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IndSpirit 2021 Awards underline quality of brands and packaging: Judges

After two years of Covid, Indspirit 2021 Awards evaluation got underway with all seriousness.

It was indeed nice to see the coming together of professionals, after a two year lull, for the Ambrosia wine and spirits tasting sessions, as part of the Indspirit 2021 awards which is happening on December 17 in New Delhi. Five judges for the Ambrosia Alcobev products tasting and four judges for the packaging awards huddled together for two days to judge 252 brands. The eminent jury tasted different brands in all categories of whisky, vodka, gin, rum, brandy, craft spirits, wine and beer and the jury on packaging evaluated on various parameters.

Eminent jury panel

The eminent tasting jury comprised Dr. Binod.K.Maitin, ex-USL and an independent consultant; Graeme Bowie, President – Malt Plant, Piccadily Agro Industries Ltd; Ajoy Shaw, Wine Maker and consultant; Sheetal Kadam, Wine & Spirits promoter and independent consultant; and Bernard Schaefer, a veteran judge from Germany.

The expert packaging jury consisted of Pranav Bhide, Leo Burnett Creative Director; Prof. K. Munshi, former Head of IIT Design department and independent consultant; Dr.Santosh Kshirsagar, Dean of J.J.School of Applied Arts; and Shekhar Ambedkar, Assistant Director and Head of the International Packaging Centre.

Scope for new entrants

The alcobev industry in the country largely comprises of Indian made whisky which accounts for a sizable share in boosting the growth of this sector. Across segments, domestically produced brands account for a higher share of consumer preference and there is still significant scope for new entrants to gain consumer preference.

The spirits industry in India with over 60% preference for whisky, offers great untapped potential for growth. There are several opportunities within the domestic sector markets for Indian whiskies to grow. There is huge country liquor consuming audience base that is seeking better quality products and have been upgrading over the years. India’s relatively young population sees newer individuals/consumers added each year to the legal drinking age – wherein Indian whisky could become the entry point for this audience. There has also been a growth of women whisky drinkers aided by on-premises and retail environments. All of these factors indicate the scope to fully explore the Indian spirits market.

Internationally, markets with a large Indian diaspora as well as those having similar palette to the Indian consumer see a strong preference for Indian whiskies. Some of the world’s top-selling whisky brands come from India and find much consumer love, globally as well.

What the judges have to say about the range

Dr. Binod Maitin says Indian whiskies are predominant among the top whisky rankings based on volume of sales. Indian whiskies have a distinct identity due to the tradition of blending with neutral alcohol produced from cane molasses to produce extra neutral alcohol (ENA). Economy whiskies are made with ENA and flavourings, premium blended whiskies contain Indian and Scotch malts, and single-malt whiskies use only Indian malts. Neutral alcohol from grain has also been adopted by manufacturers, particularly for premium whiskies.

Graeme Bowie, opines that there is huge improvement in quality of the products, even in the economy category. “There is passion for quality.”

Ajoy Shaw is impressed with the huge variety of spirits available for the Indian consumer. The discerning consumer looks for good value, good quality and a plethora of options. Similarly, Sheetal Kadam is delighted to see the expanding range of spirits in the Indian market. The portfolio is ever expanding and good for the consumer who is now spoilt for choice.

Bernard Schaefer, a veteran judge, is always in awe of the brands presented at Indspirit competition, however, some don’t exactly make the mark according to him. One good thing, he says is that there is constant improvement in the quality of products presented every year.

Sensory evaluation

Talking about the competition, Binod Maitin says, “Sensory evaluation is used as the primary means of flavour control in the industry. This chapter describes the origins of flavour in whisky and the typical sensory methods used both during production and in consumer research. The panel is experienced and harmonised. Mistakes in samples are pointed out. Samples are provided for references.”

Graeme Bowie says the brands are fairly good, endorsing the same is Ajoy Shaw who feels that all brands can easily get a bronze medal and more. Sheetal Kadam believes that the quality is above average.

Technology driving change

Technology is driving change in operations and strategy – right from crop analysis to smartphones scanning product labels. Big data and analytics have also been major drivers for the alcobev industry when it comes to improving insights across the supply chain. Having in-place solutions to provide real-time insights can help identify the largest problems at hand and find ways to optimise production and maintain quality.

Analytics is beneficial

Additionally, when we look at operations and quality assessment, and analytics strategy can go a long way in helping run plants, raw material test analysis, blend inspection analysis, quality control, compliance, end of line quality analysis, hygiene assessment, and managing customer complaints. There are multiple visual and physical checks required across various stages, and because it is a restricted environment wherein companies are bound by various regulations, analytics can be extremely beneficial.

Quality of brands improving every year

Talking about the quality of brands on offer, Binod Maitin, who has created many succesful blends, says the alcobev brands are okay. Wines are a problem, he says because of storage issues. Graeme Hamilton opines the products are plausible. Ajoy Shaw believes all brands can do well in the market place. Sheetal Kadam says there is improvement to a large extent as there is demand for upgradation.

Packaging market to touch nearly $39 billion by 2026

The alcoholic drinks packaging market was valued at USD 29.84 billion in 2020, and it is expected to reach a market value of USD 38.87 billion by 2026, registering a CAGR of 5.06% during the forecast period (2021-2026). Globally, growth in disposable income, coupled with increased spending on recreational activities, is a major influencing factor that collectively lead to growth of alcohol consumption, which fuels the growth of the alcoholic drinks packaging market over the forecast period.

Major manufacturing companies in the alcohol industry follow attractive packaging formats, which include ceramic glass bottles, whiskey pouches, bag-in-box, bag-in-tube, etc. Changing consumer preferences are also affecting the market significantly. Over the years, growing awareness among the brand manufacturers about differentiating their alcoholic products based on the packaging is also expected to contribute to the growth of the alcoholic drinks packaging market.

Conventionally, European and American manufacturers are often referred to as the leading producers of alcohol beverages. However, with the rise in demand for Chinese beer and Japanese whiskey, Asia-Pacific is increasingly becoming a major market for alcoholic beverage production, creating a massive demand for alcoholic drinks packaging solutions.

Metal packaging growing market

Owing to various benefits offered by metal packaging, such as better hermetic sealing and high mechanical strength, there is a growing preference for metal packaging from the companies present in the alcoholic drinks packaging market.However, fluctuating raw material prices and implementation of stringent regulations on packaging materials used for alcoholic beverages may hinder the growth of the market.

Judging parameters

The judges looked at parameters such as unit pack, canister, graphics, new ideas and feel. This is what judges had to say on the brands that were presented for packaging, their sustainability and their comparison in the international market place.

Pranav Bhide said the first impressions of the packaging is its versatility. It is important for the brands to stand out. The buzz word in today’s world is sustainability. There is a sea change in the packaging of Indian liquor and it is towards Indianness. Indian brands can match international brands, but it is still not there.

Prof. K. Munshi says after two years of pandemic it is a nice feeling to be here for Indspirit and once again judging packaging. He felt that despite the pandemic entries this year are more and also there is qualitative improvement in packaging. “It was a tough time judging” and hoped that there would be more creativity. However, he felt there was no evidence of sustainable packaging. “Indian liquor industry needs to take help and take advice. Indian brand packaging has long way to go. We need to put in efforts in R & D and innovation.”.

Dr. Santosh Kshirsagar was of the view that this year’s packaging industry did not have much variety as compared to last year. “Indian liquor industry should have a different approach. Indianness needs to be reflected and must stand out in the market place. Sustainability is an extremely important world issue. We have not identified a value for it. It is not easy, but it is a fundamental issue. Caps of bottles are a sensitive issue.. There is a long tradition in design. India has traditional visual imagery. Futuristically it is possible to succeed with this imagery. We need to make a mark with packaging.”

Shekhar Ambedkar says he has seen at Indspirit a range of unique packaging and innovation. “There is uniqueness in materials and the future should be sustainable packaging and believes that regulation would help in that direction. This year there are very commendable glass bottles for beer, especially those with a special tint. Good design is also present. We have been matching international standards. Companies should work towards being unique and that will sell.”

Parksons Packaging Ltd. acquires Manohar Packaging, new entity to have presence across India

Manohar Packaging, a leading player in the alcobev industry with a pan India presence has now been sold to Parksons. This gives Parksons a major presence in the alcobev industry. Aditya Patwardhan, Board Member, unveils details of the new entity and the way forward.

What is the nature of the sale of Manohar Packaging to Parksons? Can you share some details?

As widely published in leading newspapers and media, Manohar Packaging (“MPPL”) has been acquired in entirely, by Parksons Packaging Ltd., a Warburg Pincus owned company, and the industry leader in paper based packaging. Post the deal, the Board of Directors of MPPL has been reconstituted strengthening the company’s management team.

The newly constituted board includes Rameshji, Siddharth, and Chaitanya Kejriwal, from Parksons, and Hemant Mundra, from Warburg Pincus. I continue as a board member. All of us will work as a professional management team and continue to encourage an entrepreneurial mindset.

Till the time the integration is complete, MPPL will continue as a subsidiary, however all back end operations, reporting and data management will be merged and streamlined with immediate effect, to offer our clients a seamless experience with a newer and larger network of plants, with clubbed and standardised materials management. We hope to broadly convert around 300,000 tons of sustainable and renewable paperboard in the near future in toto.

What are the strategic benefits to both companies arising out of the transactions?

What this effectively means is, that our clients now have a network of eight mega plants spanning the length and breadth of India, with state-of-the-art technology, standardised inputs, systems, quality parameters, and methods of operations.

The care and detail with which we have been working with our partners and clients – be it in terms of packaging design, development, validation, to market supplies, will only improve. The combined strengths of Parksons scale, and MPPL’s domain expertise in alcobev, will be evident in the work we do going forward.

Our Design Park is unparalleled, and equipped with the best software and digital technology. The combined team of creative pre-press, technical packaging developers, coupled with production experience, will soon be deployed on new projects and will bear testimony to this.

MPPL’s plants located in Goa (West) and Punjab (North), will be part of the total network including Pantnagar (North – 2 units), Sri City (South), Daman & Chakan (West).

What I am most excited about is our increased ground presence with a state-of-the-art plant in Guwahati (North East), with which we can serve our clients in the east of India with speed and efficiency.

Will there be any changes to the way Manohar Packaging continues to work?

As in the case of most mergers & acquisitions, the aim is to grow the new entity and improve our overall ability to serve our clients. Given we’re a ‘B2B’ industry, it is extremely important to ensure we are moving in the same direction and journey as our valued partners.

The Kejriwal family and us share a common vision, the same mind set, goals, and growth plans. There was a meeting of minds, which ticked off all the boxes. The industry and our clients will be the biggest beneficiary of this deal.

Delineation and segregation between shareholding and professional management is important and we all are in it to grow as India’s most preferred supply partner for paper based packaging. Both our companies are held by Warburg Pincus and we’re glad to have them as we will continue to think like entrepreneurs, work in a professional environment, and deploy our knowledge and strength to drive more power to the company.

What is the status of the liquor packaging industry?

Currently, like the liquor industry, the supporting packaging industry is equally fragmented. There are a great number of players in the game, and we are happy to co-exist.

Clients decide whom they wish to partner with, and they have several criteria to choose from in terms of a holistic approach to supply chain, or purely price based on any given month.

We, at Parksons, run highly regulated and governed companies, with sustainability, social compliance, ESG taking high priority in the way we operate and run our facilities.

Hence we’re more focussed on long term client partners who value the need for transparency, professionalism, fair governance, and sustainable practices. We are extremely fortunate and honoured to partner with them, and I’m sure more beverage companies will value this long term approach eventually.

Alcobev is an exciting place to be, and is the gold standard for premium packaging. So likewise, most players in this field, need to be on top of their game with technology upgradation, technical knowledge, and downstream supply chain security given that commodity markets are in their most turbulent phase at the moment. This is where the long term approach wins for most.

How has the pandemic affected the company?

Here again, the fact that our organisations are well managed and governed helped a lot. Both MPPL and Parksons’ plants were up and running shortly into lockdown 1, with the highest safety protocols and were operating when our clients needed us most.

In unprecedented times, I am proud that the human ‘can do’ spirit and agility took precedence and we managed the show when many could not. I earnestly would like to thank our clients and mill partners for supporting us, so we in turn could deliver whatever was needed out of us in short notice with great agility and flexibility.

I would say, looking back, it has been the toughest learning curve for all of us, and we have come out of it stronger. I say this with certainty and hope, that the worst is truly behind us.

How can the premiumisation trend boost the industry?

Premium products are seeing higher salience and acceptance, maybe owing to increase in home consumption due to lockdowns, modernisation of retail outlets (Delhi), and clearing of red tape for home delivery / app enabled ordering of brands as an added convenience to the consumer.

The dark market woes of the alcohol industry still remain, and hence the pack is the first impression that the consumer takes home with them. Most marketeers understand this very well, and we’re beginning to see less ‘me-toos’ and more bespoke work in the recent few quarters.

With premiumisation and better margins, alcobev companies are able to experiment with new innovations, and can justify higher packaging budgets. This brings in a lot of excitement to the consumer as well as the retail shelves, leading to growth and diversification in the industry.

Improvements in the overall consumption experience that the leading premium brands offer, viz.; design cues, primary & secondary packaging upgrades, closure, to pour and palate should lead to better and wider social acceptance of responsible and repeat consumption in the near future. Premium outlets will need premium looking brands, and going by the Delhi market example, there should be tremendous headroom for growth here.

Cheers to that!