Nikita Containers targets export markets for future growth

The use of decorative cans as confectionery packaging, in particular for chocolate and cookies, has seen rapid growth during the past two years

David Hayes speaks to CEO and director, P. Santhanakrishnan, of Nikita Containers, based in India


Nikita Containers Pvt Ltd is reporting growing domestic and international interest in its large collection of decorative tinplate can designs.

Domestic demand for decorative can packaging has grown recently as consumers look for sustainable solutions to replace plastic packaging. At the same time, importers in Europe and the United States have started to use India as a new decorative can production source as part of their efforts to reduce costs and widen their import supply networks. Nikita Containers offers clients a collection of more than 1,000 decorative cans designs for a wide range of uses, according to the company’s CEO and director, P. Santhanakrishnan, known as Santha to his clients and work colleagues.

“We make a make a wide variety of decorative tins in different shapes, sizes and finishes. We specialise in both three-piece and two-piece cans,” Santha explained.

“Our printing effects on tin cans include glossy, matte and stone finishes, wrinkle effect and leather effect finishes, which demonstrate our strengths in printing.”

Decorative confectionery cans are used as special gift packaging for all of India’s many religious, state and other festivals. Rectangular, round and square cans are the three most commonly ordered decorative can shapes.

The most popular confectionery can sizes are those designed to hold 50gms, 100gms, 250gms, 500gms and 1,000gms of contents.

“The benefit of decorative cans is that tinplate is an economical material, it’s easy to handle and very safe, both to produce resistant packaging and for those who are in direct and indirect contact with food,” Santha said. “It’s easy to use, very durable and lightweight compared to other materials.”

The use of decorative cans as confectionery packaging, in particular for chocolate and cookies, has seen rapid growth during the past two years. “Many confectionery companies have moved towards the sustainability approach of using decorative tin cans on their packing lines instead of plastic packaging,” Santha remarked.

“Domestically, another major demand for decorative tin can packaging here is for packing sweets in south India. These packing lines include those that are packing dried fruit.”

Nikita produces decorative, reusable tin cans for on-the-go sweets and savouries in the Indian market

India’s decorative can market was affected by Covid-19 early on, but demand for fancy cans used to pack food and pharma products began catching up again by the latter stages of the pandemic.

“After Covid, there was a big expansion from all the other decorative can-user categories, including gifting and many others, as they re-established their prominence,” said Santha. “India’s decorative can market is growing because sustainability, brand recall and the premiumisation of products are all answered by using decorative cans.

“Decorative cans are more than collectible as they are seen as a better alternative to plastic packaging.”

Nikita serves more than 35 business categories with its decorative can packaging and has hundreds of can designs for customers to choose from. “Right now, we cater to more than 650 clients in India, as well as exporting to the United States, Europe, Russia and the Middle East,” Santha commented. “Our firm has the manufacturing capability to deliver even the most challenging of its clients’ design needs.

“We are always keen to introduce innovative new decorative can designs for our customers, such as our flip-top mint sweet tins. These lidded mint cans are very compact, easy to carry sweet tins for sweet shops and are called Food Pac (Sliding Model Tins).

“Small candies are packed in these tins which are very handy and made in sizes that are attractive to children.”

Among design trends that have gained in popularity recently, is the use of embossing to highlight patterns and artwork decorating the can body. “Embossed cans are popular nowadays to give a better shelf appearance and to be more prominent. 3D modelling is catching up, while 2D modelling already is common,” Santha explained.

“Apart from food category cans for confectionery, the main products now being packed in embossed cans are tea, cosmetics and cookies. Dry fruit packers, however, prefer to use cans with see-through windows, so consumers can see the contents.”

Serving a large and diverse customer base produces a constant flow of new can design ideas to develop for clients. Santha revealed that Nikita is venturing into new innovative design developments using multiple material options such as glass mirrors and holders to make the can design more versatile for different category needs.

“Special coatings with colour-based additives are among recent developments we are exploring to create sturdier tins with good curable surfaces to withstand fabrication stress,” Santha explained.

“Cost reduction efforts continue, driven by competition among decorative can suppliers. This leads to thinner gauge tinplate being used each year for a number of our decorative can sizes and specifications.”

Nikita also supplies decorative cans to premium packaging clients that use highly visual cans to promote their brand and package selected branded goods. “The premium can market has its own space where customers have passion in their products,” Santha commented.

“Secondary packaging of liquor, perfume bottles and cosmetic product applications is the next level to accelerate in demand.”

Meanwhile, the recent worldwide lifting of Covid-19 travel restrictions and the resumption of international trade shows and exhibitions is encouraging a growing number of decorative can importers to begin travelling again to visit their existing suppliers and meet potential new supply sources.

In addition to India’s expanding domestic market, Nikita is optimistic that more confectionery packers in the US and Europe will begin to increase their volume of orders in future, as more of them seek additional supply sources in countries other than China.

Santha noted that Nikita’s recent participation in the 23-25 April 2023 Pro Sweets Cologne Confectionery Show in Germany generated strong interest among European and American businessmen attending the show. Many visitors to the company’s stand, however, were unaware of recent developments in India’s confectionery packaging market.

“Based on our recent experience at the Pro Sweets Cologne confectionery show in April, the Western world is not fully aware of India’s tin can manufacturing capabilities, so trade shows and exhibitions, and more travelling, will help change this,” Santha commented.

“Many decorative can customers would like to find additional or alternative suppliers to China for decorative cans due to the current economic and political scenario.”

Decorative can prices and minimum order quantities are other factors, after the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, encouraging European and American can importers to investigate new supply sources. “Our minimum order quantity is another reason for them to move supplier to avoid having a huge inventory,” Santha said.

“Our quality is never compromised and supporting all customers, including those with the lowest order quantity, is another important strategy that Nikita is known for.

“Nikita has proved itself to many customers in western countries by replacing their existing cans with equal or, in some cases, better tin can printing quality. Our prices are competitive and globally acceptable. Competing suppliers always give the buyer healthy market purchase value.

“Nikita’s capability is proven by many customers moving their sourcing from other parts of the world to India.”

Established in 1995 in Puducherry in southern Tamil Nadu state, Nikita Containers is one of India’s leading manufacturers of decorative cans. Since starting up to make general line cans to hold talcum powder, Nikita has grown in size and today owns two factories in Puducherry and a third in Chennai, located 170km away to the north.

Nikita Containers’ three plants are ISO 9001:2015 Quality Process certified and SEDEX-SMETA certified to comply with global export market requirements.

“Exports will be a prime focus as a business driver in the coming years,” Santha forecasted. “Our qualification in meeting the SEDEX-SMETA requirement is another important passport that Nikita has to enter export markets.”

Nikita has had three Crabtree printers installed to ensure high quality printing, including a latest fourth generation single-colour Crabtree Fast Ready printer

Employing more than 300 staff in total, the three plants provide over 130,000 square feet of production space and are equipped with imported and locally made production equipment.

Three Crabtree printers have been installed to ensure high quality printing, comprising a latest fourth generation single-colour Crabtree Fast Ready printer; a two-colour Crabtree Marquess printer; and a single-colour Crabtree Marquess printer.

“Our can making lines consist of both automatic forming machines, which are imported and also built by our firm’s own engineering division for various sizes,” Santha said. “These comprise about 14 automatic lines and more than 200 stamping presses for tin can components production.”

“We have also upgraded our automatic coating lines to cater for various requirements in the consumer can category.”

Nikita uses printing inks and coatings that comply with EU Commission food safety directives and US FDA requirements, after having previously upgraded production to meet the needs of customers in those markets.

“We use approved food grade lacquer for all our confectionery tins,” Santha noted. “We are very watchful about the quality and consistency of the ink we use to decorate our tins. All our inks and coatings are food grade and free of heavy metals.”

In addition to importing production equipment from Europe and China, Nikita’s own in-house engineering design team has been involved in developing much of the firm’s domestically built can manufacturing machinery. This includes can body locking machinery and the automatic pick-and-place support systems installed to increase productivity and ensure press operator safety on the can fabrication lines.

Other in-house-designed equipment includes dial feed lines for curling operations to improve production of mint cans that are designed to hold small candies.

In addition to machinery used to manufacturer decorative cans, Nikita operates two Veema and Butterfly welding lines used to produce cans for filling with dairy products and food colouring powder for the food industry.

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