Sakata Ink in India – resilience and growth

New plant in Bangladesh and energy-cured inks expansion in Gujarat

Sakata plant in Panoli
Sakata plant in Panoli

Sakata Ink in India has primarily been a supplier of cold-set offset inks to the newspaper, commercial, and packaging industry segments and also of liquid inks to the flexible packaging industry. In the past two-and-a-half years that have been affected by the challenges of the Covid pandemic and the war in Europe, the company has shown resilience and even growth – in terms of capacity expansion. This seems a reflection of the company’s belief in long-term growth in the subcontinent for high-quality products.

Sakata India’s managing director VK Seth says, “It’s been a double whammy for global companies like us in the past few years. First, the pandemic hit the print industry and, especially, the newspaper industry for which we had built up capacities earlier. And then just as it subsided and there were signs of economic recovery, in spite of the higher raw material prices, the war in Europe has disrupted the global economy and further increased the prices of energy and raw materials.”

Sakata has nevertheless held to its long-term plans and has just in the past year commissioned its liquid inks plant for flexible packaging near Dhaka in Bangladesh. Similarly, it has built a new capacity for toluene-free liquid inks at its Panoli plant in Gujarat in India. The site already contained the plants for newspaper cold set inks and liquid inks manufacturing. The Panoli plant will start producing UV and energy cured inks by the end of 2022.

Revival in monocarton inks demand

The new Sakata plant in Panoli will produce inks for the highly configured multicolor offset UV presses with coaters that are being imported by many of the monocarton and litho-laminated carton converters in India and the subcontinent. Seth, who is conservative in his analysis of the industry and the economy, reveals that there are some recent signs of revival and a pick-up of ink demand by the monocarton industry.

The energy-cured inks plant will produce not only normal UV-cured inks but also LED and eBeam-cured inks. As we have written recently, an RMGT 7-color plus coater UV-LED press has already been purchased by HBD Packaging in Noida. The press, which is to arrive in the January 2023 time frame, will use LED UV curing for its interdeck units and normal UV for the coater, which should lead to significant energy savings.

New inks for Indian newsprint

The pandemic and the lockdowns were devastating for much of the economy and also the newspaper industry not only in terms of circulation but also for the skyrocketing cost of imported newsprint and other consumables, which in turn were affected by the prices of raw materials and adverse logistics. In this area, Sakata India’s ink designers came up with formulations that have worked efficiently on local newsprint grades that tend to have unique characteristics that include rougher surfaces and more show-through. This has been a difficult process of trials and improvements that brought the company closer to several newspaper printers and motivated the company’s ink engineers to demonstrate their capabilities.

Sakata India’s new ink plant in Dhaka
Sakata India’s new ink plant in Dhaka

In our conversation with Sakata India’s managing director, we sense both realism and resilience. The circumstances remain challenging. The flexible packaging industry which we thought is booming is actually beset with very low margins at a time when it is also beset with concerns about sustainability and recycling.

Sakata India has held its course of steady expansion of higher quality products in the belief that the demand for these products will eventually increase as the industry appreciates its enhanced capabilities and capacities in both India and Bangladesh. However, as the company’s managing director said to us, the company’s [and indeed the industry’s] growth cannot or should not come at the cost of viability and profitability, and even in the reduced circumstances of the past years, the company has done well for itself.

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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