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Adulteration & Counterfeiting In Liquor Demands Safe Packaging In India

For the third-largest alcohol market in the world – pegged at US$ 35 billion, the stakes are serious and sizeable. Isn’t it?

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Adulteration has led to many adverse health hazards over decades and this has increased manifold in the alcohol segment. There is a constant effort to end this nuisance but how do we deal with this societal menace?

With evolving packaging trends, juices and dairy products have been rapidly adapting to modern lifestyle demands, although not much is taking place in the alcoholic beverage segment. This industry still cannot be ignored for the mere fact that it is consumed in a substantial amount and any fragile packaging can directly hinder the well-being of consumers. In fact, going by estimates, unreliable packaging of liquor leads to many deaths during the year—courtesy scope for adulteration in liquor. Therefore, one should highlight the aspect of safe packaging to arrest the roots of adulteration.

No Control over Counterfeit Alcohol

Deaths and other health problems due to the consumption of adulterated hooch or country liquor (desi), is not new in India. These stem from the outbreak of liquor tainted with methanol, a close chemical cousin of potable alcohol that can be fatal just in a few ounces’ consumption. The year 2019 has reported deaths of over 250 people so far, due to consumption of toxic liquor- about 155 died in Assam and another 100 died in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

A recent study by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health showed that alcohol intake has increased in India by 38% between 2010 and 2017, and is expected to rise until 2030. Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have recorded the highest levels of alcohol consumption followed by Karnataka & Kerala. Contrary to popular beliefs, the problem is widespread not just in rural areas but in urban centres as well. Counterfeit alcohol is a related problem where cheap and/or adulterated alcohol is sold with fake packaging. In addition to the obvious tax and revenue losses for the public exchequer, this also has serious health implications for consumers. 

Need for a 360 Degree Approach 

Another question that surfaces in light of these challenges is— Can the government and liquor manufacturers outline a healthy and safe lifecycle of this product, from concept to commissioning? The appropriate response is ‘Yes’ but it comes with a set of caveats. However, the process set by liquor manufacturer and government should be such that it reduces the chances of adulteration to bare minimum, if not zilch. They have to be more assertive in implementing additional measures to reduce the chances of spurious/adulterated liquors sold in the market, especially in the case of packaging.

Economical Packaging with Aesthetic Value

There is a need and search for economical packaging solutions that can play a huge role in controlling the counterfeiting and adulteration of liquor. However, this is an anomaly since the cost of packaging, especially in case of glass bottles is significantly higher, when it comes to selling economy sized offerings like single serve units measuring 90/180 ml. Thus, the use of aseptic packaging becomes extremely necessary.

Aseptic packaging is ideal for alcohol as it not only offers six-layered safe packaging ensuring content is hygienic and tamper proof (and therefore anti-counterfeited) but also lighter and less fragile than glass, making it more economical. Indian Packaging companies are extremely cognizant of the potential aseptic liquid packaging business carries and investing with various value added features on the aesthetic side to ease the brand owners. These innovative features are one of a kind holographic, foil-stamping, embossing and lens effects uplifting the face of the aseptic packaging, which was till now confined to only mono-cartons. Moreover, aseptic packaging with aesthetic revival is a double advantage for brand owners and consumers both to identify safe and reliable liquor brands, at the point of sale.

Rising Demand of Aseptic Packaging

There has been a marked uptake in demand for aseptic packaging for the IMFL market with market size of approximately 3.5bn packs. A few states such as Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, and union territories of Puducherry and Daman & Diu have already started selling alcohol in aseptic packaging; whereas states like Odisha, Rajashthan and Haryana have recently approved the sale of IMFL aseptic packaging. 

Government Initiatives

Packaging is legally regulated for approved pack sizes of 90 and 180 ml currently. The advantage of aseptic packaging is that it’s impossible to tamper. If tried, it will permanently damage the pack & product both, making it impossible to refill or resell. Indian alcohol manufacturers are now increasingly moving towards aseptic packaging for their mass delivery products that cater to the lower end of the price spectrum (which is where most of the duplication occurs). 

Government’s initiatives of introducing HEAL (Holographic Excise Adhesive Labels) was another stepping stone to combat counterfeiting and adulteration in the liquor segment. This was first adopted by Tamilnadu and further implemented by numerous different Indian states. Today, more than 17 States’ Excise department are utilizing HEAL. This has not only dropped the hooch catastrophes and duplication, but has additionally increased the revenue collection in states. In fact, alcohol companies and brands are now increasingly open to introduce new technologies  which can embrace and retain the quality of the packaging. The steps taken by the government should be commended for these have been able to help brands as well as consumers a lot, and these should continue aggressively, without any speed breakers, to achieve end results. We have achieved a lot of good through government intervention, yet there are miles to go.

Dual Benefits for Manufacturers

These features need to be imbibed by the manufacturers to progress toward next level of safe packaging. In such a scenario, aseptic packs can bring more safety in the life of consumers even if they decide to consume country liquor or IMFL. More importantly, it will also enable manufacturers to work towards the welfare of their consumers. 

The challenge is that not all states have warmed up to aseptic packaging. However, Karnataka is a supreme example! The effective reception of aseptic packaging in the state by top alcoholic beverage companies with a spread-out of 70% market in this segment, as against the use of PET and glass packaging has dropped counterfeiting exponentially. This is an incredible contextual analysis, which can be reproduced in different states. Introducing aseptically packaged alcohol would be both industry and consumer friendly. Aseptic packaging would, at the same time, reduce revenue loss currently being incurred due to adulteration and counterfeiting issues. For the third-largest alcohol market in the world – pegged at US$ 35 billion, the stakes are serious and sizeable. Isn’t it?

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Ashwani Kumar Sharma

The author is President & CEO, New Business Initiative Uflex

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