Packaging: Education has a roadmap

The packaging industry with a CAG at 12 per cent on a normal existing path should aim to produce over 30 million tonnes of packaging by 2020, informs PV Narayanan, Chairman, SIES School of Packaging & Packaging Technology Center

The growth, expansion and diversification witnessed in the packaging and the influencing sectors over the last five decades has compelled the industry today to review and revamp their strategies. It is no more domestic. The opportunities supported by the technology capabilities and infrastructural facilities set up have made the packaging industry outlook to be global and address principally through customer-oriented large multi-national customers combining similar business views. The reach is aimed at new markets, state-of-the-art packaging, accessibility and optimisation at manufacturing with logistics becoming focal. The managerial acumen achieved has provided the leadership quality enabling economies of scale in production adopting best practices; grow under one roof and brand, aiming to be the category champion. Specialisation is the key for development- it drives innovation, closer customer relationship and be a total and optimum packaging solution provider.

The packaging industry with a CAG at 12 per cent on a normal existing path should aim to produce over 30 million tonnes of packaging by 2020 but probably could be more if the growth estimate of the retail sector is any indication. This is in no way an exaggeration if one goes by the organised shopping malls being set up every other day and at every other location. In simple mathematical terms, the industry – sources of supply of converted packages is set to double if not more.

Interestingly, it is not the number, but more related to new concepts, newer materials, suit the changing taste of the ever dynamic market display and the product – package recipients. The industrialisation set can only grow and very unlikely witness any deceleration. The demand on the industry will be to graduate and post graduate and specialise in niche areas. With the per capita consumption valued at only $10 as against the global average of $70, the demand augmentation are clear indications of “what the packaging industry is heading for”. In crude terms, the market is staring at the industry and the consumers are throwing a “eager look” and ask “can you let us down??” put together that is the “oppportunity”.

Economic environment showing a sustained growth, demographic and skillbase showing a positive trend aided by liberalisation and deregulation are pointers to a conducive development of business environment. It is not ”how you grow” but “how much will you grow”. The country also has a positive advantage of the cross section of the demographic population with 50 per cent below the age of 20 years and 64 per cent below the age group of 34 years. In essence, the market movers and the market takers are a high percentage majority and they will set the trend of “packaging”. The country is also moving to attain the enviable position of the second strongest economy overtaking the US. The per capita income is set to quadruple by the year 2020 thereby swelling the pocket of the consumers with higher personal disposable income thereby higher purchasing capacity. It seems all dices have fallen in the right pockets and hence what is required by the packaging industry is to deliver. They have to make the package to deliver – all needed in the total supply chain.

The packaging industry strategy today is global with leadership and specialisation, all aimed at increased value; better market place with “profit” through performance. The packaging industry has a task to satisfy 350 million understanding buyers today to 700 million buyers in the near future and the story will continue.

Even on an average consumption, the growth potential in India is a minimum of 700 per cent – seven times, which is a clear indication of future demands and potential for the packaging industry. Demands will be dynamics – concepts need to be alive and moving. The requirements will be: “technology”, “process” and “human resource”. New products, brands, choices and convenience features will be the driving forces. Marketers, development and design personnel need to be on their toe and on constant move. Packaging having become a revolution brings in fundamental changes, massive expansion, leading to exponential development.

The era demand mover is the retail Sector. India retails are the eighth largest in the world, valued at nearly Rs 80,000/- crores. The current nine per cent organised retail will soon touch over 20 per cent. This shift will add to the challenges to the raw material suppliers, machinery and technology suppliers, and manufacturers. The watchword will be “industry” converts opportunity into reality through technology adoption and implementation. The growth of the industry is highly market-oriented and hence dynamic and thus poised to be stable with more and more innovations to flow. With the recent trends and emphasis on eco-friendliness, packaging will be the key facilitator in product distribution and marketing with more and more responsibility attached with packaging.

In the foregoing, a singular term is used viz ‘human resource”’ – which is extremely significant. Although quite a few factors are referred as key drivers, the ‘driving key’ etc behind these is essentially the human system. They are to be equipped, trained and exposed adequately and thus the linkage is “packaging education”.

Quality and quantity matter

The subject of packaging education today has assumed a special significance and has opened up opportunities in several areas. The consciousness of the relevance of packaging education has gradually and steadily increased among the consumers, creating a direct impact on the total supply chain. Assurance of quality and quantity is what matters. The linkage of packaging to every other activity and with the growing awareness of consumerism and increasing competitiveness resulting in more and more products – substitutes and alternates (choices), brands have raised the expectation from “packaging” to an enviable level. It has become the centralised integrating stem of an umbrella bringing together many activities in an organisation. It would be more appropriate to sum up the responsibility of packaging as the exclusive source to integrate all disintegrated activities.

The diagnosis would lead to:

  • the industry recognition but ‘positioning of packaging.
  • packaging as part of organisation structure on par with other
  • packaging personnel – career opportunity and growth.

The need is to remove the MYTH and make packaging the frontline subject in industry and academics. Over the years, changes are witnessed. This indeed is a happy augury. Sooner, the enhanced role of packaging in the economic growth of nations the world over will receive greater appreciation. Packaging as an effective aid to reduce the overall waste rather than adding to waste also will be recognised. Scientific packaging and breakthroughs and developments thus offer the best means to safety and economy. In essence, packaging becomes one of the most indispensable elements of a nation’s growth. What is therefore needed is to direct the application and adaptability of packaging towards product processing – production – fabrication, technology and infrastructural developments. These should be adequately percolated to the grass-root levels for adoption.

It is in this context training and education in the field of packaging has become vital in spreading the message of awareness of the need and contribution of package as a value added factor. It is a subject of specialisation. Being industry-oriented, it has enlarged employment potential, scope for entrepreneurship – either for expansion or diversification and equally importantly new entrepreneurship opportunities. These opportunities are available at different levels. A basic in-depth technological exposure with practical – industry orientation is the best means to lay the right foundation to build up the personnel who would satisfy the core needs. The objective is to address constraints of yesterdays, the changed needs of today and the anticipated requirements of the morrow.

The peculiarity and exclusiveness of the subject of packaging and packaging education is that it engulfs in itself — very many sciences, technologies, arts, commerce and is a convergence of engineering, electronics, IT, communications and marketing, besides management. The major connectivity links to materials, supply chain, marketing, production, system, operations and what not!!! It provides ample scope for research infield and off the field. The shift from cost reduction to package optimisation in the industry realisation and packaging adds value and not cost in the consumers mind will become more and significant and underline the need for a qualified and trained packaging personnel in an organisation with key responsibility and identified objectives. A couple of decades back, the number of organisations with a packaging – package development department could be counted and so also their positioning in the organisational set-up. One has clearly witnessed a remarkable shift. Whereas this trend will continue and grow positively, the industry however will look for not just academic based personnel, but young aspirants with reasonable exposure to practical working knowledge. Here comes the need to build adequate workshop orientation and a stronger institution-industry relationship.

The packaging personnel with such an in-depth association to sciences, engineering, arts, commerce and various technologies is a privileged source to give a variety of outputs and hence opportunities with no boundaries. It is this hitherto still unknown fact that has to be publicised to enlarge the scope of packaging education and to attract more and more into the fold of packaging. A wide gap felt the world over need to be bridged quickly and effectively.

Upgrade the skill of existing personnel – at all levels through HRD programmes.Create and develop fresh technocrats at all levels.

It is clear that many parameters influence the subject of packaging and its growth. No isolated activity could be responsible and an integrated and coordinated effort is the need of the industry.