Karan Talwar of Esko talks about the new normal

Packaging in India learns to thrive in the pandemic year

Karan Talwar director Sales, Esko India speaks to Packaging South Asia. Photo PSA
Karan Talwar director Sales, Esko India speaks to Packaging South Asia. Photo PSA

Karan Talwar, director of Sales, South Asia, Esko, visited the Packaging South Asia office in Noida a couple of days before Christmas and shared some of the industry developments in the past year. From his viewpoint, the nine months since India’s lockdown in the last week of March 2020 have been very productive. While some of us wonder about what is ‘the new normal,’ Talwar has lived the new normal, and since Esko India and he have been successful in a situation where many of us were not, it gives meaning to the expression.

Speaking about the Covid-19 pandemic and its effect on the industry, Karan Talwar said, “If I talk about the packaging industry, it has been a chequered year. It started with many bullish sentiments, but then the pandemic came, and the lockdowns happened. One good thing that happened was realizing that we need to accept the constraints to create ‘the new normal.’ We started using different tools to communicate, and a variety of new business structures were built.”

Digital communication

He added that the Esko organization implemented several digital alternatives and tools to communicate with its customers across the country. Apart from web presentations and virtual demonstration events, webinars and other activities and video calls kept the teams in touch with their colleagues and customers. Talwar also mentioned the strong support and motivation from the Esko organization to its employees, making them take on the challenges with spirit. 

When I said to Talwar that packaging, as an industry, was almost immune to the pandemic and a beneficiary of the fears and dangers it created, he responded. “Packaging came up as a factor of health and hygiene. As this perception spread, packaging became an essential ingredient of day to day commerce and safety. Many of our customers had a dip in Q2, but at end-year are already back to their pre-pandemic production levels.”

Karan Talwar director Sales, Esko India speaks to Packaging South Asia. Photo PSA
Karan Talwar of Esko and Naresh Khanna, editor of Packaging South Asia have a conversation before Christmas 2020 Sreen shot from video PSA

Automation meets efficiency meets a real need

Software and automation tools are of high significance in the packaging industry. They help add the final touches to the pack in an iterative process of idea, change, improvement, and approval. for technicians working from home. For technicians working from home, remote design and prepress work were approved by packaging buyers and product heads, also working from home. The popularity of this process remained even when the lockdowns eased. It was and is still simply impractical to have employees and customers visit plants for the design and prepress changes or approvals of the packs that are urgently needed to keep the supply chains humming. 

In the past year, there is not a single reported instance of a shortage of any food or pharma product in the Indian markets. There have been no empty shelves and no hoarding or cornering of SKUs although there was bulk buying of food products at times. Sometimes some prescription medicines have been unavailable, but that has been a part of the normal change in product mix or compliances rather than a breakdown in the pharma supply chain. 

Digital communication, instructions, and marking, and approval became the norm in packaging production. Talwar said, “As far as packaging software, everyone in the packaging supply chain has realized that having the right software tools will make the entire system much more efficient. That’s where Esko software like the Automation engine and Web Center did exceedingly well in the past few months both in sales and performance.”

Using these automated software tools, many tasks can function sequentially without human intervention. During the Covid-19 induced lockdowns and with the new work from home ethic, these automated tasks were performed with remote intervention by employees working from home.

Apart from the industrial-strength Web Center, Esko’s 3D Studio software technology excelled during the pandemic year. This technology-enabled people to communicate with a 3D packaging structure using a simple VRML or a 3D PDF reader. Talwar says about Esko Share and Approve software, “It is a straightforward on-the-cloud software system. A no-contact policy is used by the system as users can view and approve 3D packaging structures through their digital signatures. They can also review and annotate all the print parameters of the pack.

Looking at 20 to 25% growth in the coming year

Esko also did very well with their digital imaging systems during 2020. Karan comments on the trends in this space, “Transformation from gravure to flexo packaging is happening in the Indian packaging sector. Suppliers are getting closer to the final packaging buyers. Customers in tier-II cities also want this digital flexo imaging equipment.

“Additionally, many converters have realized that having a prepress and a printmaking system in-house can give them a lot of control to innovate and print as per customers’ requirements.”

Lastly, I asked Talwar about his thoughts for the coming year. “In the coming year, I see these trends continuing. We, at Esko, are looking at a minimum of 20-25% of growth,” he said. 

2023 promises an interesting ride for print in India

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. While the print and packaging industries have been resilient in the past 33 months since the pandemic lockdown of 25 March 2020, the commercial printing and newspaper industries have yet to recover their pre-Covid trajectory.

The fragmented commercial printing industry faces substantial challenges as does the newspaper industry. While digital short-run printing and the signage industry seem to be recovering a bit faster, ultimately their growth will also be moderated by the progress of the overall economy. On the other hand book printing exports are doing well but they too face several supply-chain and logistics challenges.

The price of publication papers including newsprint has been high in the past year while availability is diminished by several mills shutting down their publication paper and newsprint machines in the past four years. Indian paper mills are also exporting many types of paper and have raised prices for Indian printers. To some extent, this has helped in the recovery of the digital printing industry with its on-demand short-run and low-wastage paradigm.

Ultimately digital print and other digital channels 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. For instance, there is no alternative to a rise in textbook consumption but this segment will only reach normality in the next financial year beginning on 1 April 2023.

Thus while the new normal is a moving target and many commercial printers look to diversification, we believe that our target audiences may shift and change. Like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

Our 2023 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock and reconnect with your potential markets and customers. Print is the glue for the growth of liberal education, new industry, and an emerging economy. We seek your participation in what promises to be an interesting ride.

– Naresh Khanna

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