Akij Food and Beverage Ltd has established the country's first aseptic plant to produce fruit drinks in a completely automated process at a cost of Tk300 crore.
The plant has a daily capacity of producing 12.96 lakh bottles of Frutika, Akij's fruit juice brand, and is the biggest of its kind in Asia, claims the company.
Aseptic processing is a technique wherein commercial thermally sterilised products, such as food, pharmaceuticals etc, are packaged into previously sterilised containers. The entire process is performed automatically in a controlled environment in the factory which prevents viable microbiological recontamination of the product.
The benefits of aseptic processing over conventional canning include longer shelf life, range of packaging sizes, different types of container material and improved nutritional properties.
Akij Food and Beverage has set up the aseptic plant at their factory at Krishnapur in Dhaka's Dhamrai upazila. The plant was built by Krones AG, a German packaging and bottling machine manufacturer.
Officials of Akij Food and Beverage claim the plant is the first of its kind in Asia, and can process 1,34,000 litres of fruit pulp every three hours.
Apart from the Dhamrai plant, Akij has set-up another aseptic food processing machine at its factory in Chapainawabganj.
Before going into commercial production from January 7, Akij Group invited the media to visit its newly constructed plant in Dhamrai.
On a visit to the factory, this correspondent observed an automatic machine mixing mango pulp with sugar syrup, both processed earlier with aseptic technology in Akij's Chapainawabganj factory.
The mixture is then sent to the main plant where it is bottled, and the bottles are labelled and packaged. The bottles come out of the plant without being touched by human hands.
Built up in a large setting, the factory employs several operators who are tasked mainly with observing several monitors. These monitors check and send signals to indicate that the Frutika juice is bottled properly.
After packaging, the juice bottles come out of the plant automatically. Later, they are loaded in covered vans where the bottles are first touched by humans.
Akij Food and Beverage has set a factory with different food processing plants on 80 acres of land. The entire factory area has been made green in a planned manner, with spacious roads for easy movement. The neat and clean look and tranquil atmosphere of this factory easily differentiates it from typical factories in the country.
The company produces various food items, including processed milk (Farm Fresh), carbonated soft drinks (Mojo), snacks, fruit drinks (Frutika) and mango bars from this factory.
The factory can fill 54,000 bottles per hour, and the technology it uses does not require the use of preservatives for the food products, said Nur Ferdous, senior general manager and head of plant of Akij Food and Beverage.
"The bottles are filled in an air-tight condition. If the least amount of air enters any bottles, the machines stops filling them and discards the bottles from the juice filling line," he added.
Fruit pulp processed with aseptic technology can be preserved for two years without using chemicals. Several food items, including Frutika and mango bars, are produced from this processed pulp, he continued.
The quality of these products remains intact for up to nine months, and no bacteria can contaminate them in this time, Nur said, adding that Akij has been producing Frutika from a mixture of 14 percent mango pulp with sugar syrup.
He also said the construction of the factory was completed in September last year. Akij produced food items on an experimental basis till November. However, the formal announcement of commercial production will be made on January 7.
Full swing production to begin in February
Taslim Uddin, deputy general manager of the factory, said the plant has the capacity to mix 1,34,000 litres of fruit syrup in three hours. This facility will increase the company's production capacity three-fold.
Akij Food and Beverage collects mangos from its own orchards in different parts of the country, including Chapainawabganj. It also procures mangos from local farmers. Fruit from mature mango trees are collected for natural ripening. Then the pulp is extracted from these mangos.
The pulp is processed using aseptic technology in the company's agro-processing factory in Chapainawabganj. From there, the processed pulp is sent to the Dhamrai factory in air-tight drums. The Dhamrai factory then produces Frutika and markets the juice.
Meanwhile, Pran RFL group, another leading Bangladeshi company in marketing a mango juice brand – Pran Frooto, claimed they also preserve their mango pulp using aseptic technology.
A high official of the Pran conglomerate, who preferred not to be named, said the pulp is preserved in aseptic bags without human touch. Later, it is sent to their factory where several mango drinks, including Pran Frooto, are produced.
He also said the company exports Pran mango drinks to 141 countries. "Pran has been leading the export market by using the latest technology and maintaining quality."
According to Light Castle, a market research organisation, Bangladesh has a fruit drinks market worth Tk800 crore, and its average annual growth is 8-10 percent.
Apart from Pran and Akij, 19 more companies have a licence to produce fruit drinks in the country. They include Ifad, Square, Partex, Sikder and Globe, among others.
At present, the global market for fruit drinks and beverages is $5.86 billion, with an annual growth of 5-6 percent on average. Leading brands include Nestle, PepsiCo etc.
Even though Nestle does not market any of its fruit drinks in Bangladesh, the company produces them for other markets using aseptic technology, said Riasad Jaman, manager (branding) of Nestle Bangladesh.
Many other global brands also produce fruit drinks using aseptic technology, according to data available in the websites of different brands.