Evolving of our printing and packaging industry…

A perspective from Sri Lanka

Krishna Ravindran, general manager, Printcare, Sri Lanka. He is also a director of Candela Learning, a wholly owned subsidiary focused on developing world-class learning solutions in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s print industry has come a long way since the early 1980s, when Print care was set up to supply the then nascent value added tea industry. Over the next twenty years local print companies provided quality printing and packaging that helped many of our local industries such as tea, FMCG and more to grow and thrive. However, over the last decade or so the local printing and packaging industry landscape has been increasingly impacted by an oversupply of printing capacity and the increased commoditization of its products and services.

Many of the firms in the industry now produce good quality printing but at prices that make the ability to continuously fund long-term growth questionable. The emphasis on winning business by only offering clients lower prices has led to an unhealthy level of competition in the industry. The result is that the return on assets, as well as profitability for companies in the industry, are greatly constrained, preventing them from taking the long-term view they need to take. This increases the pressure to think short-term, which in turn inevitably leads to lowering prices even further to compete, and so the cycle continues.

How can we break this cycle?

Firstly, we need to look outwards more to the global market. Increasing our focus on export markets is critical because, for one, they are much larger! Given the diverse industries the printers in this country service, there is unlimited potential for all of us to grow if we focus more on this segment.

Supplying international markets also helps ensure that we are holding ourselves to the highest standards, which in turn ensures that we continue to develop the support infrastructure, skills and strategies that will create a sustainable competitive advantage. Some of the larger print businesses in the country already do this, and there is no reason why more printers cannot achieve this. This is an area where the Association can provide some leadership.

Secondly, we need to tap into the noticeable shift over the last few years by print buyers towards more value addition in their printing and packaging requirements, at least amongst the companies that are trying to differentiate their brands and make them stand out. This starts to open the door for printers and packaging suppliers to really innovate a lot more and look at a wider range of value added services.

L – R: Krishna Ravindran, KR Ravindran, managing director and Rohitha Grero, head of carton business, Printcare, Sri Lanka in discussion about executing a
complex job. Photo: Rotary International/Alyce Henson

In terms of print quality, the leading print companies in the country are on par with anybody you would find in this region. However, in terms of innovative new products and services there are new trends in the printing and packaging space such as printing on special substrates, printing with textures, printing using environmentally friendly material, and mass customization, that are beginning to take off elsewhere that have yet to be provided here.

Sadly too many local printers in our industry are satisfied simply fulfilling orders as opposed to working towards becoming strategic business partners with their customers. As a result they tend to limit their own potential and the potential of the brands they service. This low cost production mindset constrains the industries’ growth in the long-term and so must change.

Thirdly, we must focus more on the key things required to reach our maximum potential — equipment and people. We need to ensure that our technology is up to date. Technology plays an important role in driving growth in the industry because using the right technology could give a printer a huge advantage over his competitor.

Most importantly we must continually attract more talent into the industry and produce a greater number of ‘press’ ready people in the market. While the established training institutions are doing an admirable job, there constantly seems to be a lack of qualified personnel in the market. A career in the print industry was once very sought after, and the industry attracted some top quality talent, many of whom are leading the industry today. However, the current youth no longer consider the printing industry amongst their preferred choices for a career, and gravitate towards industries such as finance and IT. As an industry we need to lift the profile of the printing and packaging sector so that we continue to attract top caliber talent. This attraction, retention and growth of talent is another area the Association can take the lead on.

Lastly, carrying out our businesses in an environmentally and socially sustainable manner is an operational imperative and strategic opportunity in the face of more stringent regulations imposed by governments. Consumers themselves are starting to demand products that support the ecology. It is clear that companies that embrace this change will position themselves for continued growth in tomorrow’s economy, reap the benefits and find themselves in a position of leadership.

However, I don’t think it’s just about being ‘green.’ It’s about finding smarter ways to do the simple actions that make up our daily lives. We have implemented ISO 14001 to help us track and manage our environmental impact and build concern for the environment into our corporate culture. Similar standards can be used by other members in the industry to systematically minimize the negative impact they have on their environment.

With the local and global middle class growing, and the standard of living continuing to improve in Sri Lanka and across most of the developing world, the demand for high quality packaging and print media will continue to grow as these customers look for a more fulfilling lifestyle and branded goods. It is up to us to seize this opportunity!

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