Paper price hike, impacts print industry psyche

The print industry is bracing itself for another wave of paper price rises. There are two reasons for this. Paper mill manufacturers have said that in 2019-20, the price is expected to soar as raw material cost is likely to continue its rising trend.

And then, there is the news that India may impose anti-dumping duty (ADD) on uncoated paper from Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore for three years to protect the interest of domestic companies against cheap shipments.

10 Nov 2018 | By Ramu Ramanathan

The background to the ADD battle is the Directorate General of Anti-dumping & Allied Duties (DGAD) which has initiated two investigations. One: imports of uncoated copier paper from Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore in November 2017. Two: imports of coated paper from China, European Union and United States of America in January 2018. In both cases, prima facie evidence of dumping was found to initiate the investigation by DGAD.

Paper imports during the six-year period from 2011 have witnessed an increase of 18% CAGR. After a good FY18, paper companies have again raised prices by 2-3 per cent in the current financial year due to increase in raw material costs. A paper trader who spoke to me during the all India paper trader meet in Kolkata, said global players have taken a price hike of 6-8 per cent. In addition, the rupee has also depreciated during the same period. This gives Indian companies room to hike prices.

Paper prices are expected to head northward as raw material cost is likely to continue its rising trend. Manufacturers have asked their customer to buckle their seatbelts for a turbulent ride in 2019-20. The rationale is as follows. Starting fiscal 2014, prices remained almost stagnant on an annual average basis, according to CARE Ratings data. This is due to high imports, stabilisation in wood prices and lower power and fuel cost. However, beginning March, the companies have increased prices as they are not able to withstand the raw material rates.

Paper traders have had little choice but to react and pass the costs down the line to increasingly traumatised printers. During my travels across India, almost all firms say paper and board pricing is a major business concern. While some printers are passing the extra costs down to their own clients, others have absorbed at least some of them to avoid potentially losing a job to a competitor who is willing to take the hit to secure the work.

Europe is seeing some novel methods to salvage the situation. In a bid to try and mitigate the effect of price increases, paper merchants in the UK and Germany are working alongside their customers to help them to maximise their efficiencies and add value in other ways. Denmaur Paper Media offers a Paper Health Check analysis, which looks at whether its customers are buying the best paper for their jobs, and whether there are opportunities to reduce costs by switching to alternative paper grades.

In India, printers and converters are opting to reduce paperweights or go onto a completely different paper type that will save money yet retain some semblance of what they currently produce. A book publisher in Delhi told me, “We’ve started to stock variations to the traditional SRA1, B1 and B2, where you can instantly start saving 4%-6%. Also, we hold lighter paperweights with a mechanical pulp furnish for commercial printing on 70 and 80gsm gloss or silk.” Plus the publisher is working with his book partner to choose the most effective size.

While paper prices look unlikely to stop rising any time soon, working more closely with suppliers can help to uncover other ways to cut costs. During the PrintWeek India Awards Jury Day, the jury members shared with us how large corporations like Tetrapak are looking for ways to minimise plastic packaging with paper straws and cups. Packaging suppliers are investing in research to develop coatings that make paper as convenient and practical as plastic, but also biodegradable and recyclable. From gift cards to smartphone packaging, firms are evaluating and often redesigning their process to incorporate sustainable materials.

During the FachPack show, held in Nuremburg, Germany at the end of September, there were companies which offered new uncoated grass paper for sustainable packaging. It offered a natural look with fine grass flecks on a greenish-beige base. Virgin fibres of sun-dried grass were used for 20%-40% of the make-up of the product, with the remainder consisting of bleached fresh fibre pulp.

While it is easy to be overwhelmed by the doom and gloom, the Two Sides results show more and more people on this planet prefer reading on paper rather than on an electronic device.

The point is, Indian companies are showing concrete and growing interest in the environmental sustainability of the packaging solutions we offer, including recyclability, light-weighting and renewable materials. It is a significant shift in the Indian market. In addition to adapting product and packaging strategies for environmental sustainability, there is a peak in interest in packaging solutions for e-commerce and as well as premium quality printing papers.

The top trends we picked up during the PrintWeek India Jury Day were:

  • E-commerce market growth requires packaging that is durable and convenient
  • Durability to protect the goods throughout long-distance transport, and attractive visual branding on or inside the packaging are other relevant aspects
  • Sustainability factors also matter, as brands look to prove eco-credibility with right-sized, lighter and recyclable packaging

Some of these things will be discussed on 29 November (Thursday) during the WhatPackaging? Masterclass at the St Regis, Lower Parel.

The WhatPackaging? Masterclass is a knowledge forum that will have brands discuss packaging’s role in the marketing of products on the retail shelf as well as eCommerce. The WhatPackaging? team helmed by Rushikesh Aravkar has identified two objectives: to enlarge packaging’s role in brand’s marketing strategy and to create an ecosystem that fosters new packaging ideas.

Sadashiv Nayak, CEO at Big Bazaar will deliver the keynote at the knowledge forum followed by a presentation by Alpana Parida, DY Works and a talk on eCommerce and Packaging by a food major. The 200-minute session will also host two-panel discussions. The first one, the Share A Coke campaign. The panellists including representatives from all the stakeholders of the campaign – Coca-Cola, McCann, Huhtamaki PPL, and HP – who will discuss how the packaging was an enabler for this marketing campaign, the logistical challenges and untapped opportunities concerned with the campaign.

The second-panel discussion will look at The Carton Opportunity. India’s top carton makers will discuss how folding cartons can be used to enhance the value of a brand on the shelf. The panellists include representatives from Manohar Packaging, Pragati Pack, Printmann Group and TCPL.  This panel will be moderated by SN Venkataraman, divisional head - marketing at ITC Paperboard and Speciality Papers Division.

The most important thing in such tough times is, to talk. Also, listen, and understand the range of goods and services, and explore the opportunities. It is the only way for our industry.