Spotlight on Nimesh Vora as he reboots Srinivas’ strategy

“We can deliver within 24 hours. This includes small, tiny, and medium-sized factories. Some converters buy one tonne from us a month and someone would purchase ten tonnes a day or the bigger converters require 300 tonnes per month. Our USP is that we provide customised sizes, quantities and on-time service due to our sheeting and slitting capabilities at all our locations,” says Nimesh Vora of Srinivas Papers.

10 Jun 2024 | By Ramu Ramanathan

Nimesh Vora, who founded Srinivas Papers as a trading company in 1989

Gmund Paper, a leading European paper manufacturer based in Germany, is expanding into the Indian paper market.

With over 200 years of experience crafting high-quality papers made from 100% plant-based fibres, Gmund is bringing its sustainable and innovative products to India. One of Gmund’s partners in India is Srinivas Papers.

Nimesh Vora who founded Srinivas Papers as a trading company in 1989 is delighted. He says, “Gmund plans to launch several new paper lines uniquely designed for the Indian market in January 2025.” He adds, “Gmund is optimised for a variety of technologies, including offset, digital, and speciality processes. As always, Srinivas will provide full technical support to ensure printers can realise the potential of each paper product.” Vora who is a print technologist from the Government Institute of Printing Technology (GIPT) in Mumbai, knows what he is talking about. 

For 35 years, Nimesh Vora has been an integral part of his family business, a printing company and a fireworks dealership.  There are two things that I have learnt from him. How paper has been civilisation’s constant companion. In the decade since Silicon Valley touted the paperless office as the answer to deforestation, Nimesh Vora was one of the first people to tell me that paper, made for centuries from old clothes, was one of the first industrial products to incorporate recycled materials.

Every time I exchanged notes with Nimesh Vora, one thing was clear. Paper is in robust health. Our discussions are wide-ranging. Be it price fluctuations, market penetration strategies with smaller distributors in remote parts of India, and customer engagement. Vora loves meeting customers and averages one customer per day. He says, “Hats off to the printers and converters for ideation and innovations. They also need to have thorough knowledge about accounts, chemistry, physics and customer mindset.”

Where and how will the industry gain ground?
We met on a simmering summer day in the Vile Parle (Mumbai) office of Srinivas Papers Group, Vora said, “There is an overall growth of 8% in volume despite challenges.” In terms of growth and opportunities, he identified food packaging as a major growth area for 2024-2025. He says, “Wrapping, carrying and packing of food is a growth area for our industry.” He sees a boom in four-corner six-corner lid and eight-corner packaging boxes which are ideal for displaying the food products and ensuring brand visibility. Then there are clamshell boxes for on-the-go packaging and QSR services.  

In terms of trends, Vora highlighted three. One, the increasing demand for paper cups and the “real” impact of plastic regulations on single-use plastics will impact this segment. Vora says, “Internationally, the hotel-motel business in the US and UK are run by Indians and we see a shift to paper cups among this demographics. Paper cup manufacturers are mushrooming in India.”

The second trend, Vora says is, eco-friendly liquid packaging which ensures extended shelf-life products and is set to revolutionise the Indian market.

And finally, the third trend according to Vora is packing for the garments arena. He says, “India is a pharma carton and leaflet exporter, but in addition, we will see a spike in packaging for garments packing.” He points out, “What is happening is countries like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are doing good business in garment exports. Now paper and paper board or printed material like tags, labels, and inserts are being exported from India. Although Indian firms might have lost out on garment manufacturing, the packaging is being rendered in India.”

Customer is king
Today, the market performance surpasses expectations. And so, it's hardly surprising when Vora says “The Srinivas’ strategy is to evolve along with our customers, also to ensure my team deepens its understanding of our customers’ final goals. “We can deliver within 24 hours. This includes small and medium-sized factories. Some converters would buy one tonne from us a month and someone would purchase ten tonnes a day or the bigger converters who require 300 tonnes per month.” He adds, Our USP is that we provide customised sizes, quantities and on-time service due to sheeting and slitting capabilities at our locations.”

Plus, there is a service quotient which is the “key” in our industry. Srinivas has a system in place. Vora says, “Somewhere we have learned the art of understanding what the customer needs.”

He shares how the group has aligned with ITC for Sign-Up Green. This is a virgin solid board that can replace rigid plastics/plastic foam boards in the indoor branding space. Srinivas has seven hubs which cater to the POS / POP sector across India. The company works with the ITC paper mill for paper and paperboard.

The USP at Srinivas is to provide customised sizes, quantities and on-time service due to its sheeting and slitting capabilities at its locations

Srinivas: Also a paper doctor
Vora says, “In addition to sales and service, we do a lot of product development. Today, the key is value selling.” He explains, “The industry works with brands, so we have to become a part of their team as far as possible to help them select the right substrate. We advise printing and packaging requirements. In addition to working with designers and end-clients, we become specialists who provide technical support and test sheets for fine-tuning production."

I ask Vora what kind of advice he shares, and he says, “I can suggest a lower gsm virgin board for a corrugated box because the print gloss and the after-effects will be good.” This, he believes, is due to a washboarding effect which is negligible in a virgin board. The effect is when you see the corrugation lines. This is not seen on a virgin board, even at a lower gsm.”

When probed about what is transpiring in mono cartons, Vora says, “Lots of post-press embellishments. Plus with intradeck and six to seven-colour presses with coaters, the paperboard has to perform at optimum levels. Lots of d2c and startups are coming up with new ideas and fresh designs. So Team Srinivas is constantly having to reboot one’s own understanding of product design, the shelf attraction.” This translates into new products like Gmund or ovenable board.

That is why, Srinivas got into micro-oven board. Vora says, “Obviously this was a product which did not exist earlier. Now there is a compelling need for it.” Likewise, gen-next is looking at hot and cold content of food.

“Earlier it was a simple matter of wrapping the food in foil. Sometimes a food brand asks for grammage weight substitution. Here one has to be lightweight without losing the mechanical properties of the product,” he says.

Vora says, “Apart from a very few converters, our industry doesn’t understand the stiffness parameters of a paperboard. In India, the conversation gets dominated by gsm and callipers, but stiffness is underplayed. This means the grain direction of the board is important.” 

Vora continues, “Sometimes the print surface isn’t permeable and fully oxidising inks must be used, with an allowance for a minimum of 48 hours of drying time. Also, if hot foil stamping is to be applied then care must be taken with the metallic finishes to prevent oxidation by applying a varnish under any foil.”

Vora says that paper science is important. There are no shortcuts.

The Srinivas journey since 1989: A triumph with efforts
Unlike most paper pundits, Vora’s insights are based on granular data points and insights about market expansion in states like UP in addition to the seven state capitals. He says, “Things have changed a lot since 1989. Today, the print converter is more aware. Most of them have the best of software and kit to design new products. Today, whatever happens in Europe, within six weeks, India is producing the same thing. The current crop of young people in our industry adapts very fast. It’s a good time to be in the industry.”

Vora is a firm believer in companies rising to prominence through a mixture of integrity, support from peers and family, transparency, and in some way, “being on the right side of everything”. However, he also reckons that there is an element of luck – “but as the old adage goes in sales, the harder you work, the luckier you get”. To succeed in the paper trade, he says, “There has to be strong self-belief because there are many obstacles that have to be overcome to be successful. It is never a linear journey. Listening to the customers is key”.  Logically, he sees success as allied to risk. In particular, Vora recognises that there is always risk in business.

Vora suggests a knack for good timing; a paper product brought to market too early won’t be adopted so reading the market is another key skill. Here, he places a great store in “having a trusted network around you to test ideas and to give sound advice.” 

Vora attributes his success to his mentor R Chokalingam of Srinivas Fine Arts in Sivakasi. He says, “The basic values and basic business principles have been the same in the past 35 years.”

Integrity is a top priority. This is not mere talk. Vora says, “We follow clean taxation systems. Also, every sheeted packet from our sheeting units has a tracing methodology so we can trace it back to any location in the country. The traceability method on our labels is the best solution we can offer to a converter. We are there to listen.”

Systems and processes are a way of life. This is not confined to paper and paperboard but also adhesives and inks, self-adhesive label stock, and problem-solving on the machines.

Warehousing to have stock levels ready for call-offs
As part of its plan to significantly expand the market, Srinivas streamlined its warehousing operation to hold a substantial stock of popular grades and reduce delivery lead times. Vora says, “We recognise a two-to-three-month lead time cannot work for some businesses and smaller volumes, so we intend to adapt and support their needs by having managed stock levels ready for call-offs to mirror competitor offerings.

“We have warehouses in Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Rajkot and Vapi; plus offices in Indore and Delhi and a sub-distributor network that allows us to work on other projects and provide tech support and mentoring.” Vora adds, “20 years ago, we were the first to have an IT server and a progressive HR policy.” This was unheard of among traders.” 

Vora says, “Our MIS is potentially the heart of our ops. This links everything from stock coming in, through scheduling, paper mills, transporters, admin, accounts and despatch. It enables us to be plugged into current trends and long-term trends.” He says, “Ultimately, India is a fragmented market and you need eyes and ears on the ground to ensure forecasting and planning. There are daily needs and quarterly forecasts. Algorithms do not always work in our trade.”

He says, “There is a lucrative opportunity for savvy print and packaging specialists like Srinivas who can guide new and existing customers – and of course potential customers. This knowledge gap has to be bridged. It can be done through workshops or lec-dems. If our industry can do this then it can drive lifetime value and high average order values and retention rates.”

Nimesh Vora’s message for PrintWeek readers, “Print and packaging never went away, but in 2024 it certainly has new opportunities to shine.” As we conclude our session, Nimesh Vora says, “Once upon a time, writing surfaces were fragile, unwieldy or both: clay, stone, papyrus, parchment, metal, bark, bones and even seashells. The point is, one has to always know what is next and then spread the good word.”  

For example, he says, Srinivas Papers is launching a metallised board which will replace plastic film lamination. I ask him to share additional inputs, and he smiles and says, more about that, in our next coffee session...