The author interviewed Vinod Vazhapulli Managing Director of Skanem India, according to him Label is a window, through which a brand communicates with customers. It is the bridge that connects the brand owner with end users of products. In an evolving scenario, where change is recognised as the only constant, label may change in converting technologies, types of labels and process of application on products but yes, labels are there to stay. Without label there is no identity, it is an absolutely relevant part of all products.

In a population that is young, growing in literacy with a fast-emerging organised retail culture, Indian consumers now enjoy shopping. They pick and select products, read the label to assimilate information provided on the label before deciding on the purchase. So, label is here to stay, it may change in shape, type, and substrate it is made of. The larger part of labels in India are produced and converted using analogue printing technologies like letterpress, Flexographic printing, screen, offset, etc. This is undergoing a transformation and Skanem is committed to adopt new developments in label converting. Moving forward, their focus is to build a sustainable future by implementing Industry 4.0 and Lean Six Sigma, combined with a steady yet aggressive growth plan. Skanem India aims at moving from being one of the top players to “The Market Leader” in product decoration solutions in India.

Skanem India is a renowned organisation with a legacy of over 115 years in the Packaging industry as a part of Skanem AS founded in the Stavanger region of Norway producing from metal cans to labels. In 2012 Skanem invested into the then India’s largest label manufacturers Interlabels Mumbai and in 2014-2015 they acquired it 100%. 

They now operate out of four printing sites spread across India having their mother plant in Mumbai and other factories at Baddi, Delhi and Gauhati, with 250 permanent and one hundred temporary employees. They are equipped to cater to customers in every part of the country. In 2021 Skanem AS divested, they sold their eight factories namely- Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, UK, and Thailand to MCC. They continue to be headquartered in Norway and now have operations in India Kenya and Europe.

Divestment was done to reinvest in diversified businesses within the packaging arena. It was felt that European markets were somewhat saturated, and they saw a double-digit growth in India and Africa. In Mumbai, their investment in HP Indigo label press provides them with digital prowess that enables their customers to reach new heights with their marketing campaigns. At the same time, it enables them to fulfil the needs of budding customers (Start-ups) with shorter runs. Skanem would like to explore possibilities in packaging, by way of acquisitions or otherwise. they currently plan to use the present set up for flexible packaging and cartons and consider upgrading existing digital capabilities. Path breaking innovative products on digital which will bring in more business and need more investment are a part of future plans. What could not be done with analogue alone, will be achieved with digital, giving solutions to try test marketing with shorter runs for which analogue has limitations. Vinod Vazhapuli, the Skanem India Managing director adds, “Skanem will be hyper aggressive to expand in big way to increase our portfolio in labels, expand in flexo with improved, enhanced and technically advanced capabilities. As for digital, we will invest in more, to offer advanced and innovative solutions. With these capabilities we will be able to put heart and mind into labels.”

Vinod Vazhapulli is a qualified Mechanical Engineer with experience of over 23 years in industries like Automotive; Pharma Engineering; Tooling; Textile Engineering; Printing & Labelling. He has in the past, handled various international markets like USA, Canada, Mexico & Central America, Asia Pacific, Australia / New Zealand, Latin America, Europe. He has held P&L responsibility in the capacity of a Business Head, then as the CEO of an NSE/BSE Listed Manufacturing company and the Director of a UK company alongside, for a period of 2 Years and now the Managing Director of Skanem India. During his professional career, he has been bestowed with “Exemplary Leadership” award by ABP News, the Thought leadership & World Quality congress & Yes Bank, for the year 2018 under the Manufacturing segment; Featured and Ranked 35th & 32nd in the Power100 List of one hundred Most Influential Leaders in Print & Packaging Industry in India for the year 2020 & 2021, respectively. He was awarded, the Indian Achievers Award for excellence, leadership & innovation in Print & Packaging industry for the year 2021. He was a part of two Patent submissions in the field of Surface finish and Metallurgy.

He was also the part of National committee for Capital Goods & Engineering of both CII (Confederation of Indian Industries) & FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industries), two of the most important and powerful Industrial associations in India, during the year 2017, as part of his professional journey. Vinod worked in Skanem for a year in 2016, heading the machines business (label applicators) as VP and Business head. In between, after a stint in Indian Card Clothing LTD. as their CEO, he returned to Skanem in 2019 as the Managing Director.

Commenting further on Skanem’s digital indulgence Vinod stresses that they are always abreast with modern technologies and as for now, digital for them is the one that enables them to produce smart labels. They are convinced that smart labels educate customers as they possess virtual reality to communicate which the customers enjoy. In lighter vein Vinod expresses an example, that a whiskey connoisseur would always like to read the label to find information on labels as to where the product was distilled and what kind of casks were used to mature and whether it is a blend or a single malt. Similarly, a wine label tells all what a wine lover needs to know regarding the types of grapes used, the region they come from, the year of production and a lot more information. Digital label printing gives that window of opportunity to cater to such demanding connect with the end consumer. Digitally printed labels are different from analogue converted ones which are non-interactive, to being interactive labels.

Such digitalisation, to variably print and communicate is ably provided by the digital label presses. Skanem was one of the first investors in an HP Indigo label press, “We were very first HP Customer” says Vinod. With the meaningful smile he says, “we look forward to HP giving us a good deal for the next HP Indigo.” Skanem’s experience with HP Indigo label press has been good, it gave them an edge with print buyers when they explained their enhanced capabilities. They have the flexo label presses but additionally with HP, it certainly helps to impress upon the customer about enhanced capabilities like short runs, customisation, immediate delivery runs, all of this has helped augment their business.

Cost is a deterrent but the ability to produce special types of labels does bring better realisation. They are sure that in coming times the true potential of the HP machine will become more evident. A specific example is Dettol label campaign, celebrating the covid warriors, done during the pandemic. Even though there was non-preparedness and manpower shortage, the job had to be done in specific period. It was because of digital capabilities they could run three million labels within span of 10 to 12 days. Without HP, they say, it was not possible. It was a noble gesture by the brand owners, and Skanem substantiated it by delivering in time because of digital capabilities. It enhanced the brand owner’s emotional connect with their customer. Indians are very emotional and the sacrificed space on labels for a human cause, narrating touching stories was satisfying and well received by consumers, enhancing brand value.

Unprecedented price rise, shortages, and the war in Ukraine, created an imperative need for just in time deliveries and customisation plus the generational differences as well, drove the need for digital presses.

Skanem endeavours to educate customers in appealing to the conscience and emotional quotient of people to deliver to their aspirations. Multinationals want large volumes, just in time deliveries, along with consistency. They talk about sustainability, circular economy, and carbon footprints while the start-ups need support in smaller quantities, they want to add different information, pictures and motifs with digital capabilities be delivered as per needs. Skanem as a globally responsible corporate try to add value to the products that they supply to their digitally printed label customers, both the large and small. The company has own plans and systems to support them for these important issues. Digital provides opportunity to produce small run of labels to test market products before going in for mass production. It complements analogue, when one is successful with test marketing and volumes increase, they can switch over to analogue. Typical customer for digital labels, are from industries like tyre, agro chemicals, dietary supplements, cosmetics, etc.

The Indian population of 1.5 billion people is largely young, adding up to almost 60% of them in the productive working age. With change in the joint family system, more and more young working people are living separate from families and eating out or trying to have ready to heat and eat meals, a segment that is bound to grow exponentially.

This segment will give a definite fillip to digitally printed labels demand. Today’s youth have entrepreneurial urges and they are setting up start-ups that need short runs, they just want to do things differently, differentiate their products segment wise from giant brands, by the way they present them, informing users about carbon footprints, organic nature, and unique packages with short, personalised, and variable runs. Skanem finds the HP Indigo press as the perfect equipment to support these young entrepreneurs and provide them the “wings of hope.”

Written by Harveer Sahni Chairman Weldon Celloplast Limited New Delhi July 2022