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Packaging in India: "It's more than packs. It's package engineering."

In India, the retail boom has just started and is catching on rapidly across the east, west, south, and north zones. At the beginning of this decade, organised retailing accounted for a mere $US 2.9 billion, just 1.25% of the estimated total retail market. By 2010, it is estimated to be a $US 33-billion industry. The retail sector in India is expected to grow by 20% each year in the next 10 years.

Pw 9428 Ravishankar

The growth represents opportunity for converting many commodities into branded and packaged products in the retail market. It's more than just packs. It's package engineering. Nor is it without its share of challenges, including these:

 Brand owners are not clear on packaging's role in creating and protecting brands

Brand managers own new brands and products, and they play a key role in preparing the brand proposition in the market space.

While packaging professionals and engineers should be regarded as pack experts by brand managers, the brand owner isn't always comfortable seeing them in that role. Packaging professionals and engineers must own the pack performance in the market. They should be consulted for local and global pack trends, packaging material input, and guidance on regulations. A small non-compliance may lead to big business impact on brand equity in the consumer's mind.

Packaging professionals should also expand their notions of what their job entails. They must think in line with market researchers and conduct the kind of research that will lead to packages that are easy to handle, dispense, reclose, and reuse. Brand mangers may not be in a position to understand all pack terms, and packaging professionals have to share the salient features for marketing communication.

 Inadequate amalgamation into the cross-functional team

It's often noticed that brand, R&D, and operations members lead projects to launch stage, and packaging is consulted in the end just for packing. In such cases, the R&D team might have optimum time for establishing product properties, but pack evaluation may not been addressed. This may delay a launch. It is vital that the cross-functional team involves the packaging engineers in the beginning along with the product team. That way, the characteristics and requirements of both product and package can be addressed simultaneously rather than sequentially.

In many cases, manufacturing team members prefer not to change machine parts as per new pack designs. We have found high resistance in most cases. Manufacturing prefers to run the production with existing pack, machine, and setup. Packaging professionals have to convince the manufacturing team with facts and figures of the new pack benefits to the organization.

 Packaging is not a budget priority

Most multi-nationals and Indian companies allocate budget for product R&D. However, in many cases, they do not allocate budget for pack R&D. Mostly, packaging engineers explore the development work and manage prototypes with help from vendors. This limits true innovation in packaging.

 Inadequate package testing

In India, many companies operate with limited packaging test equipments. In such cases, packaging engineers need to identify reliable and dependable external laboratory facilities. Calibration of testing equipment is a vital aspect and needs to be addressed. Packaging development and speed to market can be improved with adequate test equipment.

 Poor transportation infrastructure

Roads and transportation plays a major role in pack performance. Indian roads have started moving into global standards and small trucks have been replaced by containers. However, apart from the national highways, rural roads are still under local standards. The resulting damage to packs leads to excessive packaging construction. This also indirectly increases packaging material costs.

 Counterfeit products

Spurious product is the biggest concern for the Indian and global market. Packaging engineers in India strive to deliver the best possible solution to protect the packs and top brands. However, the market still continues with counterfeit products in certain pockets.

Solutions to these challenges can be aided with information from the United States and packagers worldwide. Anti-counterfeit measures, waste management systems, and degradable plastics from the U.S. can all play roles in projects now being worked on by Indian packaging engineers.


Editor's Note: The packaging profession is global, and insights from around the world lift all boats. This perspective from an IoPP member in India shows just how common our challenges are.

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