The Covid-19 pandemic changed consumer behavior across sectors, including the packaging industry. In the ‘new normal’, consumers prioritized safety, hygiene, and convenience more than ever before and this shift led to a heightened focus on packaging quality — necessitating rigorous testing methods to meet their expectations.
In an interaction with Packaging South Asia, Vishal Malhotra, managing director of Presto Stantest, a manufacturer of packaging testing equipment, shares his views on the changing consumer behavior and the importance of packaging testing in a post-pandemic market.
“Consumers are more cautious and meticulous in their purchasing decisions. The pandemic made them more aware of the importance of hygiene and safety, especially the products they take home,” Malhotra says. Consumers, he says, are actively seeking out products with robust packaging that guarantees product integrity and minimizes health risks.
Based in Faridabad near Delhi, Presto Stantest is a manufacturer of testing equipment for paper, PET and preform, plastics and polymers, color grading, environmental friendliness, and packaging material.
Relying on consumer feedback
According to Malhotra, the adoption of Industry 4.0 has begun, where everything that needs to be connected, “It’s all about the pace at which the industry globally adopts the changes and advancements. The consumer now has more choices than ever. They choose a product or machinery depending on the price, quality, and service provided by a supplier. Any company that does not become consumer-centric may find itself out of the packaging industry. At Presto, we are focusing on digital advancements of our interface software to be more user-friendly as well as its integration suit so that the testing process and results could be viewed conveniently on laptops and smartphones.”
Today, packaging has become a key factor that influences a consumer’s purchasing decisions. “The packaging serves as a visual representation of the product’s quality and safety measures. It also enhances the overall consumer experience,” says Malhotra. Brands that invest in high-quality packaging and demonstrate a commitment to consumer safety are more likely to gain a competitive edge and build brand loyalty, he feels.
The pandemic also accelerated the need for advanced packaging testing methods to address the changing consumer demands. According to Malhotra, “Packaging testing has traditionally focused on factors such as durability, resistance to compression, and shelf life. However, post-pandemic, additional parameters gained significance, including microbial contamination, viral transmission prevention, and eco-friendliness. Testing procedures have evolved to encompass these aspects, ensuring that packaging meets the highest safety standards.”
Malhotra says there has been a shift in the global markets as Indian machines are being preferred over those of China. “The adoption is most noticeable in Japan, Germany, and other European markets. The Japanese are known for their technology and precision and Indian manufacturers too are leveling up to their knowledge and standards, as a result of which numerous Japanese companies are willing to collaborate with Indian manufacturers,” he adds.
Drawing an analogy, Malhotra says Maruti Udyog becoming Maruti Suzuki was a revolution in the automotive industry as the Japanese emphasis on quality initiated a drive where product standards became a highlight. The same was emphasized by Coca-Cola in the food and beverage industry.
“Packaging goes through varied stages, starting from its design to implementation with sustainable efforts and finally reaching the end consumer. The packaging needs to go through several phases of testing, assuring temperature maintenance and toxicity of the packaging material, wear and tear during transit, and the durability of the product before it is purchased by the consumer. Focus is also on the design of the packaging to provide consumers a rich unpacking experience.”
Presto Stantest draws inspiration from the Germans. Malhotra says the design, technology, and user-friendliness of German machines motivate their production and processes in terms of design and utility. Presto has hired German consultants to provide them with more information on design and technology. Knowledge about Presto’s machines and practices is relayed to their customers in their workshop model wherein they exchange information about industry specifications, requirements, and trends every fourth Monday of the month. Feedback from the customers about their experience, demands, and dissatisfactions is shared directly through a reporting system called ‘Mitra’.
Testing equipment industry grows
Malhotra says businesses must adapt to changing consumer behavior by investing in robust packaging testing methods. By doing so, they can build consumer trust, gain a competitive advantage, and thrive in the post-pandemic market.
Speaking at length about the growth and influence of the testing equipment industry, Malhotra says, “There was a time when neither the consumers cared about the products nor suppliers cared what applications they are sending out. Earlier, a consumer, for instance, would eat something wrapped in a newspaper. That mentality took a shift due to hygiene parameters and awareness that inks are not safe for consumption. Food wrap papers came to cover that space. Similarly, the suppliers would only care about ISI marks on their equipment. The testing equipment in their production facility would gather dust and run only when an audit took place. The growth in the number of providers and consumer awareness resulted in a paradigm shift for the testing machinery, which is now incorporated in the daily production processes of packaging.”
Advancements in technology have revolutionized packaging testing. Malhotra explains, “Innovative testing equipment and techniques are now available to assess packaging quality comprehensively. These include microbial barrier testing, accelerated aging tests, leak detection, and non-destructive testing methods.” These advancements enable businesses to identify potential vulnerabilities in their packaging and make necessary improvements to meet evolving consumer expectations.
Further, globalization has led to a free flow of information and enabled a huge revamp in production quality. “Now products with substandard quality don’t have a market anymore and consumers are no longer on the sidelines. Increased consumer awareness has prompted businesses to prioritize packaging testing to ensure safety and build trust,” he says.
“We as a country are getting prepared for more sustainable practices. Consumers are talking about the quality of packaging materials that not only prevent food decay but are also safe. When we place food in packaging, the delicacy, aroma, and hygiene become the centerpiece of the puzzle. To respond to the growing needs, we will soon commission a new production plant to cover more ground and expand our reach, while constantly touching base with our customers,” Malhotra concludes.