What’s in store for Indian packaging in 2022

The year of living dangerously

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Development workers in the frontline combating Covid-19 under the LIUPC project of UNDP Bangladesh. Photo: UN Women/Fahad Abdullah Kaizer
Development workers in the frontline combating Covid-19 under the LIUPC project of UNDP Bangladesh. Photo: UN Women/Fahad Abdullah Kaizer

It is quite easy to forget, but it has been a brutal year for the human side of the industry. We lost several of our brightest and best to the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in April and May. It is too easy to forget that some organizations, especially those that are family-owned and run will have to live with this emotional loss that came at a critical time in their expansive growth. And that the young and educated talent that brings new ideas and love for the industry and a passion to risk and build new projects is not only hard to find but irreplaceable. For those of us who have not suffered as greatly and personally, it is never too late to count our blessings.

It is a time to thank those who have stood by us and helped and supported us in whatever small successes that may have come this year. Much of the brutality of the year has been borne by our colleagues who don’t live as luxuriously as us, who have children in school and college that have suffered in their growth, and whose job functions make it hard to work from home. They have had to use public transport and keep themselves well and safe for their family’s very survival.

What are the prospects for the Indian packaging industry in the coming year? The consensus is that it has been one of the fortunate industries during the past 21 months of the pandemic. It has suffered least from ambiguity as a great part of it has been able to pass itself off as essential services – particularly to the food and pharma supply chain. 

Our industry went into the pandemic with immense growth and investment plans and these are back on track. Look for the continued expansion of the Indian packaging industry to grow in double digits for the next three years as the economy recovers beyond consumption and the government gets its act together with investments in infrastructure, education, and health.

Do not expect help from the Indian banks which are in total disarray – unable to lend to small and medium businesses that make up a substantial part of the packaging industry. This will mean further inroads by private equity and foreign investment in our industry. At the top of the pyramid, it will mean consolidation, acquisitions, and mergers but for the small and medium businesses, it will mean continued hyper-competition and lack of capital at a reasonable cost for expansion and even survival. 

It is ironic that while this government places so much emphasis on manufacturing in India and has now started giving handouts to attract investments for the manufacture of medical devices, textiles, electronics, and chip fabs, it cannot control or liberate its banking system from rent-seeking and corruption. 

Local purchasers of Indian manufactured world-class packaging presses and machinery cannot get a decent corruption-free loan to buy this equipment. It is far easier to import globally manufactured equipment that comes with a loan based on a balance sheet, and a reasonably honest project report, and deferred payments for the first 30 months.

Lastly do not expect this government to take rational steps on the management of packaging waste or the collection, sorting, and recycling of plastic and plastic packaging. If it acts at all, this year it will be some drastic and draconian measure in the middle of the night that will throw the industry into disarray. 

Nevertheless do expect the Indian consumer to stand up and sort waste at the source and to demand responsible packaging. Already we see major brand owners shifting high volume food, household, and personal care products to single polymer laminates and safer production processes. We also see the improvements in paper packaging that with appropriate innovations are ready to replace plastic packaging for many critical applications. 

The global commitments for circular packaging by governments, brand owners, and packaging suppliers have targeted 2025 as the deadline year for significant change. We begin the new year a bit closer to the need and opportunity of aligning ourselves with this  – one of the more useful and scientific ambitions of the global industry.

Note –  this article is from the Packaging South Asia January 2022 issue.

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