We recently went to Kolkata to meet Debashish Sarkar of Classic Image Offset Press — one of the most important label printers and converters in the industry. With three units in and near the Chaulpatti Road area, the unit where we met Mr. Sarkar, looked deceptively small from outside, but once we entered we realized it was large by Kolkata’s space starved standards. Luckily the road on which it is situated is devoid of any traffic jams.
With an annual turnover of INR 20 crore, the company is largely a supplier of labels to the liquor industry. It specializes in wet glue labels and supplies these to the biggest liquor companies including Vijay Mallya’s United Breweries and Kishore Chhabria’s Allied Blenders and Distillers (ABD Group). Although there are stories of rivalry and war between the two liquor barons, for Debashish Sarkar both are highly respected and valuable customers for whom he provides the best quality labels within the tightest deadlines.
Classic’s three units in the city also supply labels to the over-the-counter pharmaceutical and cosmetics industry (including Boroline and Himani Chyawanprash). However, Mr. Sarkar prefers to be known foremost a liquor label expert and practitioner that he is. He showed us some of the really spectacular labels that he has produced. The catalog is impressive with many labels that looked to be gold plated — the result of several techniques using special inks, effects, foils, and types of stamping.
Classic has the latest technology narrow web and offset presses, and accessories needed to produce premium quality and complex labels at very high speed. “We have a Gallus 8-colour narrow web flexo press with hot foil stamping which was the first one in Kolkata; one Iwasaki label printing press; two 4-colour Heidelberg GTO presses, six 2-colour Heidelberg GTO presses, and a single colour Heidelberg GTO press. We also have thirty- two Kluge foil-stamping and three Polar cutting machines and Weicomp counting machines. We also have a reel to reel inspection system for checking labels,” he says.
Sarkar is a firm believer in Heidelberg technology. Although all the sheetfed offset presses he has installed are second hand, he keeps them in good nick by keeping the local Heidelberg engineers on their toes. “I believe ‘Old is Gold’. For me the Heidelberg presses are the best presses available to printers. They facilitate low maintenance because of their very few breakdowns. I have signed an annual maintenance contract with Heidelberg India’s Kolkata office and they provide excellent service. As we are in the service industry, we printers need relief from the nuisance of breakdowns and having used Heidelberg for the past two decades, I find them the best.”
When asked why he does not want to buy a press from Komori or Mitsubishi, he said, “Komori and Mitsubishi also provide the best presses, but I still prefer Heidelberg as my people are now habituated to the Heidelberg GTO presses. They understand their working and their parts.”
Asked a bit more about Classic’s journey, Mr. Sarkar said, “We started in 1988 with presses from Hamada and Komori, and a foil stamping machine from Heidelberg. In 1997 we got a second hand Heidelberg single colour press and in 2000 we purchased another second-hand Heidelberg, a GTO 4-colour press. Since inception we focused on liquor labels and very rarely do we provide our services to other industries. Our focus is entirely on liquor labels as it is a very specialized segment — altogether a different ballgame.” He added, “We don’t have a CtP as yet, as our jobs are very static. For us there will be a very low return on investment on CtP. The films that we get are for one year.”
“We cater to more than 60 distilleries in India and are doing 50 per cent of the UB Group work. We have the technology and the skills to provide the best labels for the liquor industry. We get readymade films from the various brand owners and do the printing in our three units. We have an in house courier system which transports the labels to various places in India.”
“Kolkata is not bad for us. The city provides us good connectivity to all the states in India. The only drawback in the city is that there are no mother (consumer) industries here. There are a few IT and engineering companies, but not significant and a few biscuit and tea companies. For the packaging industry to grow here we need big industry. Take the example of Delhi, Chennai, and Mumbai, the big companies are there.”
On the price rise
When asked about the rising prices of consumables such as inks, plates, and paper he said, “We are losing because of the rising costs of consumables. In the industry that we deal in, rates are fixed for long terms like a year or two years. Because of this we have to provide our services at the previously quoted price. In this business the print buyers dictate … we have to listen to them only as we are their trustees. Being service oriented we have to provide them the right service and the right quality at the right price.”
“No doubt drupa 2008 was good for the printing industry. But label-wise drupa 2008 was not meant for us. Label Expo is much better for us. The machines which are shown at drupa are not meant for us right now … . may be we can buy them tomorrow when we need them. As far as I understand I think in today’s age a printer needs to be master in all the four segments — flexo, gravure, offset, and digital. Such events are good as they provide good learning opportunities in all the four fields. For me personally I’d like to learn more and more about offset printing as it is the most versatile technology. There is minimum wastage in high productivity offset. In the packaging sector I think digital is not as important.”