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22-02-23 - Harveer Sahni

Driving profitability in labels!

Self-adhesive or pressure sensitive labels industry in India has grown steadily right from the time of its initial entry into India to be indigenously produced in the mid-1960s when a screen printer manually created the first label. Thereafter, label manufacturing has evolved and completely transformed  technically over the years. Initially, small and slow very narrow web letter presses, 4 or 5inch wide, from the eastern part of the world were used to print with blocks and die-cut labels with flatbed dies in roll form. These presses eventually started going wider in printing width with growth in demand. The need for increased production in 1980s brought in the adoption of rotary flexographic printing presses. However, since the flexo plate technology was just evolving, usage of letterpress block printing was still growing. It was in the new millennium that developments brought in prepress and plate making technologies, made it possible for printers to decrease their dependence on letterpress printing technology and invest in flexo presses that eventually became modular and print widths going wider with increased speeds. Toward the middle of the first decade of the new millennium, the pop and Mom retail stores, known as Kirana stores catering to consumers, started being replaced by the entry of organized retail outlets and with it, came the increase in demand for labels and packaging. When it was realized the customer’s point of purchase decision to lift the product off the shelf is the driver for sales, brands felt the imperative need for attractive labels and packaging. Different print technologies started being employed and presses with advanced capabilities started being developed and offered. While all this transformation was happening, the label industry in India was all along registering a robust double-digit growth. It was largely accepted fact that even though labels are a very small part of the large packaging industry, it was more profitable. Due to this, the number of label printers kept growing, investments also came in from established offset printing companies. With cheaper label presses coming from China and availability of good affordable machines in India, the label printing capacities have grown exponentially. This increase in capacities, the pandemic, the strikes in Finnish paper mills, the Ukraine war, the re-emergence of Covid in China,  etc. brought the margins in the labels industry under intense  pressure. Raw material prices have since escalated, freight rates, salaries and overheads have increase while competition does not leave room for increase in selling prices. In such a difficult scenario, label converters are looking at options to drive in profitability.

Opinion and comments of label printers across India was sought on how to drive-in better margins in the label production in the given circumstances. Three questions were posed to all, their response is somewhat similar, yet some do have apprehensions about the steps that are suggested whether they will actually drive in margins? However still, a direction on the way forward appears to be an imperative. The  printers in the diverse geographical zones who contributed their views are as follows:

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