Manohara Kumar, Chief Executive Officer and Whole-time Director, Toppan Speciality Films

In a freewheeling interview with Packaging South Asia’s Nilutpal Thakur at Toppan Speciality Films‘ Chandigarh office, the CEO & whole-time director speaks about their flagship GL-BOPP films, the packaging industry, and how the company is doing its bit to develop sustainable alternatives in packaging

Toppan Speciality Films (TSF), a 100% subsidiary of the Japan-headquartered Toppan group, is a manufacturer of speciality films, label films, and graphic lamination films. Formerly Max Speciality Films, the Chandigarh-headquartered company, whose sprawling film-manufacturing plant is located in Punjab’s Bhai Mohan Singh Nagar, became associated with the Toppan Group when the Japanese conglomerate acquired a 49% stake in 2017 and then became part of the Toppan Group when the stake increased to 100% in 2022. TSF was recently in the news for starting the production of its transparent BOPP-based GL-SP barrier films at its Punjab plant.

The TSF factory in Punjab’s Bhai Mohan Singh Nagar

Packaging South Asia met Manohara Kumar, Chief Executive Officer and Whole-Time Director, at Toppan Speciality Films’ office in the towering Nexus Elante mall, a landmark in Chandigarh’s Industrial & Business Park. The discussions ranged from the company’s transition, the launch of the GL films in India and their target markets, and the future of the packaging industry. The sustainability angle and recycling as an alternative figured prominently in our conversation, considering the interaction happened just ahead of a key meeting for a Global Plastics Treaty held in Ottawa, Canada.

GL films and its usages

Manohara – who began his journey with TSF more than 30 years ago as a trainee before steering the organization in its growth trajectory – clarified that at present, only BOPP (biaxially oriented polypropylene)-based GL Films are being manufactured at the India plant. We asked him if the Indian market is ready for these advanced films and even prepared to pay a premium or if it is aware of what sustainability problems these solutions can solve. Manohara answered by saying TSF is known to be a pioneer in providing futuristic products and, hence, known to create markets for sustainability solutions rather than pitching in existing market segments. “Mostly, brands and customers are informed about the solution, but we as a responsible partner will make sure that they are updated on the advantages and challenges (if any) before they start deploying these sustainable solutions.”

The GL film range, which is used in a wide variety of fields, including the food, pharmaceutical, and industrial materials sectors, is said to be a sustainable alternative to metallized and other films. The GL-SP film uses a BOPP substrate to enable mono-material packaging that caters to the increasing demand for improved recyclability.

According to Manohara, though the target solutions for GL-PET are well established globally, for GL-BOPP, the targeted solutions are under development. For GL, TSF targets sustainability solutions of the mono-material family and transparent laminates, which can be used primarily in dry-content products such as powders, biscuits, and cookies. Some of TSF’s partners are Pepsi, Unilever, Perfetti, Nestle, Marico, and ITC. Among converters, Toppan works with Uflex, Huhtamaki and Amcor among several others.  

“TSF will continue to serve both the Indian and the export market as brand requirements are present in India as well as globally,” he said, adding Toppan Speciality Films and Toppan together have developed the GL-BOPP solutions and this will remain the prime focus of TSF rather than other GL ranges that Toppan produces from its global units. “The primary responsibility of TSF will be manufacturing these films. Sales and business development will be taken care of by Toppan’s exports unit and TSF (in India).”

Outside India, the Toppan Group has production bases in Japan and North America (Georgia, US). A new barrier film production unit is expected to start operation in the Czech Republic by 2024-end.

Advanced machines at heart of production  

Manohara said Toppan Speciality Films takes pride in its state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities, which he says are at the heart of its ability to deliver high-quality, innovative packaging solutions to its customers. The Punjab factory has four working BOPP lines with a new hybrid BOPP/ BOPE line expected to become operational by mid-2025. The company has acquired land adjacent to its existing factory and construction work is in full swing.

The BOPP line 5 at Toppan Speciality Films’ Punjab factory. The hot melt passes through a die and extruder, after which it is stretched in this process to give it strength and flexibility.
Photo TSF

In addition, there are six vacuum metallizers, three thermal extrusion laminators, three coating lines, and one CPP line. Another CPP line along with three more metallizers is on the anvil. TSF has more than 20 slitters, including primary & secondary slitters. The company has also ventured into the production of masterbatches.

“We are gearing up to commission a new hybrid BOPP/ BOPE line in 2025. There are many other such strategic projects in the pipeline which the world will witness in the next 5-7 years,” he said, adding the company has DSIR-approved and NABL-certified R&D and quality labs. “Our team’s strength lies in our highly qualified scientists, experienced management, and skilled workforce.”

In 2022, TSF started a dedicated plastic recycling facility in Punjab’s Fatehgarh Sahib, some 40 kilometers from the Bhai Mohan Singh Nagar plant. The waste plastic recycling plant spread across two acres has a customized cleaning and processing plant with 100% wastewater recycling.

Capacity-building, cast films & differentiation

With a capacity of 80,000 tons per annum (TPA), Toppan Speciality Films, which was established in 1990 as Max Speciality Films, has an employee strength of more than 500 on its rolls with a turnover of about US$ 180 million (approximately Rs 1,500 crore) and a global footprint in 45 countries. Coming to capacity building, in the past five years, more than two dozen biaxial film lines have been installed in India, according to industry sources.

Asked if this would not commoditize the market, Manohara admitted that India has seen a considerable expansion of capacity in recent years, and the upcoming years are expected to be challenging. “While it’s natural to have concerns about potential commoditization, it’s important to consider that the market is not just expanding in size but also evolving in its requirements, opening up opportunities for differentiation based on quality, innovation, and sustainability.”

According to Manohara, the key to avoiding commoditization lies in a company’s ability to offer value beyond mere product offerings. This includes developing advanced materials that address the pressing needs of recyclability and environmental sustainability, offering smart packaging solutions that enhance consumer engagement and supply chain efficiency, and providing exceptional service that helps customers achieve their business objectives, he said.

Speaking on the advantages of cast films, Manohara explained that these can play a significant role in the Indian BOPP market due to several reasons. The first is versatility. Cast films, he said, offer a wide range of applications across various industries such as food packaging, pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and industrial goods. “Their versatility makes them highly sought after in the Indian market where diverse packaging needs exist.”

Then comes high clarity and gloss. Cast films have excellent clarity and gloss, making them ideal for packaging applications where product visibility is crucial. In the Indian market, where presentation often plays a significant role in consumer perception, these characteristics are highly valued, he said.

Toppan’s technical experts check the quality of the films at each level of the BOPP line.
Photo TSF

BOPP-cast films provide excellent barrier properties against moisture, gases, and odor, thus extending the shelf life of packaged products. “With the increasing demand for packaged food and beverages in India, particularly with the rise of eCommerce and modern retail channels, the need for effective barrier packaging solutions is growing.”

Cast films have good printing characteristics, allowing for high-quality graphics and branding on packaging. In a competitive market such as India, where brands are constantly vying for consumer attention, attractive packaging with vibrant printing is crucial for brand visibility and differentiation, he said. These films can be produced at high speeds with relatively low production costs compared to other packaging materials, making them a cost-effective choice for manufacturers in the Indian market. “This cost-efficiency is particularly important in a price-sensitive market like India.”

With increasing awareness and regulations regarding environmental sustainability, there’s a growing demand for eco-friendly packaging solutions. “Many cast films can be recycled, and advancements in technology have led to the development of bio-based and biodegradable options, catering to the sustainability requirements of the Indian market,” he said.

Sustainability at core

Sustainability is of major concern at a time when the world is looking at eco-friendly alternatives. So how is Toppan Speciality Films addressing these concerns and meeting these goals? Manohara said as the world moves towards stricter environmental regulations and consumers demand more sustainable products, TSF is well-positioned to meet these challenges head-on.

Plastic, Manohara said, can’t be done away with because of its flexibility and durability but it can be managed well with recyclability and a circular economy. He says the company is continuously working on post-consumer recyclates and biodegradable films.

“We offer mono-material solutions that increase the value of the waste stream and support ‘ease of recyclability.’ We have a separate mechanical recycling unit. We are the first one in India to develop biodegradable films according to qualification rules laid down by the government. We are in the last stages of getting clearance. We are also ISCC-certified. Our ongoing investments in sustainability initiatives, coupled with our commitment to innovation and compliance, ensure that we remain at the forefront of the industry’s transition to an eco-friendlier future.”

Elaborating on recycling, he said TSF has always focused on mono-family recyclable structures rather than multi-layered non-recyclable structures. “Hence, we continue to deliver solutions in the same direction. We are confident that if each player in the packaging industry moves in this direction, we shall be able to deliver better value for money for our customers and brands.”

Changes in the industry

The film and packaging sector, he explained, is undergoing significant changes, driven by a surge in demand for high-quality, sustainable packaging solutions. “I see several key trends shaping our industry in the coming years propelled by sustainability and circular economy with regulatory bodies worldwide implementing stricter regulations on packaging waste, the development of biodegradable materials, and the demand for simplified packaging structures.

However, for Indian manufacturers, the coming years are going to be challenging. The anticipated expansion in BOPP capacity within the country is expected to disrupt the equilibrium of demand and supply, potentially impacting profit margins adversely. Additionally, India’s exports are likely to face short-term hurdles due to current geopolitical tensions,” Manohara explained.

Talking of TSF versus its competition, Manohara said, “Toppan Speciality Films distinguishes itself through a unique blend of innovation with sustainability, quality leadership, global recognition, product differentiation, commitment to our customers, and a strategic approach to partnerships. While we have profound respect for our competitors, who each bring their strengths to the market, we believe our approach and values set us apart.”

The insightful conversation followed a trip to the Bhai Mohan Singh Nagar factory, some 60 kms away from the Chandigarh, office, about which we will write about in a subsequent issue. Toppan is participating at drupa 2024, stand Hall 3 / B40.

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