Innovative, sustainable and intelligent labelling solutions

Innovative, sustainable and intelligent labelling solutions
Avery Dennison

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Manoj Kochar-Holoflex; Do what you like and, enjoy life!

Holoflex Limited is one of the leading manufacturers of Holograms and allied products. 

Director and cofounder of Kolkata based Holoflex, Manoj Kochar was the first Asian chairman of IHMA (International Hologram Manufacturers Association) which amounts to recognising India, and Indian companies as important and competent players in the world of hologram manufacturing. The Indian association HOMAI (Hologram Manufacturers Association of India) was founded in 1998 to represent holographic industry in India. During the tenure of Manoj as president of HOMAI in 2014, it was envisioned that this association was not just for the hologram industry but in actual supports all the authentication technologies. So, widening the horizon of this prestigious association, it was transformed and renamed as ASPA(Authentication Solution Providers' Association) with Manoj at helm in 2014. ASPA is working to build up the authentication eco-systems and environment in the country against counterfeiting activity and illicit economy.

Manoj Kochar’s family hails from Bikaner in Rajasthan, since his grandfather J M Kochar was an ICS officer of MP cadre from pre-partition days of India, they settled down in Gwalior in MP (Madhya Pradesh). Manoj’s father B K Kochar became a doctor and eventually moved to Kolkata in 1962-63. Manoj was born in Kolkata on 5th September 1964 but being in a well bonded joint family, since the grandparents wanted their grandson to be with them, he got his basic education up to class 7 in Shishu Mandir Gwalior while staying with them. Thereafter the family felt it was better for Manoj to do further studies in Kolkata where his father was pursuing his medical practice, and because Kolkata was a cosmopolitan city where education standard would be much better. Finishing school, Manoj completed his graduation from St. Xaviers college. They are a joint family where all siblings live with their parents. He has a younger sister who is now married and a younger brother who is into contract farming and agriculture.

Manoj Kochar
On completing his college degree Manoj opted for trading in tea chests. His father, being a doctor, had a big social circle and many of his friends were tea garden owners. One of the friends suggested that Manoj should get into tea chest business. Those days for packaging bulk tea, light weight tea chests or crates made with plywood were used, later, bags started being used. Kolkata being the closest big city to the substantial number of tea gardens, the industry connected to tea has a big presence. Taking the friend’s advice, Manoj indulged. Since readymade tea chests meant they could not be sent to tea gardens cost effectively, attracting huge freight element in transporting air, for these reasons, unassembled components were supplied to finally assemble in the tea estates for packing. Manoj was outsourcing the components in Kolkata and shipping to customers.

At this time, the interest in packaging grew in him and he started visiting the Indian Institute of Packaging to study the nuances of packaging at large. The officials in the institute suggested to Manoj to get into flexible packaging, in 1987 he started studying the project and, in an effort, to start, he wanted to import some used equipment that he had identified. Unfortunately, those were the days of licensing for all imports. After making a lot of effort, he could not get the import license and in the meanwhile the equipment that he had identified got sold, so the project had to be shelved. However still, at that time the hologram industry was evolving in Europe and attracted Manoj’s attention. He studied the market and decided to enter the hologram business. In 1991, to initiate the business, he started trading in holograms. At that time Manoj discussed the project with his relatives Suranas, who too got interested and they decided  to join the business. With Ajit Surana’s uncle Kamal Kumar Surana as his co-founder, they started Holoflex in 1991. Ajit Surana joined a year thereafter.

Manoj Kochar and Ajit Surana
For over three decades the partnership has flourished and is going strong. Initially for the first couple of years, Holoflex started to import holograms. Once they decided to manufacture themself, knowing almost nothing about manufacturing, they presumed that they could start with embossing and the rest would come eventually but when they started, they had  no knowledge about adhesive, release paper, die cutting, etc. They had to take their material to different vendors for adhesive coating, die cutting and other processing. A particular incident Manoj mentioned is that one time, Ajit had to carry a roll of hologram all the way to StayOn papers in Hyderabad to get hotmelt adhesive coating done. Gradually they started installing machines one by one to manufacture holograms integrating backward and forward. They were in total manufacture of holograms in 1994.

At that  point in time hologram was a niche area that had a novelty factor but by the start of new millennium they realized that the novelty factor started to fade. To diversify in lines that were in synergy, they had the option to move into packaging or labels. Eventually looking at the higher growth rate of labels and their experience in converting holograms where the converting was similar and they had acquired experience in converting, labels seemed like a natural extension of their present business. The author met Manoj during one of the promotional roadshows of “India Label Show” in around 2005-2006 where both shared a dais speaking on anticounterfeiting. It was an event when Manoj rubbed shoulders with peers in the label industry. It is the author’s perception that that time spent with the label fraternity may have aided his decision to manufacture labels which somehow had synergy with their existing business. In around 2007 they decided to get into manufacture of labels.

In 2010 they finally started producing self-adhesive labels by installing their first flexo label press, which was a six colour Chinese tower type machine. As for starting off with labels, while they had experience in converting but printing was another ball game. They did not understand inks and the colour gamut. Getting the right people who could run the press for them was a challenge, but they managed to build a good team to take the project forward. They had envisioned that the label industry will boom in India. If we look at it as an overview, label industry in various forms in totality  has boomed. According to the author, if we look at it in the larger perspective it has grown beyond imagination but since labels have transformed into many tangents starting from just glue applied or wet glue to self-adhesive, it has moved also into shrink sleeves, wrap around, inmold, screen or digital on product, thermal transfer labels and much more, the eventual growth has been divided in all segments. Fortunately, Self-adhesive labels have consistently been registering a steady double-digit growth always and so the size of this segment now is also huge as compared to the initial days.

Until they started labels, they looked at themselves as just a hologram manufacturer, with label manufacturing they saw themself as a branding solution provider. On a deeper rethink Manoj and Ajit both partners decided to re-invent themselves every few years, the flexo machine acquired was just a tool to print, they imagined and repositioned themselves as an authentication, security and branding solution provider all rolled into one,  incorporating diverse converting technologies like, security printing, foiling, embossing, etc. They extended their production range from just holograms to plain labels, printed labels, security labels, shrink sleeves, certificates etc. For the growth and evolution of their business the two partners Manoj and Ajit were the inspiration and driving force for each other, however they give credit to their parents for guiding them at times.

Since their foundation was on the initiation in holograms, nostalgically Manoj remembers the first sale of holograms 1993 was to a company called “Duckback” who used to make waterproof products like raincoats, bags etc. They were facing a lot of duplication, Holoflex successfully got the order for hologram to counter duplication. This was followed up by another huge order for the Wills cricket world cup in 1997 when all tickets carried holograms supplied by them. The one huge order that gave the big boost to their company came from Tata Steel for their GC Sheets (galvanized corrugated sheets) which were highly duplicated. They convinced Tata Steel of this innovative technology and Manoj reminisces, in those days it was a huge single value order at over Rupees one Crore, a big boost for a start-up that defined their future growth. As regards labels, the first big break came as an order from a local Kolkata FMCG brand Jacolive, it is an account that Holoflex serves till date.

Holoflex operates with around 200 people in employment out of a 25000 square feet shopfloor, which is now falling short for the size of their operation. They have taken up storage spaces around their factory to complement the working space. Being fond of green areas, they have a nice lawn in front of their factory, but the paucity of space is making it an imperative to consider  constructing more on that space as well to get another 15000 square feet to take them through for another two years. Production and head office are in different areas in Kolkata while they have sales offices in Delhi and Mumbai. 

They have multiple sets of equipment to produce holograms, even making their own masters. For labels they have the Chinese tower type machine and two Italian Omet label presses plus a range of ancillary equipment to do variable data printing, inspection, finishing, etc. Ten percent of their production is exported to many countries.

Holoflex has won several awards from IHMA, HOMAI and ASPA. Talking of the future Manoj feels they will look at strengthening their digital capabilities both for printing and for authentication like security, track and trace, customization and personalisation. He foresees a huge growth of digital soon due to the convenience of creating and delivering. The focus now is on improving upon present working and consolidating before moving into new arenas. Packaging may be an area of interest in the future but at present they intend to extend their expertise in holography and optical verification technologies. However summing it up Manoj says end of the day, the way it is appearing, it will be hybrid presses that will rule. As regards sustainability, they are actively looking at creating innovative security options for tamper evident labels with sustainable substrates like paper. For waste management, they have a contract with a government licensed waste management company who picks up the waste.

Manoj got married to Vandana Kochar in 1991. Vandana prefers to remain a homemaker. They have two children, and Manoj has never impressed upon them to follow his diktat on selecting their future and let them follow their passion. His son Sidharth was born in 1993, like his father, he also graduated from St. Xaviers college in Kolkata. Following graduation, he  did his MBA from Columbia Business School in New York. Being very clear in thought not to join family business Holoflex, at least for now, on return to India he joined an American Fintech startup Nova credit. Later he quit this job and started working on his personal project in financial services and investing. Sidharth is married to Raashi, who is a B.Sc. Finance from the University of Edinburg and presently working with the company Bharat Pe. His daughter Vasundhara, born in 1996, is a patisserie chef now. She too studied in St. Xaviers college completing her B.Sc. economics, after which she decided to follow her passion to be a baker and joined the Le Cordon Bleu London Bakery School for training and diploma called DiplĂ´me de Pâtisserie which is recognised globally as one of the most respected culinary qualifications in pastry. On return, she has initiated her startup and offering her products under her own brand “Cheesserted” specialising in  cheesecakes besides other items.

Manoj follows and believes strongly about an advice handed over to him by his grandfather, it is very important to do what you like and enjoy; success will find you. For this reason, he never impressed upon his children to join his business after college. It is well known in Kolkata that St. Xaviers is a prestigious college, and it is very difficult to get admission there. Once you pass out of that institution a decent job placement is almost certain. His daughter, after graduation from this college wanted to pursue her passion of making cakes, so Manoj agreed and let her do what she liked and what she was passionate about.

Reaching his 60th year of age, in a few months, Manoj wishes to achieve more with less so that he has more time on his hands to travel, play golf and enjoy life. Though he asserts, “I will never retire!” Since his own children are so far not in this business but his partner’s, the Surana family, have their youngsters in business so the family is there to let the elders do what they like as Manoj mentioned earlier quoting his grandfather, “Do what you like and enjoy life”.

Written by Harveer Sahni, Chairman Weldon Celloplast Ltd. New Delhi July 2024