In this segment of #WomenInPackaging, we bring to you the inspiring journeys of women in the packaging sector who are painting the town red with their successful feats.
In a world where a majority of the population fear of calling a spade, a spade, Ms. Priyanka Aggarwal proudly prefers to stand in the minority. With almost a decade working in the packaging industry, Ms. Priyanka is currently a Manager in the Packaging Development and Procurement division, at Nourishco Beverages, a joint venture between PepsiCo India and TATA Group.
An Excerpt from the interview:
“During my working tenure, we encountered a sealing issue in a center seal pouch. The pouches were not sealing properly. A senior person in the organisation suggested it was definitely because of the presence of ink in the sealing area during the printing process. I knew for a fact this just was not possible and suggested the team should explore other options.”
“So, your senior listened to you?”
“Uhhh…no. My idea was instantly dismissed. Instead of arguing, I was forced to find another way to make my point. I went to the nearby shops and got several packets of Lays, Kurkure and other brands and showed him how the ink was present in the sealing area on these packs as well and yet, they were perfectly sealed.”
“Oh that’s creative! So, now your senior moved forward with your suggestion?”
“Uhhh..not really. Far from that. I was dismissed (again) and asked to resolve the issue myself.”
Feisty and energetic, it was a delight interviewing Priyanka. Read on to explore her journey in the field of packaging!
Can you tell us about your overall experience in the packaging industry?
Priyanka Aggarwal (PA): I studied as a Food Technologist and did my further studies in Packaging Technology. I worked for 5 years in the R&D department of Hindustan Unilever Pvt. Ltd., Bangalore and then moved to the role of a Manager in the Packaging Development and Procurement division at Nourishco Beverages. I have almost 10 years of experience in packaging, development, and procurement.
So, why did you pursue a career in the packaging industry? I mean, it’s quite an unconventional choice.
PA: When I came to work in packaging, it was growing at a rapid rate at the time. I genuinely believed packaging is an important game changer for any product. Also, coming from a background in food technology, I witnessed huge wastage in the supply chain of a food product. I think it was obvious that packaging played an important role in reducing this wastage and hence, I decided to enter this field.
What motivated you to continue for a decade?
PA: The endless opportunity to keep learning new technologies and ideas is definitely a major contributing factor. Also, packaging has a great use in everyday life and provides a wider lens into your customer’s life. The instant gratification is a reason as well.
With so much experience, how would you describe your learning curve?
PA: My learning curve has been exponential in the last 10 years. But the funny part is, I don’t even think I am anywhere near to the peak. When I started out, I barely knew about the packaging technicalities and the corporate culture. Colleges don’t really prepare you for such things. The learning only begins when you start a new job- be it as a fresher or an experienced person.
Was there anyone to help you out? Like a mentor or a role model in the industry?
PA: You mean to say, did I look up to any woman?
PA: Then, no. Sure, you can aspire for a certain job description, or look up to people to help chart your own career path, but two journeys are never the same. Also, with the huge scarcity of women in leading positions in this industry, it doesn’t help at all. Like, a man can guide you but can never understand what a woman has to fight for in a work culture. Having said this, all throughout I have looked up to myself for self-motivation and to draw inspiration.
When you say “what a woman had to fight for”, where does this thought come from?
PA: There are plenty of reasons. One, when I changed my job. It was already a challenge to unlearn everything and familiarise myself with the new surroundings. If this wasn’t enough, being in the operation role, which is highly male-dominated, I had to work extra hard to prove myself. Despite people respecting my experience, there was always this issue of accepting my suggestions with that level of respect.
I was a packaging expert and yet, in the beginning, they would refuse to acknowledge my expertise. Instead of asking an R&D person for her opinion, they would find it more comfortable to consult a person working on the machinery or contact our vendors directly. It may or may not have been intentional, but definitely not right.
Yet, you are here. How did you tackle it?
PA: See, learning about technicalities is still manageable but one of the critical aspects of any job is the people you work with. All the efforts you made to establish yourself in your first job is washed down and the uphill battle begins again. I told you about finding new ways to prove my point- give practical examples instead of just using words to prove your point. Instead of losing my temper, I would be unusually calm and kept my energies focused on finishing the project. Must say, I am quite proud of it!
Is there any interesting project you are particularly proud of?
PA: Soup Dispenser for modern trade.
This project, though it was for a pilot run in just a few outlets in metro cities, was a really interesting one. It didn’t just focus on the technical part but also designing using material specifications. The problem arose after observing the need for the sachets to stand out in a crowded marketplace. Usually, after placing 10 sachets on a shelf dispenser or mono-carton, the whole stack would fall backward or in front, after one or two sachets were picked up, thus losing brand visibility. Hence, we had to completely revamp the design of how these sachets were bought.
As I said, the packaging is a lens to engage with a wider audience. We had to understand in-store space utilization, shelf allocation, available sizes and user interaction with the brand. With these constraints, we designed an auto dispenser in different sizes, that works in a trail guard system. The spring is fitted at the back, which keeps pushing the sachets forward as it gets picked up one by one. With this invention, the packs were now always visible, didn’t look messy and interacted with the customers.
What is your take on the changing technology in the packaging industry?
PA: Over a period of time, not only the industry but consumer preferences have dramatically changed. This has led to constant innovation. It is in meeting these innovations and distributing to the consumers, that technology has played a vital role. If you see membrane pouches or ready-to-eat snacks, these have revolutionized various categories of the packaging sector.
And your view on procurement?
PA: I believe that in the last 5 years, there has been a lot of change in the procurement processes as well. Earlier there were no set systems but only traditional methods like bookkeeping, verbal assurance, and phone calls. Today, you can integrate multiple suppliers on a single platform at the same time. Not only this, with ERP systems and online bidding processes, the life of a sourcing professional is immensely simplified.
Also, initially, MOQ was just a concept. None of the vendors would ever give us small MOQs despite being such big companies. But today, so many new SME’s have grown just by catering to these needs. Even the printing standards have improved enormously which makes the complex development of designs so much easier.
Would you like to give any advice to women in this industry?
PA: Just one- constantly keep learning.
This is the best gift you can give yourself. Keep learning constantly and know your rights in the organization. Hone the ability to negotiate and bargain and overcome your inhibitions. It’s ok to fail, but never be scared of exploring and venturing into new territories. Voicing your opinion will often be seen as bossy as opposed to a man who will be seen as aggressive and a perfectionist.
Hence, support your fellow women in the workplace and empower each other.
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This interview is the second of our all-new Women In Packaging series. To read more such interesting stories directly in your inbox, kindly subscribe to the blog. Trust us, you won’t be disappointed!
We would love your feedback on this new series we’ve begun, share them in the comments section below.
P.S.: We would like to thank Ms. Priyanka Aggarwal for taking out time amidst her busy schedule. (And also for being so frank and awesome while answering all the questions!)2