At enormous cost – the second wave has taught us too little

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At enormous cost – the second wave has taught us too little

At a very high price, the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has knocked a little bit of sense into the heads of the Indian packaging industry. The Indian packaging industry was lucky in the first wave of the pandemic. Declaring itself as a supplier to the essentials goods supply chain, it quickly overcame the bureaucracy of permits, set up some safety protocols, and churned out packaging for food and pharma. Some factories didn’t even close for a day.

There was an unprecedented demand for sanitizers, and the container, pouch, and label segments got busy. The need for hygienic food and food commodities kept flexible packaging strong. The demand for vaccine vials, medical equipment, and other pharma products kept the glass container and carton industry in good shape. The requirements of home delivery and eCommerce kept the corrugated sector buzzing. However, it complained about the high price of liner inputs, some of which were exported to meet China’s insatiable demand.

However, even last year, not everything was hunky-dory, although it was considered impolite to say so. The closure of shops, airports, train stations, restaurants, malls, schools, colleges, and postal services was disastrous for commercial printing and publication printing. The crisis of an adjacent industry that shares much of the same technology and materials has helped increase the price of raw materials for packaging, for instance, paper, inks, coatings, and solvents. It has also lead to many commercial printers necessarily entering board packaging, which will keep carton pricing hyper-competitive for several years.

Many of our friends turned economists remained confident of a quick recovery for the economy after the pandemic year. Of course, budding industrial economists had nothing intelligent to say about labor migration or a union budget spending little on health and education.

It was natural even for more calibrated optimists to look for renewal in the new financial year from April 2021. Although there was plenty of evidence, few anticipated that China’s rapid economic recovery or growth in the past year would be so comprehensive and that it would dominate exports, raw material supply chains, and logistics. Chinese manufacturing became more dominant to the extent that not only are most raw materials in short supply, but one cannot even get a container to bring in purchased goods – in time, without excellent planning.

The second wave of the pandemic has unfortunately extracted a far higher price. One label press manufacturer aptly described it as a Tsunami. It brought death and disaster into our factories and homes – often, the scramble for oxygen or a hospital bed or a vial of medicine made us question our existence, tolerance, and priorities. The lesson that emerged is that it is better to shut down production or work minimally or not all than to risk a single life, even if it is not your own.

Another learning, at least for the label industry, was that short-run labels and multiple changeovers are not only endemic in the pandemic but a fact of life in the future. “If you didn’t learn the importance of having a digital label press in this pandemic – there is little chance . . . .”

Speaking to another industry supplier in this terrible month of May, one learns that the packaging industry is not as buoyant as in the previous year. The self-reliance and deep resources of the population have been worn thin by the idleness of many industries. The packaging industry may have to learn that food, pharma, and hygiene can only take you so far.

Nevertheless, the overall interest and investment by the packaging industry in modernizing and high technology remain intact. A surprising number of packaging equipment and machines are awaiting installation once the second wave subsides.

The packaging industry was lucky the first time. While not so fortunate in the second wave, it will have to – like every industry – acknowledge that it is only a part of a more significant paradigm. In the long term, it cannot survive without paying attention to human welfare, society, and the economy as a whole.

Packaging also has the good fortune of having a great opportunity of demonstrating its value beyond the integrity of consumer products and hygiene. It can demonstrate its overall contribution to society by producing proportionately less and finally by cleaning up. By making itself recyclable and using renewable energy – these are no longer futuristic ideas.

This is the editorial republished from the Packaging South Asia May 2021 issue.

The impact, resilience, and growth of responsible packaging in a wide region are daily chronicled by Packaging South Asia.

A multi-channel B2B publication and digital platform such as Packaging South Asia is always aware of the prospect of new beginnings and renewal. Its 16-year-old print monthly, based in New Delhi, India has demonstrated its commitment to progress and growth. The Indian and Asian packaging industries have shown resilience in the face of ongoing challenges over the past three years.

As we present our publishing plan for 2023, India’s real GDP growth for the financial year ending 31 March 2023 will reach 6.3%. Packaging industry growth has exceeded GDP growth even when allowing for inflation in the past three years.

The capacity for flexible film manufacturing in India increased by 33% over the past three years. With orders in place, we expect another 33% capacity addition from 2023 to 2025. Capacities in monocartons, corrugation, aseptic liquid packaging, and labels have grown similarly. The numbers are positive for most of the economies in the region – our platform increasingly reaches and influences these.

Even given the disruptions of supply chains, raw material prices, and the challenge of responsible and sustainable packaging, packaging in all its creative forms and purposes has significant headroom to grow in India and Asia. Our context and coverage engulf the entire packaging supply chain – from concept to shelf and further – to waste collection and recycling. We target brand owners, product managers, raw material suppliers, packaging designers and converters, and recyclers.

In an admittedly fragmented and textured terrain, this is the right time to plan your participation and marketing support communication – in our impactful and highly targeted business platform. Tell us what you need. Speak and write to our editorial and advertising teams! For advertisement , for editorial and for subscriptions

– 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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