Shyam Sunder B K, Chief Designer, Industrial Design – Tata Elxsi, India

India Infoline News Service | Mumbai |

“Consumers today have evolved from simply buying things off the shelf to studying the physical attributes or attractiveness of the container vis-à-vis understanding how a particular product can add value to their purchase.”

Shyam Sunder B K, Chief Designer, Industrial Design – Tata Elxsi, India has been associated with the company since 2002. He heads the product design domain with a focus on FMCG, Consumer Electronics and Healthcare. Shyam Sunder has over 15 years of experience in the FMCG, Healthcare and Consumer durables industry. He is a mechanical engineer and has a specialisation in Industrial design from IDC, IIT Mumbai. Prior to joining Tata Elxsi he had worked with Bajaj Auto, Eagle flasks & Bajaj Electricals.

Tata Elxsi is a design company that blends technology, creativity and engineering to help customers transform ideas into world-class products and solutions. A part of the US $100bn Tata group, Tata Elxsi addresses the communications, consumer products, defence, healthcare, media & entertainment, semiconductor and transportation sectors. This is supported by a talent pool of over 3500 employees and a network of design studios, development centres and offices worldwide. Key services include embedded product design, industrial design, animation & visual effects and systems integration.

Replying to Anil Mascarenhas of IIFL, Shyam Sunder says, “Consumers today have evolved from simply buying things off the shelf to studying the physical attributes or attractiveness of the container vis-à-vis understanding how a particular product can add value to their purchase.”

Give us an overview of the Packaging design industry.

The packaging industry has grown in relevance ever since the marketers have understood the need to establish a brand identity, in order to create brand loyalties. Packaging designs in lieu with the values of the brand are one of the fundamental tools used to communicate the message of the brand. Packaging Design is identified as a key product differentiator which acts as the sales canvas to promote the product’s attributes and benefits and thus is an integral part of the product experience altogether. As markets grow more competitive, design is the one powerful tool knit into the company’s DNA that can help improve profitability, change brand or product perceptions and of course enhance businesses. In a market that is overflowing with a number of products in the same category with similar if not the same offerings, at neck to neck prices, packaging is the only differentiator which helps a consumer choose one product over the other. 

Thus the most important design consideration is to create and tell a story that stands out among some 40,000 other products available at an average supermarket. The relevance of packaging design has however increased manifold over the last decade catalyzed by the growing middle class with disposable income, liberalization and the growth of the organized retail sector.

In the past, one of the major considerations in the packaging design industry has been to increase the aesthetic appeal of the product so as to ensure improved visibility at the point of sale, thus leading to higher sales. However powered by the radical consumer empowerment, through the internet and mobile revolution in the country the new breed of consumers are inclined towards products which not only look and feel good, but also allow for the ease of use and access, thus creating higher value.

Recently another trend that has been catching up in the packaging industry is that of ‘green packaging’. As both companies and consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental issues, environmentally sustainable packaging is gaining importance, which makes for recyclability and palette maximization. Having understood the importance of the right kind of packaging, companies have considerably increased their design spends. A well designed pack not only addresses the issues of product durability, but also helps a company save millions each year, by reducing the amount of material used for packaging. Thereby, correct packaging not only helps companies drive top line sales but also drives down waste and bottom line cost.

Are Indian vendors able to manage the twin requirements of design aspects as well as cost effectively?

The Indian consumer has undergone a radical change over the last decade. The growth of the Indian middle class with large amounts of disposable income, and an open market scenario has brought about a radical shift in their consumption patterns. The Indian consumer has increasingly become value conscious. Thus it no longer is about cheap products but products that create value. Thus simplistic but efficient products that are easy to use and store and are cost effective at the same time, are more preferred. This is seen not only in India but is gradually becoming a global trend.

Therefore the requirement of combining design aspects with cost effectiveness is not but choice but by demand of the industry.

To meet the demands of the new breed of consumers the companies have notably increased their design spends. Packaging has now become not only about the look and feel of the product but also about the sustainability and cost efficiency. The market around us is ever evolving. In such market conditions, products which are relevant today are outdated very soon due to constant advancements in technology. In such a market condition, to meet the requirements of the smart consumers of today, companies are hugely dependent on innovation to create sustainable products. Companies are also heavily investing in consumer research to create products that specifically cater to the needs of a particular market. Through the means of value engineering, companies are gradually doing away with the frills in a product and concentrating on the one or two core requirements. By institutionalizing design elements, companies have successfully been able to create efficient, cost effective products of superior quality.

There has also been a lot of progress by following and adapting international trends in terms of technology & machinery. It is the huge volumes that India as a market offers that gives an advantage to access such innovations. Especially in the field of plastic & paper there have been considerable advancements.

Brief us on what are your main offerings especially for the retail and FMCG sector.

At Tata Elxsi we offer turnkey design services right from consumer research, branding, packaging/retail design to prototyping and manufacturing support. Our inter-disciplinary team of researchers, designers and engineers work closely with clients across industries to build endearing brands, experiences and strategically design products which are vital for any brands growth.

For the FMCG industry we have worked on innovative packaging designs, unique dispensing mechanisms, and development of high-end gadgets. Our experience in developing successful and innovative packaging design solutions for the food and beverages, personal care, home care and pharma industries have won several awards for excellence in packaging.

Our retail design expertise in creating engaging experiences allows us to design and execute large-scale retail design environment projects. We offer services such as Retail identity design & Guidelines creation, Technology and Innovation integration, Design of Concept Stores & POS displays and Implementation support.

Given that people are more health conscious there is a closer look at ingredients and health benefits usually, to what extent do you see consumer preferences being dictated by the packaging and design? 

Gone are the days when product choices were determined by traditions. Since ‘experiencing’ the product is as much important as the product itself, consumers today have evolved from simply buying things off the shelf to studying the physical attributes or attractiveness of the container vis-à-vis understanding how a particular product can add value to their purchase. The Indian consumer is increasingly value conscious today and the same trend is catching on globally. Especially in an emerging economy like India, it is imperative that a product be redesigned keeping the socio-economic and cultural needs of the consumer in mind. Design is one of the key drivers of sale these days, across sectors since consumers are looking for products that are multifunctional, efficient, consistent and yet affordable, factoring in innovation, latest technology and simplicity.

Packaging plays a huge role in determining the product choices the consumer makes because in an increasingly competitive market design acts as the key product differentiator and thus is instrumental in creating brand loyalties. Packaging ultimately represents the brand and it is the first point of interaction with the customer. Therefore, packaging does much more than just being an enclosure for contents. We developed the packaging design for a brand of mouthwash called AM PM where the use of PVC material was replaced with PET as it more environmentally friendly and also gave the product a better visual appeal.

Why is there an increased preference for packaged food? Is it more of convenience or reliability?

The Indian Retail industry has grown exponentially over the last decade and has been noted as the fastest growing sector in the Indian economy. Especially, with the emergence of the urban middle class, this industry is poised to grow at a three year compounded annual growth rate of 46.64%. In this sector FMCG has been the fastest growing sector over the last decade with an annual growth rate of about 11%. While the packaged food industry, which is another of the key revenue generators of this segment is growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of about 15%, and is expected to touch $30 billion by 2015, according to a research report by ASSOCHAM. The survey also highlights the fact that 82% of the Indian workforce from metro cities prefers to eat packaged food to eating outside.

With these exponential growth figures, it is only natural that the manufacturers are paying intense attention to the way their product is positioned in the market. Companies have gradually begun to realize that better packaging designs not only enhance visibility but also are instrumental in building trust in the minds of the end consumer. Like I mentioned earlier, consumers today have evolved from simply buying things off the shelf to studying the physical attributes or attractiveness of the container vis-à-vis understanding how a particular product can add value to their purchase.

Tata Elxsi, being one of the leading design companies in the country, has played a significant role in the makeover of the packaged food industry. Consumer research by Tata Elxsi confirms that consumers now look for economical and safe packaging that not only look and feel good, but also allow for ease of use and storage. This is especially true for the packaged foods industry where the packaging has to ensure a sense of freshness, health and traceability. The other aspect of packaged food is that it is easy to carry and comes in sizable portions which are easy to consume. Owing to these attributes the packaging food industry has rapidly displaced the other categories in the FMCG industry, packaging design being one of the key reasons. Tata Elxsi has been one of the key players in the packaging design industry and worked with some of the leading businesses in the country including Unilever, Cadbury, P&G, Pepsi co, GSK among many others.

The packaging material has undergone a sea change over the years. Share some insights here

Though one of the main roles of packaging still remains to increase product visibility thus helping in sales and making way for brand loyalties; it also plays several other functional roles like protecting the content thus increasing the shelf life of the product.

From humble paper packaging, embodying the brand logo to sophisticated and holistic packaging that increases shelf life and ensures better visibility, packaging material has undergone a sea of change over the last decade. The use of foil bags, embossed and etched bottles, tetra packs, textured papers and wax seals, along with latest print techniques are some of the newest packaging trends prevalent in the industry. Another packaging trend that is making waves recently is Green packaging, which takes into account the various environmental issues prevalent, thus paving way for eco-friendly designs. This newest form of packaging allows for recyclability as well as palette maximization. Depletion of the ozone layer being another of the key environmental concerns today, eco-friendly packaging also tries to reduce the emission of greenhouses gases into the environment.

What role has Tata Elxsi played in the makeover of the processed and packaged food industry?

Tata Elxsi has over the years worked on several innovations for some of the leading FMCG brands to create a heightened product experience through packaging design. We were involved in the shift of the Horlicks packaging from glass to plastic, which was durable as well as had a greater visual appeal. We have also developed intuitive packaging for brands like Aliva which has a self standing pack for greater product experience. Another area that we have contributed substantially is the reduction of the weight of the pack and the number of components used to develop the complete product without compromising on the customer experience.

Which are the main FMCG companies you work with? Any innovations you would like to share?

We work with leading global FMCG companies such as Unilever, GSK, Pepsi co and P&G. On the other hand we work with leading national companies such as CavinKare, Emami and Marico. We have developed innovative dispensing mechanism for several talc brands including Ponds talc, Spinz and Dermicool. We have also designed the cracker for Aliva along with the self standing pack. We have been working with GSK over the past 8 years on the packaging for brands such as Horlicks and its variants and Boost.

What Prospects do you see for packaging design in India and abroad?

The global economy which is fuelling the growth of the packaging industry now offers diverse opportunities. Key drivers and trends shaping the packaging industry include economic/demographic trends and technology/environmental issues. Inevitably, the Indian packaging industry has become more diverse. Many international brands are entering the market and are changing the way local brands approach packaging.  Therefore the benchmark of packaging has soared in the past few years with the advent of innovation in design and technology. Therefore in today’s context the packaging design industry is always striving to create packaging that are sustainable, feasible, create exponential value as well as  provide an enhanced experience to consumers. In the future we can see several new forms of packaging that combine high performing materials with innovative applications like nano materials, smart packaging and multi-sensorial packaging.

Is the design stream attracting young talent? What is your advice to youngsters who wish to join this stream?

Design has picked up tremendously as a career in the past decade or so. With several international companies entering the Indian market and the local players using design as a differentiator to compete with them, there is a huge demand for design professional across industries. Coupled with the increase of design institutions there has definitely been an increase in the number of people pursuing design as a profession.

The field of design is extremely challenging but rewarding. Aspiring designers need be passionate about design and should come with an open mind to learn at every given opportunity. They should be aware of their surroundings and try and internalize the end user for whom they are designing. Another key attribute is that they need to constantly push the envelope to develop innovative designs and not be afraid to fail



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