Photo credit: Mipham Jigmet
We enjoy the refreshing taste of Jimpo juice but afterwards do not know what to do with the empty glass bottle: store it at home, throw it in the nearest bin, leave it by the roadside or what? By visiting the factory where Jimpo juice is manufactured and interacting with its owner, Thinles Singhey Rinchen, we found out that Jimpo glass bottles are reused for packaging juice. All that consumers have to do is return the empty bottles to the store where they purchased the juice, and from there, the bottles will be collected by Jimpo's workers, brought back to the factory, sterilised and reused for packaging juice.
About the maker of Jimpo juice
Jimpo (meaning 'tasty' in the Ladakhi language) is a brand of sea buckthorn juice produced at a factory in the industrial estate of Phyang. Jimpo is a known name in locally produced, organic sea buckthorn juice, which stands out for its balanced taste - not too sweet, not too citric - and its attractive packaging - a 275 ml sleek glass bottle.
The maker of Jimpo juice, Thinles Singhey Rinchen, comes from the Sham Valley - the primary apricot-producing belt. Singhey says that he pursued an MBA but had the inclination to preserve local fruits from a young age. With plans of starting a fruit processing business, he went on to get a diploma in that field, and on the side, started working on formulating the ratio of mixing pulp and sugar for making apricot jam and juice. He connected with DRDO researchers in Leh and fellow food processing entrepreneurs to gather technical knowledge on fruit processing. But, "everyone told only some part, no gave complete information," recalls Singhey, leaving him on his own to figure out many of the things. Eventually, Singhey developed his own recipe for apricot jam, apricot juice and sea buckthorn juice. He also developed his own method of making pulp out of fresh apricots and sea buckthorn berries - a process which, he says, is a "closely guarded secret" among the fruit processing entrepreneurs. All of this took him a good 2 years. Around the same time, he started constructing a factory in Phyang for manufacturing jams and juices. The construction of the factory also took time - about 4 years - as the working season in Ladakh is short. The first product to come out of the factory was apricot juice packaged in reused beer bottles. The product sold poorly in the market, causing Singhey disappointment but also suggesting to him to rethink and rework his product. After the initial failure, he decided to launch ready-to-serve sea buckhorn juice packaged in new glass bottles. This time the product met with a very good response. Sea buckthorn juice is Jimpo's most popular and best-known product.
Singey says that he is one of the few in the local fruit processing industry who manufacture a finished product. Most of the others are content with selling off the raw material i.e. fresh or dried apricots, sea buckthorn berries or pulp. In just 3 years of being in business, Singhey has already developed 5 products: sea buckthorn juice, sea buckthorn squash, sea buckthorn pulp, apricot jam, and apricot and sea buckthorn mixed jam.
The process of making Jimpo sea buckthorn juice
Sea buckthorn berries grow primarily in the Nubra Valley. Local facilities there process the berries into a pulp and sell the pulp to juice manufacturing enterprises across Ladakh. Jimpo factory also procures its sea buckthorn pulp from Nubra. The pulp is stored in the basement of the factory where it stays good for up to a year. The making of Jimpo juice starts with preparing the sugar syrup. The sugar syrup acts as the preserving agent as well as the sweetener in the juice. Jimpo juice does not contain any artificial preserving or colouring agents. Once the sugar syrup is ready, it is left overnight to cool down. Singhey says he learnt from DRDO researchers that mixing hot sugar syrup with fruit pulp damages the Vitamin C content of the pulp. The cooled sugar syrup is mixed with fruit pulp in a fixed ratio according to Jimpo's own formula. The mixing takes place in a large drum-like machine, called homogeniser, whose rotating blades combine the two liquids into a uniform mixture. Any solid particles floating in the mixture are sieved out manually. After this, the juice is ready to be bottled. Using a vacuum filling machine, the juice is filled into the washed glass bottles. The bottles are sealed with metal caps with the help of a crown capping machine. The sealed bottles are immersed in a large container filled with water and boiled for about 15-20 mins to pasteurise the juice and increase the shelf life of the juice to one year. The final step is labelling the bottles, which is done manually, after which, the juice bottles are ready for distribution to the stores. The beauty of the whole manufacturing process is that it is not completely mechanised. Human labour and skill are involved at every stage, which not only has created job opportunities but also kept the energy and resource consumption in the factory fairly low.
Facts about Jimpo's glass bottle packaging
Singhey tells us that he strives to make everything about his business "ethical". This includes sourcing the purest sea buckthorn pulp from Nubra, pricing his products reasonably, paying decent wages to his workers, packaging the juice in glass bottles instead of plastic bottles, and reusing as many glass bottles as possible.
Singhey explains that sea buckthorn is highly acidic and, therefore, tends to react with plastic. Microscopic particles of plastic usually exist in those sea buckthorn juices, which are packaged in plastic bottles. However, glass is a good choice for packaging sea buckthorn juice because it is chemically non-reactive. The glass bottles which are used for packaging Jimpo sea buckthorn juice come from a glass factory in Firozabad, a place near Agra. Each bottle costs about 10 rupees. This means that 28% of the total cost of one bottle of Jimpo juice is just the cost of the glass bottle!
Bottle reuse - Jimpo's step towards sustainability
Singhey explains that packaging sea buckthorn juice in a glass bottle is good also for the environment because a glass bottle is reusable - it just needs to be sterilised after which it is fit to be used again. Some of the used Jimpo glass bottles in fact come back to the factory through the Jimpo retailers who take the empty glass bottles back. These bottles are picked up by Jimpo workers and brought to their factory, where they are boiled in water and reused for packaging juice. Returning glass bottles to the producer can save glass bottles as well as prevent the generation of glass waste. Currently, glass waste finds no use in the Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) management system in Leh. The glass bottles which are collected at the Solid Waste Management (SWM) plant in Skampari are either stored away or crushed and heaped. Either way, those bottles do not have a future. If we return Jimpo glass bottles to the producer instead of sending them into the municipal waste, the bottles will not only remain in use but fewer new bottles will have to be imported from outside. Zero Waste Ladakh, together with Jimpo, has started an initiative to spread awareness among consumers for returning used Jimpo glass bottles to the same store from where they purchased the juice, and among shopkeepers for collecting the bottles being returned and handing over to Jimpo's workers.
So, the next time you want to enjoy Jimpo's natural juice, remember to return the glass bottle to the same store from where you bought the juice. In this way, you will do your bit in avoiding waste, saving resources, and promoting the culture of reuse.