Looking back at the formative years of the coding and marking industry, Krishna said, “Back then, there used to be very few players and they were primarily into metal marking. These marking systems used to be very rudimentary, like rubber stereos, wet ink stampers and metal types used for coding; they used to cater to low-cost and slow speed lines, to put a code on the packaging. Later on, the packaging commodities act started reinforcing or implementing the rules much more strictly and legislation started playing a significant role that led to an increase in consumer demand. This was followed by the entry of multinational companies who were ready to make investments.”
Food and beverage legislation started to be strictly implemented about 20 years back. When investment started pouring in, the production line speeds also increased. As a consequence, the rudimentary coding technologies were unable to cope up with the increase in production line speeds. During this time, packaging underwent tremendous transformation as flexibles started dominating the space. Most of the packaging done now is in polymer. The old technologies now face a challenge in putting codes on flexible packaging.
With the Indian economy growing faster than ever before, the growing demand and transformation in packaging material necessitated the introduction of more modern and exciting technologies like industrial inkjet printers, laser, thermal transfer and more versatile inks and ribbons.
Shift to track and trace
Moving on to coding and marking in the food processing industry, Krishna said, “I think coding and marking helps the industry in many different ways. For example, we help food processing at various levels as we come to the forefront when the food is packed and ready for shelf. We contribute in providing the main source of consumer information—the price at which it is sold, the freshness quotient, expiry date, and quality (date it was packed). We have much more to do.”
Today, product identification technologies are slowly broadening themselves to become track and trace technologies. “So, from a simple code being put on a product to identify it, we are becoming an integral part of the production and packaging process. By backward integration and forward aggregation and up to the retailer or manufacturer, our ability to add value at various stages of the food value chain has increased tremendously,” he added.
Talking on the importance of track and trace in food packaging, Krishna said, “If tomorrow, there is a problem, of say salmonella or any other threat in perishables, in a particular batch, the important question is: can the manufacturer trace it back and recall the product and the affected batches? Secondly, they need to know at what stage this contamination could have happened so that they can take corrective action. As a responsible manufacturer, the need is not only to protect their own image by recalling the product but also understand where exactly the contamination has taken place and how one can rectify it. So, from simple product identification, these technologies have now become a much more integral part of the product value chain, as they help the manufacturers to track and trace.”
He further explained, “A lot of European countries have food stamps for product identification. In fact, we work with a lot of our partners like Kezzler and Pharmasecure, who are strategic partners for us, and who ensure every product’s authentication is given by codes that they create. It could be a machine-readable code or a human-readable one. They create a database of those unique codes that they generate; we take those codes and put them on the products. Tomorrow if a customer buys a product and wants to verify its authenticity, there would be a unique code, which the product carries, which he can SMS to a specific number and get a message providing details of the product and its manufacturing date, etc.”