Paperex 2022 reflects growing Indian demand

Paperex Conference takes up sustainability and window of opportunity

Paperex 2022 panellists
Paperex 2022 Conference panel on Lessons to be learned from the pandemic for the Indian print, publishing, packaging and paper industries' – L to R Moderator Naresh Khanna, panelists Ashish Batra of Magic Papers International, Vasant Goel of Gopsons Papers, RHK Sinha Bindals Paper Mills, Atul Kumar Goel of Amar Ujala, and Amit Sharma of Harper Collins Publishers India Photo Indian Printer and Publisher

In spite of the heat wave in North India, the Paperex 2022 exhibition in Greater Noida, had tremendous participation by the paper industry, its suppliers and customers who by and large are printers. Partly a reflection of the keen-ness of the industry to return to business, the printers and packaging converters have taken the opportunity to network with paper companies so that the upsurge in demand and their return to business is acknowledged and to ensure that they can get the best prices and delivery times for raw materials.

For the paper companies it is reassuring to see that demand has returned and as several printers said in one of the panel discussion in the Paperex 2022 Conference, that I moderated, production levels and print demand especially for books, is currently exceeding pre-pandemic 2019 levels. The discussion took up the supply chain breakdowns for raw materials in paper and the strikes and increased energy charges in Europe as well as the way forward from the two years of the pandemic.

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Amit Sharma of Harper Collins was emphatic that demand is back and the opportunity should not be missed to both grow the domestic market and exports of book production. Vasant Goel of Gopsons and Ashish Batra of Magic Papers International agreed, and the printers concurred and emphasized that more than ever before there is a need to expand and improve the manufacture of publication papers.

There seems to be no shortage of book printing paper in India because the Indian paper mills have been able to improve their quality and also because the many of the leading book printers have increased their storage of paper stocks over the past two years of the pandemic. A packaging converter in the conference audience Pratik Chheda of Shapes Cubes Packaging in Gujarat, said that he was able to get locally manufactured paper and board within a day and the delivery time for imported paper and paperboard was not more than two days.

When I questioned the panellists on the role of the edutech companies in Indian education both Amit Sharma and Vasant Goel responded. Sharma said that first of all the edutech companies are creating educational content and as the country and they want their digital content published in ink and paper formats also. Additionally, even online education requires tools and accessories so the product mix of the publishers has adapted to enable the supply of teacher training materials and stationary. Goel added that edutech company Byju’s has a current budget of Rs 100 crore (US$ 13 million) for print materials. Thus the burgeoning edutech industry is likely to add to print volumes both directly and indirectly by enabling a young population that is both literate and with the resources to acquire more materials for their creative and competitive educational pursuit of higher studies.

There seems to be some sentiment that some paper traders have exploited the current news of raw material shortages and global logistics prices and shortage of containers to resell their stored paper and paperboard at higher prices. Thus while we have been hearing of paper shortages in Europe partly caused by the UPM four month strike that ended this month in an agreement largely meeting the demands of the Finland unions including Paperlito, in India the book publication papers are of sufficient quality and supply. The book printing exporters have built up stocks to meet their immediate commitments but in the future there is a need to upgrade the quality of publication papers.

Around the Paperex 2022 exhibition we have also been receiving the news of the Indian paper mills rebuilding their pulping capacity with higher and more sustainable technology as well as putting in better technologies in their paper machines especially for corrugation liner and paper boards. The sore point in Indian paper demand remains high quality publication papers and especially quality newsprint that can be run efficiently on automated high speed web offset presses.

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.

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– Naresh Khanna

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