Noel D’Cunha (NMD): In the initial days of the pandemic, unprecedented had become commonplace, and many industries made a massive pivot in a bid to respond to the escalating situation. What did you do?
Ayush Khetan (AK): We did what we are doing now in view of the massive surge of Covid cases in the second wave since April 2021. The non-essential product brands and companies, apart from eCommerce and packaged foods, started to see a sudden drop in their demand and also with cases rising, some plants started to shut down due to manpower issue. There was a sudden shortage of beds across India. We started the production of our CorruBeds back again as we did during the first lockdown last year.
But this time, the crisis is huge and the daily cases are sharply rising. And our CorruBeds was a frugal solution for the situation, so we made more than 3,000 beds in the last 10 days of April.
NMD: A whiff of hope in the cruel times...
AK: Yes, it came in the form of demand for beds for hospitals looking after the Covid-19 patients. While metal beds would take longer to fabricate, a corrugated bed could be quickly produced. It can be set up without much fuss as it does not require screws to assemble. It is cost-effective and strong, and can be dismantled and disposed of as quickly as it can be assembled.
NMD: Did you produce anything similar before?
AK: While in the past, we had developed some non-packaging related products using the technology at our disposal, the development of CorruBeds has been the most exciting for us.
NMD: Was CorruBeds your classic example of Covid-crisis innovation?
AK: We designed a disposable corrugated bed made from high strength corrugated cardboard with a special coating to make it water-resistant. We had actually tried our hand earlier by making few products through the corrugated board (bed/temple/ table) for internal use, but the pandemic actually was the right time for such a product because of its rapid scalability in production.
NMD: How many?
AK: CorruCase produced around 1,500 beds per day, shipping 500 flat-packed beds in a 32-ft sized container.
NMD: The second wave of Covid-19 is hitting us even harder...
AK: During the last few days (the second wave of Covid-19), we have shipped around 2,000 beds and with bed crisis in our country and now the virus reaching villages, CorruBeds is a great solution and is the need of the hour. Last year we donated a few hundred beds and also supplied to some government hospitals and other organisations at cost value.
NMD: When the lockdown came, the earth shifted for many in the print industry. How was it for you?
AK: The pandemic’s initial months were very bad, as we mostly catered to non-essential category products, which used our offset printed boxes.
NMD: How bad?
AK: At CorruCase, we saw 40-50% drop in April-June 2020, as we majorly catered to non-essential categories. It started stabilising in the subsequent months, but is still 30% down compared to the pre-Covid levels. For the past two months with stricter norms and restrictions in place, the drop in the volumes is back to Covid-19 times.
NMD: CorruCase is managed by a gen-next like you with a plant in Hyderabad. What are the other things about your company?
AK: We are a Mumbai-headquartered company with our plant in Hyderabad (both fully automatic 5-ply corrugated plant and 3-ply and 5-ply litho-laminated boxes) and we have our press in Navi Mumbai where we have the Roland Ultra presses, converting and finishing equipment. We are into offset printed box (mono cartons but fluted) as well.
NMD: Why did you go to Hyderabad?
AK: Going back, we started off in Hyderabad in 2009 under the name Khetan Containers. Now, to why Hyderabad... one of our clients was looking for a partner who could provide them with good quality boxes and most importantly service. It had to be close to their plant in Hyderabad.
NMD: Did the formation of Telangana help?
AK: The formation of the new state – Telangana – set off growth at an unprecedented pace, with many companies setting up their new facilities.
The state government of Telangana is very cooperative and supportive. It is now South India’s gateway and its geographical location is an added advantage. In 2016, we set up a fully automatic 5-ply plant, which became operational in 2017.
NMD: Apart from corrugation boxes and mono cartons, what all is CorruCase into?
AK: We also print banners (LD foam) for few clients on the offset press.
NMD: What all do you do in terms of application?
AK: In mono cartons, we cater to bigger boxes or outer cartons used for shelf displays or for categories such as electronics and tiles, where the packaging appeal of secondary packaging’s printing also plays a role in its marketing. We don’t cater much to primary packaging. We have option for finishing such as aqua varnish, UV and lamination.
NMD: You have a raft of equipment both in the post-print flexo, offset, corrugation line as well as converting. Before you ink an equipment buying contract, what helps you make up your mind?
AK: The most important aspect for us is the after-sales service and the vendor’s engineering team’s strength and capability to timely resolve issues. Obviously, the capability and the technology of the equipment also affects the buying decisions, but we don’t just go for the brand or the number of features. We focus more on the reliability aspect and longevity of the equipment as well.
NMD: Producing corrugated boxes is about printing on different substrates. What varieties of substrate do customers demand?
AK: We print different substrates such as coated duplex (offset), uncoated duplex (flexo), white kraft liner (WKL), and white top testliner (WKTL). Customers who are focused on shelf display choose a coated duplex with offset prints and probably with some varnish coat or lamination, but majorly in the edible oil or dairy products, the demand for WKL is more because of the required CS parameters and volumes (cost sensitivity comes into play, so lightweight comes in).
NMD: What level of automation do you deploy at your plants?
AK: In terms of equipment automation, we always look forward to it. We are a team of young motivated individuals trying to disrupt with innovation in our conventional industry of corrugated packaging. This may be through the use of ERP (Finsys) for our day-to-day entries through a handled device (such as a tablet/mobile), incorporation of barcodes for tagging and tracking, use of solar (80% of power requirement) and other greener sources of energy (brickets for heating and LED lights ).
We are now focused on shifting towards flexo (high-graphic flexo) post-print and exploring options for investing in a high-end machine, as the trend and demand of client and shorter job runs makes it a better option.
NMD: What’s special in your pre-press?
AK: We have a Basysprint platesetter and a Bora heavy-duty processor from UK. We think these are top-notch kit, which can fire 2,400dpi thermal dots.
NMD: What about your press and post-press?
AK: The facility in Navi Mumbai is equipped with three four-colour Roland offset machines, one 40x56-inch size press and two 44x64-inch presses. These extensive ranges of machines give us the versatility to serve all our customers’ needs – a press for every purpose.
We also offer a range of post-press services to enhance the value of the printed material right from varnishing, lamination and eyeleting, enabling us to meet the print finishing needs of our diverse customer base.
NMD: Do you liaise with your clients?
AK: To make our customers’ final product more effective, our executives advice clients on the quality of paper (substrate) to be used and the kind of printing to be undertaken. In short, they guide you through the entire process.
NMD: How do you handle different MOQs - small, medium and big? Have you invested in digital print? Are you thinking in that direction?
AK: Yes, there has been considerable shorter run demands from the clients and number of items/SKU per brand or client is also increasing. Currently, in offset printing, we try to go for a minimum job of 5,000 sheets, but as the runs are getting shorter, we are trying to explore shifting of jobs to post-press flexo, which we are planning to invest in soon.
NMD: What’s he break-up of your production?
AK: We are into shipper or CFC or secondary packaging – corrugated flute cartons. 80% is flexo (post-print flexo) and around 20% is pre-printed offset litho laminated boxes. In the offset printed box, there is around 30% with UV varnish or special effect and around 5% with lamination.
NMD: The biggest challenge during the pandemic months was the people, as many were exiting the cities. How did CorruCase cope?
AK: Lockdown created a lot of panic. No one had seen such a thing before. Many migrants lost their livelihood and started to leave because they had no option. This mass exodus, however, created fear, anxiety and panic among the workforce of the corrugated industry as well, which was allowed to function.
NMD: Did your workers exit, too?
AK: No. Fortunately, our team showed courage and resilience and didn’t panic. A few did leave, I would say around 5% of our total workforce of 60, which includes contract employees. But others were committed to our company and so were we.
NMD: What measures did you take?
AK: On our part, we took complete care of their safety and until complete unlock happened and few more months after that – for around six months – we provided them on-site accommodation, meals and toiletries. Basically, all the things required for daily necessity were provided and also sanitisation was maintained.
NMD: So much was happening with the paper prices...
AK: Yes, both the duplex paper and kraft paper prices had gone up exorbitantly by 40%-50% in duplex and almost more than 70% rise in kraft.
NMD: You are in the business of manufacturing and supplying packaging (corrugated boxes), which is not a product business, but a service providing business...
AK: Packaging is a commodity now and we have always differentiated ourselves through our service. During the initial days of lockdown or the first wave, we kept our operations open and even during the price rise phase from December 2020 till March 2021, we supported all our clients. With a few new clients with amicable pricing, we helped our clients sustain their operations.
Our clients were kept in the loop with proper data sharing from our end, which eventually helped in sharing the load. But yes, it has impacted the bottom line. I guess it’s the case across the packaging industry, as the majority of the units being MSMEs, the price rise has impacted the working capital limits adversely and also the bottom line.
As far as we are concerned, we have a very strong and old relation with our clients and our clients were well aware.
NMD: How do you handle waste in the world of sustainability?
AK: We try to follow what we call as SPP (sustainable production practices), such as treating washed ink water and waste ink water and recycling the same for our on-site gardening, or use of agro waste brickets for our heating, and using 80% solar power to meet power requirements of our Hyderabad factory.
NMD: Can you share a few initiatives you have taken in the past 10 years to serve your customer better?
AK: We have been providing our clients with just-in-time service for up to a 1,000 km radius from our manufacturing facility. We have our own transport/logistics to give round-the-clock support to our clients. With business model engineering, we are trying to sustain the logistics cost and provide our clients with the most economical packaging solutions by keeping logistics costs to a minimum.
We are not only a converter, but also function as a partner for the supply chain for our clients, be it through logistics support or going ahead and helping them optimise the carton design structure through light-weighting and thus help them save cost while sustaining the required strength parameters for the packaging.
NMD: And finally – Awards?
AK: Well, we have been recently nominated to the World Corrugated Awards 2021 in two categories. The first being the Environmentally-friendly category for our sustainable production practices and for the Humanitarian Company category for developing and providing CorruBeds at the time of need during this pandemic.
NMD: Wishing you the best.
Ayush Khetan - At a glance
How did you unwind during the pandemic?
The pandemic gave us more time to be at home. So I did get time to catch up on some series online or go cycling.
One phrase you heard during the pandemic months.
Let’s have zoom call, doh gajj ki duri, mask hai zaroori, no scrap collection, and OCC prices increased again.
Which film or web series did you watch?
There are quite a lot across the platforms – The Shark Tank, The Founder, Upstarts, Suits, Tandav, Scam 1992, the list goes on.
Once the pandemic is over, where will you vacation to?
Pizza or Indian street food.
Your adda in your city?
During the last pandemic year it was my home.
One historical thing about the city you live in no one knows.
It’s the place where the first passenger train ran in India started from Thane to Mumbai (Bombay, Boribunder).
One print job you love.
Actually it’s not a print job as such, but our innovative disposable bed – CorruBeds.