AIFMP president sees a decade of bright prospects for the Indian print industry - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

Ravindra Joshi, president, All India Master Printers’ Association, sees an upside potential. “India’s steadfast domestic demand and rapid infrastructure development are insulating its economy from recessionary pressures. Indian consumers are also likely to have more disposable income. Consequently, overall consumption in the country could double from USD 2-trillion in 2022 to USD 4.9-trillion by the end of the decade,” says Joshi in this interaction with Noel D’Cunha. “This, in turn, will lead to more print-packaging business.”

12 Mar 2023 | By Noel D'Cunha

Noel D’Cunha (NMD): The events industry is bouncing back as the desire to gather, network, and trade re-emerges strongly in a post-pandemic world. What are your expectations from Pamex 2023?
Ravindra Joshi (RJ):
Yes, you are right. The event industry is bouncing back. Print service providers’ and manufacturers’ desire to network is increasing. For us,  Pamex will be no exception. All three hall spaces have already been booked with overwhelming response while recording 25% plus space booking compared to the last edition. We are getting more requests to accommodate the exhibitors and are trying to do so even though the space booked by overseas customers, especially from China, is relatively on the lower side.

NMD: What long-term changes do you anticipate the industry will experience as a result of Covid-19 pandemic?
We anticipate the convergence in print technologies while focusing on reducing production costs and quicker turnaround of jobs with many innovative ideas.

NMD: All India Master Printers’ Association (AIFMP)’s idea of hosting roadshows to popularise Pamex 2023 while imparting knowledge through its conference has been appreciated. You have been interacting with the print CEOs.  What have been the talking points during these events?
AIFMP has floated the idea of establishing a core group committee to seek ideas and help on how to promote the theme. Various ideas were floated, out of which one was to have roadshows explaining the theme – Convergence in Print – through panel discussions while putting forward live examples in the form of the industry stalwarts from different industry verticals, including labels, flexible packaging, digital, corrugated, mono cartons, and commercial printers, explaining how they went about achieving the same followed by a Q&A session and technology presentations.

Tushar Dhote, co-chairman of Pamex 2023, our regional teams, local association members and team, along with Nitin Wani, print consultant, have put in extraordinary efforts to deliver overwhelming success. We were also fortunate to have support from different industry verticals who have agreed to invest out their valuable time while freely discussing the pros and cons and, most importantly, how they succeeded in their convergence journey.

NMD: In that sense, how would you describe India’s current print and packaging landscape?
Through the panel discussions, it was established that during the Covid-19 pandemic, commercial printing jobs were on a decline. At the same time, the commercial printing segment’s share went to digital marketing and digital documents. However, post-Covid-19 era, some of the jobs are coming back, and it has slowly started to pick up, although not wholly, aligning with the pre Covid-19 era. The packaging vertical is at an all-time high, and most commercial printing establishments were forced to consider diverting to the packaging vertical.

As a result, commercial print houses with a strong foundation moved into the packaging segment by investing heavily in new plants and machinery. The demand for different packaging materials is increasing daily with new product launches and brand offerings. Over the last 18 months, the entire packaging sector saw two-third of capital flowing into the flexible packaging sector.

NMD: Is the Indian print and packaging industry still sailing in the same unsteady waters?
: PrintWeek, the leading print industry magazine in India, has been publishing growth stories relevant to the Indian print and packaging industries. The opinion of experts, despite global disruptions, the Russian invasion of Ukraine leading to supply chain disruptions and slowing economic growth rate, commodity prices peaking to new highs due to surging inflations and geopolitical tensions, India’s steadfast domestic demand and rapid infrastructure development are insulating its economy from recessionary pressures. Going forward, Indian consumers are likely to have more disposable income.

Consequently, overall consumption in the country could more than double from USD 2-trillion in 2022 to USD 4.9-trillion by the end of the decade, leading to becoming the world’s third-largest economy by 2027. The most significant gainers in this growth story in the domestic market will be in segments of non-grocery retail, including apparel and accessories, leisure and recreation, and household goods and services, among other categories. Therefore, in the coming years, India will offer Asia’s most compelling growth opportunities and become increasingly relevant for global investors.  

NMD: As an apex body, how will AIFMP address the different needs of its members, as well as educational institutions and technology service providers, among others?
AIFMP has initiated the process of establishing a multi-storied AIFMP Bhavan. The plan is to establish a world-class office and infrastructure of the apex body of printers association in India along with a state-of-the-art centre of excellence  with multiple aims broadly encompassing the different needs of print suppliers based on their size and business, educational institutes and even the technology providers and service providers.

Also, we have noticed a reduction in the intake of students for print-related courses everywhere. It’s not only limited to India but internationally . As an apex body of the print community, we need to address the problem by making focused and dedicated efforts to spread the information about such courses along with the publishing of the best career options available locally and globally at regular intervals for generating interest as the face of the print is changing and involving multiple domain expertise. I believe even the educational eligibility criteria for short-term courses like printing, binding, plate making and allied speciality areas such as digital printing and post-press for packaging should be redesigned and reintroduced.

It also calls for increased efforts for interaction between industry and educational institutes. During my visit to the UK, I had a discussion with Charles Jarrold, CEO of British Printing Industries Federation (BPIF), UK, regarding this. Jarrold expressed his concern and was ready to launch publicity campaign to attract talent.

NMD: How have your relationships with exhibitors and their expectations from you as a trade show organiser changed since the past edition?
We welcome all the exhibitors to our premium exhibition, Pamex 2023. Different exhibitors have different expectations. We try to accommodate the requests received from the exhibitors. However, it is not possible to accommodate every request due to the challenges and limitations of the trade show organiser, which you know well.

NMD: Manufacturers continue to improve product lines and services. Can you share some work you have seen in the factories across India (and perhaps the globe) despite the numerous economic, political, and supply chain challenges that have dominated 2022?
Post-Covid-19, the print and packaging industry has changed a lot. There are many ups and downs, while sustenance plays a bigger role while staying invested in the business. As mentioned, commercial print houses with a strong foundation were forced to move into the packaging segment. Over the last 18 months, the entire packaging sector saw two-thirds of capital flowing into the flexible packaging sector.

The Make in India drive, regional players and, most importantly, online sales of products are demanding better and more attractive packaging for their products, creating an overall increase in demand for packaging.

It has resulted in huge demand for packaging paper, and it is worth seeing that paper mills like TNPL, JK, Sirpur, ITC, and other B, C grade paper mills have planned huge manufacturing capacity. The paper industry in India needs investments of Rs 90,000-crore to meet the mono-carton packaging demand.

Since 2019, private equity (PE) players have been more active than having a strategic presence in fuelling growth capital to the packaging firms. PE players have invested Rs 183-billion in the sector, representing 85% of the total capital invested in the

Indian packaging sector.
Overall, the print and packaging industry is progressing well. The sale of branded finishing equipment is reaching a new high. At the same time, established print business houses focus on having a diversified product portfolio. In short – Convergence in Print – is an offering to their end customers. Conversely, with exchange rates at their peak and today’s fluctuations in raw materials, especially paper pricing, managing end customers’ expectations and inventories takes a lot of work.

NMD: Everyone talks about data. Anything Pamex is doing with data? Everybody benefits when data is easy to access and up-to-date.
Yes, we do have the up-to-date and basic data of the exhibition visitors and those who attend the road shows and similar events conducted by AIFMP, besides our affiliate printing associations from various cities and regions. Primarily, this data is currently being used for increasing the footfall, for the benefit of exhibitors, for the premium exhibition, Pamex which is organised by AIFMP every two years in Mumbai.

NMD: Anything that Pamex is doing about sustainability and the circular economy? In a way, how do you get the print industry to see the value of sustainability efforts, as opposed to profit and growth-based endeavours?
Sustainability, circular economy, carbon emission/footprint, and environmental protection are the buzzwords of today’s corporate world. They are driving initiatives to protect mother earth and make this world better. To the best of my understanding, as per the IT decision-makers policy, print suppliers must also extend their support to help print buyers reduce their environmental impact in the future.

In continuing our efforts, at Pamex, we are putting in our efforts to involve the firms offering support in auditing and certifying the print companies in these areas. It will help increase awareness and assist print buyers in developing and implementing eco-print policies to help them fulfil the demand for sustainability and circular norms. These certifying companies will also help build the data and records essential to demonstrate improvement over time. They will also help print suppliers show they are moving towards sustainability and a circular economy with active participation. As a print supplier, some of the members of AIFMP have been roped into the circular economy system by implementing the Extended Producers Responsibility (EPR) policy.

NMD: Your announcement about the research and training centre is very exciting. Can you share more details?
We, as a team, are working on the same. It is not crystallised so far. Allow us some more time to share the details.

NMD: Coming back to Ravindra Joshi, the print CEO, how have the past three years been, with all the disruptions that followed the spread of Covid-19?
As an individual and a print CEO of my company, being the commercial printer, the past three years have been the most challenging years of my tenure and have tested my patience, decision-making, and ability to think out-of-box while aligning with the current businesses and most importantly supporting my staff in this challenging times.

Today, we are very proud to share that we have survived these testing times and could balance out our business while diversifying into different business verticals.

Thanks to the support of friends and well-wishers.

Ravindra Joshi: On, Pune being Pune, the Puneri warrior pride, how being a Punekar, has influenced his leadership at AIFMP?
Yes, the Puneri you are addressing, has impacted my journey in the print industry.

In 1919, Puneri printers formed The Poona Press Owners Association (PPOA), the oldest in the industry, with a vision to support the printer community to resolve paper scarcity and non-availability after World War II. The Puneri printers were visionaries to have their own office for the association. By going door-to-door, they funded the construction of the vastu (the building) and laid the foundation for the next generations. The Pune printers anticipated the need for skilled-based training and initiated the movement to printer brothers.

Then PPOA established the school for skill development in composing, proofreading, treadle machine operating, and binding and subsequently built a separate building for spreading the activities. These two buildings of PPOA inspired me to dream of a project like AIFMP Bhavan for the apex body. Being the hardcore Puneri, I am putting my sincere efforts into buying the land and conceptualising the construction of AIFMP Bhavan with the support of all in the federation. The PPOA has opened a printing, binding material, and paper store. Taking this Puneri attitude forward, PPOA has initiated, for the very first time in India, the bulk buying and distribution system at a big discount for the print community in Pune for the past 12 years and is a huge success.

Other associations are trying to replicate the model while seeking our support. Also, the PPOA was one of the founder members of AIFMP and helped form this apex body for printers.

Pune’s Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak imported a printing machine for publishing newspapers. When nobody was available to install the printing press, he did it himself and printed the newspaper. Mudran maharshi Dr PB Kulkarni (well-known as Pa Bha), past president of AIFMP was also a visionary to start a printing engineering college, the second in India, while running Pune Vidyartthi Griha, schools and hostel successfully for orphan students. Dr Pa Bha lost his parents when he was four years old, but his passion, dedication and honesty made him contribute to a solid foundation for education in printing in India. Today, many of his students at the printing college are in leading positions in the printing industry globally.

The list of Puneri mantras is infinite.

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