The Indian self-adhesive label industry has risen from basic grassroot levels, most of the initial entrants who pioneered to create these labels were first generation small entrepreneurs. Starting with manual screen-printing process in the 1960s in sheet form, they ventured forward into flat-bed narrow web label printing and converting. By the 1990s label printing further evolved to use flexographic printing process and went on developing continuously to transform into integration of multiple printing technologies on the same  label press with embellishing and converting in-line in a single pass. Most of the earlier entrants, the pioneers who provided impetus for the growth and spread of narrow web self-adhesive label, were either single owner or family-owned small businesses. These initial front runners were partners to industry in transforming a major part of the then prominently used wet glue labels to self-adhesive labels popularly called those days as “stickers”! What were hand applied labels started to be applied from roll form by automatic label applicators on packaging lines, ensuring increased usage and demand of self-adhesive labels. The 1990s saw a lot of growth in label manufacturing and by end of decade, international interest in the Indian label industry started to surface. But at this time the Chinese label market started to register rapid growth attracting the multinational material suppliers and printers turning their attention to the Growing Chinese market. Many industry experts did caution that eventually correction will take place and the growth will slowdown. However still the large population always indicates a robust growth as organized retail grows. Global investments in label grew. As China, India too has a large population and  on the other hand it continued to grow in a stable and steady pace. A young English speaking literate population assured a positive continuous growth of label usage, indicating a stability in continued growth and evolution. This fact started to sink in and the ownerships in the industry started transforming. 

In the start of the new millennium the international interest in Indian label industry became evident. Paper products Limited, established in 1935 in Lahore (Then a part of India), a flexible packaging company had entered label manufacturing in 1994 and in mid-1999 multinational Huhtamaki had acquired 50% of the shareholding in Paper Products Ltd. and later acquiring it wholly. Even though label manufacturing was a small part of their business yet, this I believe was the point when we saw the start of entry of multinational companies investing in label manufacturing in India.

Other foreign companies who entered and invested into label manufacturing in India included the likes of 3M in 1987, Brady’s in 2006, Printcare in 2008 and some others mostly in garment accessories business. Then we did have those who tried, indulged but had to shelve  their plans. CCL acquired a stake in Mumbai based Super labels in 2011 but had to stop as the relationship did not work out, Mikael Dahl of Nordvalls Sweden too invested with a partner and later quit and then there is Reynders who partnered with Goodwork company but later they split and both partners went their own way to run their own label companies in India, Reynders have their wholly owned company Reynders in Chopanki, Rajasthan. As regards material side in labelstock manufacturing, the world’s largest, Avery Dennison started manufacturing in Gurgaon India in 1997.

Kaygee Papers Pvt. Ltd. was set up by Pranay Godha in 1997. It became Kaygee-Loparex, a joint venture in 2001 with investment from Loparex, the world’s leading developer and producer of specialty paper and film release liners. In 2015, Loparex Group assumed 100% ownership of the Indian joint venture company, Kaygee-Loparex India Private Ltd. later renamed Loparex India Private Limited. Meanwhile the founder Pranay Godha moved on to join IPCA laboratories headed by his father  Premchand Godha. Pranay is now the executive director of this global pharmaceuticals company.

The mergers and acquisition activity in the Indian label industry got a fillip when in February 2012 Gururaj Ballarwad led Wintek Flexoprints based in Bangalore India, had been acquired by Hyderabad based ITW Signode, a subsidiary of the multi-billion Dollar fortune 200 global industrial products company ITW, head quartered in Illinois, USA. Wintek is now a part of Signode India Limited. Gururaj the co-founder of Wintek after completing his post-handover stint is now enjoying his retirement. He spent many months with his daughter and grandchildren in the UK and then some time in USA visiting and attending a wedding in family of a friend. His sons run their package printing business on their own. He now relaxes at his home in Bangalore and uses his time reading and researching religious epics like Bhagwad Gita, Ramayana, Mahabharta, etc. He is also indulging in authoring some of his findings. However still he is available to his label industry friends for any advice they need from him.

Two weeks after Wintek was acquired by ITW, another European multinational label and packaging company Skanem, acquired India’s biggest label printers Interlabels, Mumbai. Headed by the brothers Bhavin and Gautam Kothari, Interlabels had been in the forefront of label industry. Bhavin Kothari has been one of the founders of LMAI (Label Manufacturers Association of India) and later the President of this association. Post-acquisition Bhavin is now heading a professionally managed company Qodenext. QodeNext is the merged entity of Mumbai based Intellicon Private Limited, Bangalore based Essae Technologies Private Limited and Mumbai based Intercode Solutions Private Limited. QodeNext is a supply chain traceability technology, consulting and service company providing solutions for Barcode, RFID, Vision, Cognitive Computing, IoT, Predictive Analysis and emerging technologies. Bhavin does oversee the business but it is not a 9am to 5pm job, he spends a lot of time pursuing his hobby of playing Golf. 

Gautam Kothari also has a startup in which he is actively involved. He invested in an enterprise started by his ex-employees, “Worldpack Automation Systems Pvt. Ltd.” manufacturing Automated Labelling Systems. Though it is a 10 AM  to 5PM business that he attends at least 4 to 5 days a week, but he is happy he does not have the stress that was prevalent when in label manufacturing. “I have more control over my time, taking time off for personal family vacation is now easy and without any stress” says Gautam . He also has a label factory with a partner in Bangladesh, he does visit some time, but in the last two years did not go there due to pandemic.

In September 2012, Mumbai based Positive Packaging Industries Ltd., a leading player in the flexible packaging space, a part of the international conglomerate, the Enpee Group with manufacturing facilities in India, Nigeria and UAE, acquired Bangalore based SGRE Labels Private Limited led by Sujeev G and Subba Reddy. Post-acquisition Sujeev and Subba Reddy set up SGRE Pack Pvt. Ltd. to manufacture rigid boxes.

By end of the year 2012 in November, controlling stake in Mumbai based Webtech Labels led by Amar Chhajed was acquired by Indian subsidiary of Huhtamäki Oyj. Later Webtech became an integral part of Huhtamaki and Amar was elevated to become the president of their labeling division. By March 31, 2022, Amar Chhajed left Huhtamaki to move on to other avenues. He has invested in real estate through his new venture Webtech Realty in which he is involved full time. In fact, he is now a builder and is building two important projects one of which is perhaps the largest real estate project in Bandra, a suburb of Mumbai. He has also  invested in a few other projects to support the promoters known to him, one of them is Pactech Machinery making label applicators, but his role is limited to being an investor only. That remains his only small connect with the packaging industry.

In January 2015 Huhtamaki acquired Positive Packaging Industries India Ltd. Since label manufacturing company SGRE had earlier been acquired by Positive Packaging, the label business was addition to the growing capacity of labels manufacturing for multinational Huhtamaki in India.

With Amar Chhajed at helm as President of their labeling business Huhtamaki India completed the acquisition of Indian part of Chandan Khanna’s Ajanta Packaging Private Limited in June 2018. Chandan was still young to retire and moreover he still had his UAE and Thailand factories. He initially visualized a sabbatical and fun times ahead using the geographical location of his factories for vacationing to mix business with pleasure. His wife Kiran had given up her work to bring up the children and now when they were grown, the entrepreneur in her surfaced. She suggested to Chandan that they had done enough business in B2B space, now they should try their hand at the B2C segment. She decided to let the designer in her to emerge and with financial support from husband Chandan, she initiated her startup Stylejunkiie www.stylejunkiie.com offering Apparel and Clothing for fashion statement makers. They started with online selling and a store in Mumbai. Chandan does support her as an investor partner and as an experienced person in managing business, he guides her, otherwise the venture is totally Kiran’s to run and grow. Surprisingly after selling Indian part of the business, Chandan and his wife Kiran are buoyant and with renewed energy ready to grow their fashion apparel business to great heights.

On April 29, 2022, Mumbai headquartered SMI Coated products Pvt. Ltd. Led by Ajay Mehta was 100% acquired by Jindal Poly Films’ wholly owned subsidiary – Jindal PolyPack. SMI is the largest Indian company that manufactures self-adhesive labelstock having production facility at Ambernath with a slitting and distribution company in Jebel Ali, UAE. Post divesting his stake in SMI, Ajay and family are taking a sabbatical for four to six months before deciding their next venture. At this time, they are relaxed and talking to people exploring options for their next move, but they are not in a hurry. Meanwhile they have setup an investment company in UAE to make investments where they deem fit.

Pensively Ajay mentions, that with this he has done the right thing for his team who helped him reach this level, however it is disturbing that he has got distanced from a lot of friends from the labels industry for which he did a lot and was always there to support. He is happy and thankful for the love and respect he has got from his peers in the label industry. Still positive and not calling it a day, he is ready to indulge and rise to another level.

Many years ago, when the world was going through a recession, our European and American friends expressed surprise when they met their Indian friends, they would say that in the western world when economically there is meltdown, any would make a face and either say, “surviving!” or “Not too good.” On the contrary if you meet an Indian and you ask, “How is business?” pat comes the reply, “GOOD!” It is our heritage and we have been taught that when questioned “how are you?” The answer in Hindi, our national language, is “THEEK HAI” means, “Fine.” So, for, all the India entrepreneurs  who sold their stakes, did not entirely quit, it is “theek hai” and now another venture and another success. They, or their families have either started new ventures or on the verge of investing to keep moving on!

Written by Harveer Sahni Chairman Weldon Celloplast Limited New Delhi May 2022. Author https://harveersahni.blogspot.com and www.labelsandpackagingworld.com