A tale of two webinars

The Covid-19 lockdown diaries

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In the past seven weeks of the total lockdown, most of us have been offered free webinars for everything from sculpture to baking, how to improve our business, become explosive digital marketers, and super salespersons. Apart from the self-improvement opportunities, there have been some industry-related webinars. Of the four webinars that I have registered for, three were related to packaging. Two of these concerned the Indian packaging industry and were organized by exhibition companies – Messe Dusseldorf India and Reed-PackPlus, respectively.

The first of the two webinars took place on 27 April and was, I think, it is fair to say, a bit hastily organized by Messe Dusseldorf India, and I was the moderator. The second, held on 28 April, was quite elegantly arranged and well in advance by Reed-PackPlus. The moderator was our design and marketing columnist Deepak Manchanda. I was a bit wary of taking part in this hasty bit of gamesmanship, but the organizers assured me that they would put together some panelists and took some of my suggestions to bring in a couple of new names. In any case, given the constraints, both the webinars went off reasonably well and revealed a great deal of the overall enthusiasm and concern of the Indian packaging industry. There is an upbeat feeling that the industry is contributing to national good in a time of stress.

The MDI-Interpak webinar on 27 April attracted at one point something like 630 online participants and the Reed-PackPlus something like 1150 or 1200. Thus it is clear that there was a great desire of the packaging community to take part in these events.
I think (and you must accept that I am biased) that the MDI webinar discussed the issue of the Covid-19 lockdown in a fairly balanced way. In the discussion of how the economy and industry will emerge from the pandemic and the lockdown, there was great unbridled optimism from Amit Banga of SB Packaging and some pushback for realism and moderation from Akshay Kanoria of TCPL. In answer to Banga’s admirable intent to be positive, Kanoria said there were many unknowns and that although one should hope for the best, it would be wise to prepare for the worst.

Similarly, the discussion on automation went from being inevitable and advantageous to a more nuanced answer by the young Kanoria, who said that automation CAPEX is rarely evaluated merely by looking at the return on investment (ROI). On the issue of sustainability taking a knock from the economic compulsions of reviving the industry, the answers were also equivocal. Yes, sustainability may take a hit.

In contrast, the Reed-PackPlus webinar not only drew a larger audience but had younger and more varied panelists in the main. The panelists shared slides as they spoke. However, this panel consisted entirely of optimists who trotted out the usual mush about India replacing China in terms of investment, the Indian demographic dividend, and the country’s super GDP growth.

I think that the GDP and packaging industry growth data was outdated and not based on any credible or up to date research or what has been happening on the ground in the packaging industry. It was a bit like the self-congratulatory online revival meeting of a sector which needs to feel good about itself and its prospects. Other parts of the webinar that discussed automation were insightful, although one-sided. The presentation by a converter on innovation and sustainability at the end was excellent. And when a panelist was asked if the compulsion of reviving the industry would put sustainability on the back burner, the answer was unreservedly in favor of the continued priority of sustainable packaging.

Unfortunately, there is not going to be any demographic dividend. There cannot be any dividend without investment. Our government’s investments in both education and health are dismal at around 2% of GDP in each. Secondly, the Indian economy has been in trouble for 7 quarters before the Covid-19 lockdown. The GDP growth for FY 20-21 is now forecast by rating agencies and global institutions as anywhere from between 0% and 1.9%.
The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown have revealed to us the power of working from home, blue skies not seen in the cities since the early 1980s, and that there are other possible ways of doing what we have been doing by rote. The lockdown has also again revealed the vast and inexcusable inequities of our country that need to be overcome.
The question is whether we take the fresh opportunity to think anew and take up the difficult challenges. Will we put sustainability in every sense ahead of costs and inequities? Or will we once again take the short cuts, and soon be back where we started?

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

It is the right time to support our high-impact reporting and authoritative and technical information with some of the best correspondents in the industry. Readers can power Packaging South Asia’s balanced industry journalism and help sustain us by subscribing.

– Naresh Khanna

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Editor of Indian Printer and Publisher since 1979 and Packaging South Asia since 2007. Trained as an offset printer and IBM 360 computer programmer. Active in the movement to implement Indian scripts for computer-aided typesetting. Worked as a consultant and trainer to the Indian print and newspaper industry. Visiting faculty of IDC at IIT Powai in the 1990s. Also founder of IPP Services, Training and Research and has worked as its principal industry researcher since 1999. Author of book: Miracle of Indian Democracy.

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