The Mashelkar packaging mantra: The path of affordable excellence - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

Dr RA Mashelkar is a renowned scientist and innovator. He thinks India is on a growth path and that’s some great news for the packaging industry. This Sunday Column finds out the reasons for Dr Mashelkar’s optimism.

12 Jun 2015 | By Noel D'Cunha

Will the Maggi controversy change the way food packaging is produced and processed? Or for that matter, will printing in India move out of the red zone?
“Yes,” says a Nomura report. “It will result in better labelling, packaging and testing norms for the entire sector.”
Tushar Bhotica, managing partner at Shree Arun Packaging, agrees. “On the contrary, I think it opens up the vistas for better quality of packaging, particularly virgin boards,” he says.
According to the Japanese financial services firm, the next logical step for the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) would be to tighten the labelling, packaging and testing norms for the entire sector, which in turn is positive for the consumer. 
Not too long ago, India was looked as a third world country but today, it is being looked at as potentially the third most powerful economy in the world and that’s a big change.
India is on a growth path and that’s great news for the packaging industry as well. The growing economy with growing aspirations and dispensing incomes means growth for packaging industry.
Currently, the Indian packaging industry is valued at around 27-billion USD in comparison to world’s 550-billion USD. It is less than 20%.
Padma Vibhushan Dr RA Mashelkar, a renowned scientist and innovator, addressing a 250-strong audience present to mark the beginning of the golden jubilee celebrations of Indian Institute of Packaging, said, “This is a bad news but in a way a good news. Now, there is only one way forward and that is growth.”
Dr Mashelkar added, “When rest of the packaging industry across the globe will be growing at 5%, we will be growing at 12%.
What’s tuning in?
If we look at the western world, they always looked at quality, and then came in sustainability. But now they are looking at affordability too. That’s the new mantra. 
Dr Mashelkar said, as we speak, the European Union is looking at frugal innovation as strategically important. “Quality, sustainability and affordability are the three pegs on which the rest of the world is going to stand and that is true for the packaging industry.”
In order to reach the kind of scales that we are aiming, “I” in India will have to stand for innovation. It will have to innovate in what it will produce.
“These innovations have to be specific to the Indian context and the major challenge is to derive more for less. We have to be context specific and content has to change as per context,” said Mashelkar. 
The way e-commerce and online shopping is growing, its implication will reflect on the needs of primary and secondary packaging.
Why are we still wasting 40% of the food and food products? It may not be very long before we are able to arrest these wastages.
Dr Mashelkar quoted a company which has created a unique packaging system with strong barrier elements using zeolites. Zeolites absorbs ethylene gas generated by the fresh produce which increases the natural rate of ripening. “This mineral will act as scavenger and inhibit ripening.”
So what you could preserve for 4-5 days can now be preserved for over 30 days.
Dr Mashelkar said, “I remember chairing a committee on spurious drugs, which is a huge menace. We looked at the issue of making the punishments swift, sure and severe. We also looked at how technology can deal with this, and how packaging, in particular can deal with this.”
Down-gauging and down-aging
India is going to have an interesting challenge, a blessing in disguise. One is down-gauging. We went from LDPE (low density polyethylene) to LLDPE (linear low density polyethylene). At the same time down-aging. Today, a 50 year-old has the same aspirations as a 20 year-old. So customer choices and preferences will have to be addressed.
Also in future, packaging will become smart. Packaging in future will be about customer experience.
Earlier, packaging was responsible only for product containment and protection. Later it also started doing the job of communication for customer’s engagement and special experience.
Moving ahead on this track, the package will have to actively engage with the user. It will have to be intelligent, active, and functional. “I think it is important that we ride on this wave while it is still new rather than compete with the crowd at a later stage,” said Mashelkar.
Innovation and performance
Normally, speaking on innovation, we talk only about enhancing the performance. However, as far as India is concerned, price-performance envelope becomes very critical.
“Innovation coupled with affordability will be the key because affordability is directly related to scale,” said Dr Mashelkar, citing an example of what he saw while stepping out of the airport. “I saw two people standing. One was a rich lady and the other, a girl from the slum. There I observed a huge income inequality but, an equality of access. Both of them had a mobile phone. This happened because of a combination of innovation in policy, technology and business model – something that the Indian companies did.”
RFID is still expensive. How do we move from dollars to cents?
We talk about biopolymers. PHBT was developed as one, but is very expensive.
Dr Mashelkar presented these instances in his article, Innovation’s Holy Grail, for Harvard business review.
“The best people in the world to bring affordability are Indians. It is in our genes. Getting more for less is something that we specialise in,” quoted Mashelkar.
The Mantra: Affordable excellence.
When we see something affordable, we tend to think it is not excellent. If it is excellent, it cannot be affordable. “Affordability will bring equity and excellence will give us competitiveness around the world,” said Dr Mashelkar.
“I hope in the next 50 years we will create something that is not just new to India but to the world.  India will be a developed country in the world if we follow the path of affordable excellence,” Dr Mashelkar concluded.