Saturday, August 7, 2010
History of the Indian Label Industry
Years ago in 1981, I came across a book on the house of Tata’s. The book written by Russi Lala was named, "Creation Of Wealth” and it chronicled the events that led to Tata’s becoming the biggest Industrial group in India at that time. After reading the book I was overwhelmed and wished that some day I will write something like this. Maybe track the roots of my own large extended family. Somehow I never got down to seriously working on this. I guess the opportunity came around again when I was invited me to make two presentations at the first India Label Summit in 2006. I decided that in the first presentation where we take an overview of the India Label Market, I will chronicle the events that led to the establishment of the narrow web label printing industry in India. I am sure that this topic is of prime interest to all the label printers in India. Though it is extremely difficult to put all those interesting historical happenings, bottlenecks or interesting landmarks into this presentation yet I have tried to put together in whatever best way I could. I feel less then writing a book, there cannot be proper justice done to the subject. Maybe one day if I can find time, I will attempt it. Meanwhile getting data on this has been a very interesting job and I thank my senior colleagues in the Industry, without whose inputs and help, I could not have put together this presentation.
The very beginning
The credit of bringing self adhesive labels, in their present form, to India goes to a US multi national, Johnson & Johnson. It was in the turbulent post independence time in 1947 that Johnson & Johnson came to India. In 1957 they established Johnson & Johnson India Ltd. A couple of years later they started the permacell division to make self adhesive tapes. It was around 1965 that they entered into the manufacture of self adhesive labels. They installed a rotary label press. They sold only converted labels and did not offer any labelstock to others in the market. So there was no real scope at that time for others to setup label presses or any other sticker manufacturing facility.
The Decade of sixties.
The first self adhesive label produced by an Indian printer also started around the same time in 1965, almost thirty years after Stanton Avery produced the first self adhesive label in Los Angeles, California. Manohar Das Bhatia, a screen printer, producing water transfers in his company, Sharat Industries, did pioneering work and produced what was the first self adhesive sticker in India. Using a PVC face stock with pressure sensitive adhesive supplied by Calico and a Polyethylene sheet as a release liner they manufactured their stickers. The reason they did not use paper as face material is that silicon release liners were not available and Polyethylene provided for a very tight release due to which the paper would tear off. Manohar Das Bhatia was later joined by his two sons Shyam and Rattan. They worked hard to make self adhesive stickers under their brand “Sharastick” popular in those days. While Manohar Bhatia is no more, my efforts to trace his son Shyam who probably still produces labels have been futile. I tried to reconfirm if Manohar Bhatia really was the first and got the reply from Badal Hasija, a screen printer with over 45 years of experience. “101 %, he was the first” says Badal and added “I even remember the first label he made was for Gabriel shock absorbers and it left me wondering for days, what Manohar Bhatia had produced”
Jagdish Zaveri of Preeti Arts has also been one of the earliest of screen printers who produced self adhesive stickers and started around the same time. Other prominent screen printers who did pioneering work in stickers include, Hamid Vasi of Triace, Dinesh Gogari of Diamond Stickers, Vasu Rawal of Prachi Graphics and the list goes on. Their contributions however were more in the early seventies.
As the decade of sixties was coming to an end, a young Suresh Doshi from a family of textile merchants, who had drifted into distribution of PVC and decorative laminates, decided to try his hands at manufacturing of self adhesive Wall Papers. In 1969 he traveled to Germany to visit various machinery producing companies and he finally settled to buy a Kroenert coater for his new venture. This machine had the capabilities to siliconise and produce self adhesive labelstocks. Little did Suresh Doshi realize that this plant would be the mother equipment for the Indian narrow web label industry.
The Decade of Seventies.
In 1971 the Kroenert coater/ laminator landed in Mumbai. The company Shanti Lal Doshi & Co, the maiden manufacturing venture of the Doshi family was in place to take off. This was a landmark year and I see it as a step that would lead to the birth of the self adhesive label in roll form, made by Indians. In a couple of year’s time the Doshi’s were ready to try producing labelsocks. Metroark Ltd. , which is now Wacker Metroark, was already there to provide the silicone release coatings for making release papers. Solvent based adhesive was provided by BASF and it was time to produce the first labelstock made in India by Indians. In 1972-73 the commercial production of Labelstock had started.
Around the same time that Suresh Doshi left for Germany in 1969, another young man, Jeetubhai Shah, visited the offices of Standard type foundry in Himalaya house in South Mumbai. He was surprised to see a die cut paper label that did not need to be remoistened to make it tacky. It would stick to glass with slight pressure. It was sticky to touch and would remain so even after having touched and peeled off from the hand many times. He kept playing with it for a while. Sticking the label to his hand and removing it. He was so fascinated with the label that he started to make further enquiries. He also got from Standard Type foundry, a catalogue of Iwasaki machine that would make these die cut labels. A few trips later he came to know that Suresh Doshi was about to produce material for this machine. Jeetubhai decided do buy this machine. He joined hands with his income tax consultant and friend P P Bhagat to form a Company called International Trading Company at Kalyandas Industrial Estate in Worli. They applied for grant of an import license, and in those days of difficult foreign exchange regime, getting an import license was a nightmare. With a lot of effort they did manage the license and imported the machine.
Jeetubhai fondly remembers that Japan had floated their currency that year and due to this, his machine became cheaper by at least 15%.. The timing of installing the machine was perfect. By the time it was installed, Shantilal Doshi & Co. was ready with labelstocks. There were numerous hurdles that these pioneers faced when they endeavoured on these path breaking efforts, like a whole night he spent at a workshop in the middle of Mumbai’s red light area to get his first Flat bed Die made. With deep sense of nostalgia he remembers the full page advertisement they gave in news papers, "First time in India Self Adhesive Labels, die-cut in any shape.” This was their USP over Johnson and Johnson, who were using expensive rotary dies whereas International Trading Co. had perfected their indigenous flat bed die making process. This advertisement brought in the first big label customer for them, which was Siemens. International Trading company and later along with their sister co. Global graphics were the first roll form customers for Shantilal Doshi & Co., while Sharat Industries was their first sheet form customers. International Trading Co. still exists and is run by Kishore Parekh. The original partners had left the company. Jeetubhai later started a label company called Finearts.
I had asked Suresh Doshi to cite any interesting incident of those days and spontaneously he cited one. Sharat Industries had made full die-cut labels for J K Helene Curtis from their stock and supplied. The users came up with a strange complaint. The stickers were sticking well during the day but would fall off during the production at night. Not being able to find an answer to this one Mr. Doshi suggested that they use the labels during the day only. The production people at J K Helen Curtis did not agree as they had to run the night shift also. So Suresh Doshi was compelled to visit them during the night. He was shocked to see that the workers were not removing the release paper and thinking these to be remoistenable labels were using only water to stick the labels to the bottles. No wonder the labels were falling off !
The label industry was extended to other parts of India by the shear sincere efforts of the Doshi’s. By 1976, they had already suggested, encouraged and convinced close relatives Bharat Mehta and his brother to setup a label press. Bharat Mehta bought his first Siki Label press from Ahmedabad where it was being used to produce unsupported wet glue labels. Shifting over from a business in agricultural pumps at the age of 26, Bharat Mehta, settled down perfectly in to his label printing business. He is one of the most respected label printers. From a single siki he went on to add a fully loaded Gallus, an EM 280 8 colours, EM 280 6 colours, and an Acquaflex. In the earlier part of the decade of 2000-2010 he lost heavily in a major fire but firm resolve brought him right back in what he liked best, “Producing self adhesive labels”.
Other early entrants into the industry in the west during the seventies were, Vidya Mehta of Pressure Tags, The Kapoors of R K Papers, etc.
By end of the decade, the Doshi’s went southwards and encourage yet another relative, Dilip Sutaria to become a label printer. He setup Better Labels to lead the march of self adhesive labels in the south.
In North, the Doshi’s appointed an ex-partner of Dilip Sutaria, Mr. P D Khanna and his son Vinod Khanna as their agents in New Delhi. Around the same time in late seventies, Vinayak Sood of Liddles had installed a Norprint from UK and went on to add the first Mark Andy in 1983. The year 1979 saw Narula of Rikki Sales start his label printing operations.
In East the Doshi’s found their first customer in the former national tennis champion and a celebrated player, Premjit Lal. The Doshi’s had completed their reach all over the country and by end of the decade self adhesive label industry was an established fact. According to Suresh Doshi, the biggest boost to the self adhesive label industry was in the year 1975. Starting with the controversial Rae Bareily election of Indira Gandhi, when congress introduced their self adhesive bindis, to the imposition of the law to make minimum retail price marking on consumer packages, compulsory, these decision brought a surge in demand for self adhesive labels .
By 1975 another young Gujarati entrepreneur Pravin Patel had setup a polytype coater in Ahmedabad to produce silicone papers and labelstocks. 1978 saw Hari Gupta start his H P Lablette in Delhi with his Japanese coater, and towards the end of the decade PCI in Kolkata, IPW, Veekay papers and Geva in Mumbai and Weldon in Delhi had either started or were about to begin commercial siliconizing operations.
The decade of Eighties
With the start of a new decade more developments came into the self adhesive label industry. Shantilal Doshi had started operations with solvent based adhesive but environment friendly Acrylic emulsion adhesive were now in use for labelstock production. In 1982 Kilaru Prasad of Prasad Accumeter had brought in hotmelt coater from Accumeter in the US where he worked as a Sales Director. Ananth Rao of Stayon paper followed suit with another accumeter coater and Interlabels now perhaps the largest Indian printer also installed their accumeter hot melt coater to support their entry into the label printing industry around that time. The decade of 80’s saw label printing companies being set up at various places in India. The eastern sector growth was extremely slow due to the lack of industrial infrastructure there.
According to Bharat Mehta, the biggest boost to the industry this decade came in 1987 when many pharma companies started their shift rom wet glue labels to automatically dispensed self adhesive labels. This step helped establish a constant growth mode for this industry.
The Decade of Nineties
The decade of nineties was perhaps the most eventful one. For me personally it was a memorable one as during this time we took the landmark decision to switch over from being a mere commercial siliconizer to a prominent labelstock manufacturer. However for the industry, the biggest event I rate as the entry of the multinational Co, whom I refer to as our big brothers in the industry. Avery Dennison had setup production facilities in India. I have always felt their entry has changed the way people look at this industry. From being a mere sticker maker, the narrow web label printer became a specialty label producer.
In the same decade we saw printers grow in stature and capabilities. Seljagat, Wintek, S K Labels in south. Interlabels, Webtech, R K Papers, Mudrika, Icon, Tayabi, etc in the west. Update, Syndicate, Jain transfer, Great Eastern, Prakash Labels, etc in the North. The three brothers at Prakash Labels worked hard in the price marking labels segment to drive in volumes that were unheard of in the industry. Syndicate Printers went Global with operations in The UAE.
The new millennium, the first decade of a new century
As we crossed the middle of this decade and the world’s eyes were on us. The label summit in early 2006 was a proof. The big time presses started coming in all over the country. You name them they were here, Gallus, Nilpeter, Iwasaki, Gidue, Mark Andy, Rotatek, Focus, Orthotec, the list is endless.
The local press manufacturers have also reasons to be proud of. Multiflex, Jandu, RK Machine, webtech and a host of others are reporting installations constantly. The two dyanamic ladies in our industry also emerged as highly successful narrow web label printers in this decade. Amila Singhvi at IPP and Kusum Dunglay at Goodwork. Goodwork took a legendary step by signing up a joint venture with Reynders. Unfortunately they parted ways the following year in 2008. Reyenders continued their operations as an individual entity. Our Industry Leaders Interlabels setup a unit in Africa on one hand and adding more state of art presses at a new and bigger facility. Webtech also expanding with new machines moved to bigger premises. In the earlier part of this decade, over thirty years after making a historical start the Kroenert coater of Shanti Lal Doshi and Company was sold to Gloss Holdings.
A proud event for us at Weldon was being the first Indian Labelstock manufacturer ever to have exhibited at Labelexpo Brussels. We are happy to report our exports to Iran, UAE, Ukraine, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Bahrain, UK, France, Italy, Germany, New Caledonia, New Zealand, etc. Another feather in our cap was that my presentation on the Indian market, became a part of the International Cham Symposium at St. Moritz, Switzerland in the year 2003.
The India Label show in 2002 opened to a resounding success and repeating the success in 2004 in cooperation with Tarsus at New Delhi. It was also in 2002 that we saw another historic step, the formation of LMAI. This happened due to sincere efforts of Amit Sheth and Industry stalwarts like Surinder Kapoor of R K Papers, Bhavin Kothari of Interlabels, Rajesh Chadha of Update Prints, Kuldeep Goel of Any Graphics, Vivek Kapoor of Creative Prints( At that time he was with Icon Prints), etc.
Halfway through the decade we were expecting many more exciting things to happen. More International Companies were waiting to enter, looking for oppurtune time or the right partners. The Industry was on a definite growth path and it was just a matter of time when it became a major market in labels in this part of the world.
The years after
The preceding part of this article I wrote in early 2006 and towards the end of the year I looked back and saw changes coming in rapidly. I would start by adding here that immediately after having made the above presentation I had a pleasant surprise. Shyam Bhatia, the son of the first label printer was standing in front of me at our stand during the summit. I had tried to trace him without success. I was excited, I gave him a chair, since he had missed the presentation, I gave it to him and asked him to read it and tell me if there was any thing wrong in what I wrote. As he finished reading his eyes were moist and shining, he just kept saying, “it is so true…it is so true” and then he was gone...
Rapid developments and changes are happening in the Indian market. More international companies have become extremely active. The Indians are also investing across the country. At least dozens of Chinese hot melt coater laminators have been installed. Label stock manufacturing is going wider, there are a few 1.5 meters coater laminators that have been installed or are in the process of being installed. A whole new set of Offset printers are investing in high-end label presses, indicating a firm shift from wet glue to self adhesive labels. Narrow web label printers are coming up in smaller cities and towns rather then being restricted only to metros. Installations have been reported at Nagpur, Pune, Indore, Hyderabad, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad, Baroda, Baddi, Uttranchal etc.
A host of international label Co.s like CCL, Brady’s, etc are already in the process of setting up shop in India. The successful Finat & LMAI sponsored, Euro-India label exchange, held on the sidelines of India Label Show 2006, indicated to setting up of a whole new set of joint ventures in the field of narrow web labels. It surely was interesting to see more and more of European companies registering on the show website. If registrations on the India Label Show website were any indication then surely India is the happening destination for the narrow web label industry. As per my information visitors from over 35 countries had registered. The 2006 India label show happened and it was a great success. So much so that by September 2007 it was taken over by Tarsus. The announcement of India Label show having become a part of the global labelexpo group came at the Labelexpo 2007 at Brussels. The two years following the 2006 show have seen unprecedented growth. The flock of marketing agents of most of the international press manufacturers, had shifted gears and were in an aggressive selling mode. The credit of expanding this market goes to the likes of Gaurav Roy selling all those Mark Andy’s, Ranesh Bajaj selling Rotateks, Lintec, Omega, etc. Amit Sheth selling Focus and Orthotec, Heidelberg selling Gallus machine, Vijay Pareekh offering MPS, Autoprint offering Omet, Riefenhauser selling Gidue and the list could go on. The biggest surprise came from the industry leader worldwide, Nilpeter. In 7 preceeding years they sold just one press and in the last two years they not only sold four new presses but also announced setting up of facility to produce Nilpeter presses in Chennai, India. The credit goes to the forward thinking of Dilip Shah and hard working of Manish Kapoor. The Indian press manufacturers also have made their mark, with R K Machines of Ahmedabad reporting 150 installations and Jandu reporting 26 installations in 2-3 years. There are a whole lot others but the list would become too exhaustive.
Two very important happenings that took place in these two years after 2006 were first, the entry of Raflatac with setting up of their slitting facility near Mumbai and second, the expansion of Avery Denison with them setting up another coating laminating facilty near Pune. The competetion in the labelstock segment became extremely intense. Many local stock producers suffered due to to erosion of margins and unviable credit terms. With raw material prices climbing and wafer thin profits, the time for shakeout and restructuring had arrived. Many have started looking out towards global markets or venturing into new and profitable products with synergy. During these two last years a multitude of presses have arrived in India. The likes of young Chandan Khanna, who diversified from being a sheetfed offset printer to a narrow web label printer has surprised many. In just a few years from his first one waterless offset Iwasaki press, it became three presses and then at the Labelexpo 2006 he surprised all by announcing that he had bought a Nilpeter and an MPS in one go. Prakash labels also reported unprecedented growth with their multi location manufacturing and stock facility in the UAE. Interlabels, the market leader continued to grow not only in India but also in their international operations. In south Gururaj of Wintek in Bangalore and Raveendran of Seljagat in Sivakasi were on a roll reporting fresh investments in the label business. As the inflationary pressure came to hit USA and found its way also to India, label printers who have made huge capital investments in state of art Label presses started to feel the pinch of competition coming from not only international printers but also from their local counterparts, with their relatively cheaper investments in Chinese Label presses.
This period also becomes significant because of recognition of Indians in the label industry on a global scale. It was a matter of pride for me for having been chosen as the only Asian to be a member of the Finat committees. At the Finat congress 2008 in Paris, it was heartening to see many Indian faces and creditable that Bharat Mehta of Superlabels of Mumbai and Kamlesh Shah of Letragrafix were recipients of Finat awards for excellence in printing. With LMAI now becoming more active and interactive they are once again parternering Finat for yet another Indo European label exchange hopefully along with the next India Label Show 2008. LMAI is also in the advance stages of conducting a fare and competitive label awards competition, professionally. It is heartwarming that printers from surrounding countries have become or have expressed the desire to be a part of LMAI. As a young India continues to grow at a fast pace, more and more young Indians earn more and spend more, giving a big fillip to the retail industry. As the retail grows, so does the requirement of labels. There may be bad patch or a small pause but for a long time this industry has still to grow, set many landmarks and create history.