging industry.

The scene appeared to be the same as it always had been during the old man's long life. A terrace high above Sri Lanka's tea country, aged hardwood chairs and an elegant tea table looked down on lush tropical plantations. The flat, post-dawn light blessed the early part of the day before the heat began to build. The familiar rhythms and sounds of breakfast being served were part of a world the tea planter had always known. And yet, there was something different today.

The old man's grandson, who was to inherit the 200-year-olcl family tea business, had joined him for breakfast. "We sell an organic Earl Grey blend to specialist shops in London, San Francisco and Hong Kong and a breakfast tea to one of the largest supermarket chains in Ireland. Our packaging doesn't just protect and keep the tea fresh but it tells a story of where it's from and what meal it is best to drink with," explained the young businessman.

The older man, a sharp trader and businessman in his time, was impressed by his grandsons passion and - after carefully examming a range of packaged speciality teas placed on the table - motioned for him to continue. "These are exciting times, Grandfather. We have just received fair-trade certification because of the profitsharing agreement we implemented with our tea pickers, which helped them create a micro-lending bank. All our packaging is now marked with the fair-trade logo. Some of the biggest European buyers of specialist teas have contacted us and want to know more about how we achieved fair-trade status," he added.

The elderly patriarch saw the business sense of the new approach to packaging - and using packaging to market the different types of tea for a broad spectrum of retail clients - in a flash. This was an educated young professional adapting the family business to the changing demands of new world markets, he thought. As he sipped his favourite dark tea, the old man reflected on how the world had changed since Sri Lankan tea was shipped as a raw commodity to Western capitals in simple wooden tea chests.


In the early to mid-1970s, ITC consultants working in the Sn Lankan packaging industry were, quite literally, rolling their shirt sleeves up and getting their hands dirty. In those days, ITC technical support often required international packaging specialists to take tools onto the factory floor and adjust the packaging machines themselves. Advising selected companies directly was the most efficient way for them to learn and benefit from the exporting advantages that higher-quality packaging brings.

The results of providing direct, targeted expertise can still be seen m exports of Sn Lanka's most economically important product. ITC s efforts, with financial support from the government of the Netherlands, helped boost the added value to the country's vital tea exports by introducing more sophisticated packaging and branding. In less than two decades, Sri Lanka's tea exports shifted from 100% exported as a bulk commodity to as much as 30% sent overseas in the form of value-added products.


The vision and passion of a few men helped spark the packaging revolution in Sn Lanka and lay the foundation for better incountry capacity to provide packaging advice. A few leading Sri Lankan industrialists, along with the Export Development Board and the late Johan Sehn, ITC's Senior Packaging Adviser, were the driving force which saw the creation in 1975 of the Sri Lanka Institute of Packaging and subsequently, in 1983, the country's National Packaging Centre.

In an assessment m 1973, Mr Selin concluded that the country's packaging industry was in a "desperate and deplorable" state. …

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