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

The future is already here

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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 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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