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INTERVIEW

“India needs intelligent packaging solutions”
Wednesday, 06 November, 2013, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
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Packaging plays a critical role in solving several challenges in the food & beverage sector. In a telephonic interaction with Anurag More, Sethunath P, director, Alia Group, a known name in packaging and branding space, explains how this can be made possible with intelligent packaging solutions and more. Excerpts:

With government allowing FDI in multi-brand retail, do you think that demand for packaging will grow in the coming years? What nature of demand would be seen in the F&B sector?
FDI is going to have a big boost to the packaging segment. We are in a country where still a very little percentage of items is packed and this becomes a big concern in the food & beverage segment. Today, the organisation's success is going to depend upon how it can pack well for its audience.

Given the climatic condition, what kind of packaging does the Indian F&B sector require?
For example - one of our clients in the confectionery segment, they are facing an issue to sell their products in rural India considering the logistic challenges of delivering a quality product in a high volume purchase segment. India offers unique practical challenges and this needs to be addressed by packaging department and related players. In the coming times, considering the wide Indian geography we have to look into very intelligent packaging solutions to solve the customer’s real issue. The real issue will start by addressing critical roles of packaging in protection and safety and then it goes to the higher order of functionality and differentiation.

It is also critical for the packaging industry to be socially responsible and find solution to enormous wastage that happens between production, storage and delivery. In modern retail, particularly in the F&B segment, there are very little efforts to ensure the right packaging quality in the private label segments, this needs to be changed.

Apart from this, what are the other challenges that the industry is facing?
The industry is facing multiple challenges. One major challenge is differentiation in packaging quality standards between established brands and the large unbranded segment. In the last 10 years, there is a big change in the mindset of consumers and a general feeling is “what is packed is healthy.” Is this perception right?

The industry still needs innovation. We as a country need to make a leap in several stages to ensure packaging plays a critical role in solving several challenges faced by this country. While there are standards being developed, we need to pick up pace in innovation. There is a large buying middle class and with more branded goods, packaging needs to make a big jump in ensuring better standards of delivery.

How is the industry coping with the challenges?
Indian packaging converters are finding much deserved recognition in the last few years. They are investing in better machinery and skills. There are several associations which are providing good knowledge sharing platforms. While efforts are there we still have to walk a long way in addressing future challenges.

What kind of packaging is more in demand in India for the F&B sector?
For F&B, packaging is the most critical aspect. In India, products were traditionally packed using rigid packaging. But in the last few years, flexible packaging is making inroads into almost all formats. Today we see more pouches on the shelf and it is having more impact. And this is going to remain so as India is a value-based country.

How important is packaging in managing the brands?
Working with India’s most loved brands in the last few years, I am convinced that packaging makes the best impression in building brands. Your identity first gets reflected on the packaging. Today with modern retail, the importance has gone one step higher. Packaging is not only a silent salesman now, it’s an active salesman on the shelf.

What steps are being taken to bring in Indian brands to international standards?
Till few years before, we used to have our own challenges. But in the last few years being led by the MNCs we are all moving to global brand standards. Clients are pushing the industry as a whole. Earlier there used to be Coke which used to get its “red” right. Today brand builders like HUL, Kraft, and GSK want to make sure brands are seen the same way across internationally. This is acting as a positive pressure on the industry to reboot there capabilities.
Players like Alia have invested a lot in intellectual knowledge to make sure the industry as a whole will benefit. We are having a vertical on “reproduction of graphics” to ensure that across print technologies and machineries, colours will be reproduced same to ensure “brand standards.”

Tell us about brand packaging graphics.
Brand that you pick up from the shelf goes through enormous round of changes and multiple stake holders before it lands up in consumer’s hands. There are brand managers, designers, packaging development teams, legal & regulatory personnel, print converters and so on who see the same pack from their own perspective. We in Alia have become the integrator and ensure seamless execution capabilities – from concept to reproduction. It’s our efforts which not only make sure graphics will be communicated clearly with different print technologies, but at the end will also ensure a strong, consistent brand performance across different pack formats.

Today for leading rands, Alia works as the support team – during concept stage to ensure designs will get reproduced, capturing designers & brand feeling, it will satisfy all legal & statutory rules of the country, it will ensure the right communication to convert the graphic data to print data and then work closely with the print partners to ensure reproduction consistency. We are working with leading brands and making this art a science to ensure predictability.

Is India ready for the packaging sustainability?
As a growing economy, we are still a little far from addressing packaging sustainability challenges. We need to cover a little more distance. But I am sure the industry will address these in the coming days and we will make a big leap.

What are the new technologies coming up in the graphics and packaging segments?
Other than the standard one, new technologies coming up will address following:
a) Security to avoid counterfeiting across different sectors - Both clients and industry are investing more to ensure better control over this segment.

b) Active & intelligent packaging – As a better communicator & to work with other new technologies. E.g. Alia, with one of our partners R3, UK, has launched in India, a concept called Packlinc. There is an embedded code in the pack and once sensed through your smartphone connects you to the client’s communication centre. Possibilities are infinite. Either you can run a promotion or you can come for the authenticity of the pack or you can do multiple programmes out of it.

c) Personalisation through the pack running a lot more - Earlier there used to be one pack for all. In the coming times there will be one brand, and the pack will carry a message for individual or targeted group. Alia along with HP India has launched an innovation lab only to promote this concept.

We will also see Indian brand and designs internationally. Our clients like Himalaya are a good example of how Indian brands have arrived globally.

Can you comment on growth of the packaging industry in coming years in the F&B sector?
I don’t have any figures to quote. But in another way if I assume 10% of more Indian retail getting organised, we should witness another 30-40% of growth in the F&B industry. This is a very high volume I am predicting. Even in a natural way, with the growth in consumption you will see a lot of small and medium enterprises coming into the F&B industry. The government efforts through food technology parks and food processing zones are becoming a big boost in this country. This is one of the best times to get into the F&B space in a country.

What kind of government support does the industry require?
The government needs to invest a lot more in the R&D segment. While the private players are very good in investing and growing in the conversion part, innovation on new technologies to serve our geography and to find solutions to our own problem, we need to do more and here government can do a lot more.
 
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