The Indian self-adhesive label industry has not only transformed in terms of printing and converting processes but has also evolved tangentially incorporating various technologies to label the products. The evolution is ongoing and keeps presenting immense challenges to label printers, suppliers and equipment producers. An industry focussed primarily on its self-stick capabilities now has moved into diversified label production, decoration, application and dispensing methods. Label is not merely a sticker but a branding tool that can be created and applied in various ways as perceived by the imagination of the Brand managers and marketing professionals.

From the mid-1960s when stickers in India started being produced manually by screen printing, the production processes used have undergone a sea change. The printing process evolved from flatbed letterpress to rotary flexo and then to combination and hybrid printing. These were just the changes that happened either in terms of label substrates varying from paper to filmic or changes in printing methods, may they be letterpress, flexo, screen, gravure, offset, digital or combination. In the new millennium the tangential evolution commenced. Shrink Sleeves providing 360 degrees label space on product came in however still due the sheer inertia of growth, the self-adhesive labels continue to grow. Environmental concerns are bringing in need for thinner liners in self adhesive to reduce the quantum of waste going to landfills, this is also leading to development of linerless labels. Digital labels are catching up fast but the bigger challenge it appears, will come from digital printing and decoration direct on products eliminating need for label substrates, liners and adhesives.

At the last labelexpo India 2018 the author had a one to one discussion with Pankaj Bhardwaj Senior Director and General Manager at Avery Dennison India Pvt Ltd for his views on the way forward for the label industry. He feels that there is nothing to worry as while the consumer story is intact, and decoration of labels is in intact, at Avery Dennison, we are still able to convert users from wet glue to pressure sensitive adhesive labels, achieving a stable double-digit growth on an ongoing basis.

 According to him changes need to come from two directions and have started coming in, the first is decoration technology which comes with increasing the means of producing such happy and complex labels.  Technically advanced labels that are the real products like RFID labels and labels with special features are needed to be developed. The second change according to Pankaj is the need to be prudent in prices and focus on the product mix. These two changes are the way forward, he feels. Stagnant price of labels with reducing margins does impact the bottom line of printers negatively. It is thus that, currently; offering the right product at the right price is very important.

When questioned about the challenges emanating out of labels evolving as mentioned in the first paragraph herein, he does agree that linerless labels have come but their extensive growth will happen only when they are technically and commercially viable. RFID surfaced during World war II, it is only now, in the last 3-4 years that it is becoming viable.

Avery Dennison is aware of the changes and continues to offer technically advanced products even for linerless labels. They have also invested in a venture producing liquid displays, Printed electronics and will diversify into technically complex products. They are a Pressure Sensitive Adhesive (PSA) label and graphic material producers. While PSA remains their basic offerings, yet they also sell non-PSA products. When asked about the impact of direct-on-product digital printing, he does agree it may affect the usage of self-adhesive labels but there is time for evolution to happen and by then the existing market will also have grown and alternatives developed so the technologies will evidently coexist.

Witnessing the success of labelexpo India and the number of label presses being invested in, he was asked if he felt India was booming in labels. In response he says the present growth of course is positive and is well reflected if we consider Unilever as a barometer, they have reported double digit growth for three quarters in a row. This does indicate a growing demand for labels and packaging. However, he feels this buoyancy is the residual effect of the negative impact on demand due to demonetisation and imposition of GST last year.

It created a void that is being compensated by an increased demand this year. Commenting on Labelexpo he said. “It is an important show, here we get to see a lot of technology and in which direction India is moving.” He added that labels as they are being produced now calls for increased capital investments on a regular basis. There is now an evident awareness of environmental issues which indicates that we are moving in the right direction. It is also an imperative that while expanding we make the business model more sustainable. “Surprisingly there is a lot happening at the bottom of the triangle” he said referring to the smaller printers indulging in moving up the value chain. The smaller producers were until recently dependent on pre-gummed sheets printed by offset, old flat bed letterpress machine or even screen printing. These printers are now installing flexo presses procured either from Indian manufacturers of presses or Chinese presses or used flexo presses, providing the growth impetus to the label industry.

When questioned that the industry has seen the top local Avery Dennison management in India move in a typical fashion. Raj Srinivasan, Anil Sharma and now Pankaj, all started with domestic responsibilities and were then moved out on to global responsibilities. He responded, “Avery Dennison is a great place to work with. It is a dynamic company that has recognised the talent from India. They are expanding their business in APAC region and globally utilising this talent effectively.”

Written by Harveer Sahni Chairman Weldon Celloplast Limited New Delhi. December 2018. 
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