“The move from single-use plastics to paperboard owing to the concerns of businesses and sustainable packaging combined with other powerful trends will drive major changes in consumer packaging” – Mr. Partha Biswas, Chief-Sales & Marketing, JK Paper Limited affirms in an interaction with Paper Mart.
Mr. Saikat Basu, Chief General Manager-Sales (Packaging Board and Coated Paper), JK Paper Limited, continued this interaction and shed light on the significant trends of the packaging paper/board market, the influence of the growth of e-commerce, other key growth and demand drivers, and the technological upgradations introduced at the company.
Paper Mart: As there has been a huge upward trend in the recyclable packaging materials market, what are your views with regard to the future of the market and how big a role will be played by the innovations in the sustainable material solutions?
Partha Biswas: To start with, presently, one of the major responsibilities of the industry is to meet the sustainability concerns of the major corporates for their packaging solutions. There are many segments, for example – the polycoated cup industry wherein the customers are looking for more eco-friendly alternatives from the paper and packaging manufacturers.
I feel that the move from plastics to paper will bring major opportunities for the sector. So far, tableware such as — cups and plates have moved from plastics and other substrates to paper.
Paper Mart: How cost-effective and efficient is packaging paper/board as compared to other alternate packaging materials?
Saikat Basu: JK Paper has constantly made efforts to provide cost-effective solutions to plastic. Venturing into single-layer cup stock has been one such endeavor. However, the overall up-gradation to paper medium is a slow transition, as the cost-benefit analysis is still not very favorable. Additionally, the government legislations such as the imposition of ban on single-use plastics and making paper packaging mandatory can be the true catalyst in propelling this upgradation.
In all aspects, packaging paper/cardboard scores higher over other substrates such as plastic, wood and metal. All these alternative packaging materials are heavier and more expensive than paper, and it gets difficult to convey the brand image of the product. To cap it, in the COVID scenario, papers are more susceptible to the virus, as the virus can survive for a much lesser number of hours on paper than any other material — metal, wood or plastic surface. Other packaging materials are also more difficult to handle and transport. Hence, not only their intrinsic costs are higher than paper, even their handling costs get multiplied.
Paper Mart: What are the demand drivers and end-user applications governing the packaging paper/board market?
Saikat Basu: The major demand drivers of the packaging paper and board post-COVID are the pharmaceuticals and the food & beverages sector. In the past one year, India has become a pharma hub and is growing from strength to strength in terms of exports of medicines. Pharma parks are being constructed and we believe that the double-digit growth in the pharma sector is here to stay. Also, most of the pharma products, especially the ones to be exported, need virgin packaging to convey a superior brand-value.
Further, the at-home consumption of food and beverages has increased manifold fuelling the consumption of both the virgin and recycled board. In the liquid packaging board segment, 1 liter cartonboard’s consumption has doubled. The small cup (60-90 ml) industry is another silver lining, with other kinds of containers for beverages being phased out due to health concerns. In tier-2 and tier-3 cities, unpacked goods are expected to move to packaged, driven by safety and hygiene concerns. E-commerce will remain a significant growth driver as brick and mortar retail giants are also looking into tapping customers online. This will help both the virgin and recycled packaging propel, as well as kraft and corrugated board segments.
Paper Mart: Could you tell us about the new product development, and technological upgradations introduced in your company?
Saikat Basu: Firstly, we are in the process to expand our capacity by 1.8 lakh tonnes per annum at our Songadh unit (Gujarat). Our state-of-the-art packaging board plant should start manufacturing the high-quality boards and new innovative products by the mid-2021. As we have invested in the state-of-the-art pulp plant as well as modern sheeting, rewinding, storage, and retrieval facilities; we are confident that we will provide the finest products and services in the country.
In addition, on the product development front, we have ventured into specialty coatings like anti-fungal and alternate solutions against poly, which will be launched very soon in the market. We have also developed a 40 GSM pharma insert and outsert paper, along with an oil and grease-resistant variety — both of which are growing fast and becoming popular with the customers.
Paper Mart: What kind of market trends have you been observing in the past 6-9 months, and how do you see the packaging sector developing in the future?
Saikat Basu: Except for the first 2 months of lockdown, the pharmaceutical, food and e-commerce revival has reached almost 100% of the pre-COVID demand in the first three-quarters of FY 20-21. However, few segments in the packaging board got affected, in particular, the cultural segments like wedding cards, bindis, garments, etc. which are now reviving at a slow pace. Also, the textbook and notebook covers which use both recycled and virgin board will take some time to revive, as it is majorly dependent on the education segment.
All in all, by Q2, we saw the weighted average packaging demand revival of 75% and by Q3 – it has been 95%. We are quite confident that in Q4, there will be a 110% revival of the pre-COVID levels.
Paper Mart: What challenges and opportunities do you foresee in the packaging paper/board market in the near future with the growth in e-commerce and many factors contributing to the growth of the segment?
Saikat Basu: There will be a diverse range of opportunities in the packaging paper/board segment due to the rise of the pharma, F&B, and e-commerce sectors. By the next FY, I believe that the premium products, luxury garments, cosmetics, and HoReCa (Hotels, Restaurants & Cafes) segment will also flourish, as the pent-up demand will be doing the trick. The major corporate houses, especially the FMCG and durables majors will continue their drive to package their goods with the more sustainable medium. It will be a challenge for the paper and packaging manufacturers to keep up with that pace and design alternate products in paper and board with functionalities similar to what plastics and other substrates provide – especially in the food & beverages segment.