Global in vision, rooted in Indian values and driven by a performance ethic pegged on value creation for its multiple stakeholders, the Aditya Birla Group is India's first truly multinational corporation with market capitalisation of US$ 15 billion. It is anchored by an extraordinary force of 82,000 employees belonging to over 20 different nationalities and over 23 per cent of its revenues flow from its operations across the world.
Being a researcher, entrepreneur & a business head – what sort of challenges do you encounter?
"Given the fact that VSF has been the oldest man-made textile fibre, invented almost a century ago, the VSF Industry has almost exhausted all possibilities of cost reduction and fibre property enhancements in normal course of development. It is also facing competition with later generation synthetic fibres leading to near stagnancy of the Industry. The challenge therefore is to achieve a sustainable profitable growth in these circumstances. This interalia requires horizontal and vertical integration of the industry to reduce cost of inputs, enhance existing properties / discover new cellulosic fibres through fundamental research, and develop new markets."
Talking about Global Fibre business, what is the larger picture of this volatile industry according to you?
"Post MFA, China and South East Asia based countries like India, Indonesia etc have emerged, and are emerging as the global textile hub on the back of its cost effective textile value chain. This implies that VSF production will also get converged only in these regions. Even in these regions, only those players will survive in long term that are able to operate in a cost effective way through economy of scale and optimal integration of the industry with technological edge.While, the Western VSF business will continue to concentrate more and more on speciality businesses involving Non-Woven, Modal and Excel products, the technology gap between Western and Asian producers is closing fast. Ultimately the low cost regions and integrated operations will rule the roost."
How does AVB endow itself with the title “World leader in VSF Business”?
"Besides the size, Aditya Birla Group with its Pulp and VSF operations in India, Thailand, Indonesia, China, Laos and Canada can arguably be considered as the strongest player in VSF Industry world wide, taking an aggregate view of financials, margins, geographical spread, horizontal and vertical integration product mix, and market presence. We are the lowest cost producer of VSF in the world. We are the most integrated fibre producer with the chain stretching right from Forest to Pulp to Fibre to Yarn. All most all the intermediate inputs are captive. Besides, our in-house engineering division enables us to grow in a most cost effective way. On technology front, we produce all the three generations of man made cellulosic fibres from an in-house developed capability through research and development. Our research and development efforts are not limited to fibre stage alone but extend to entire textile value chain. While the plantation and related activity is carried out at Grasim Research Institute (GFRI, Harihar, India), the Product innovations are carried out at Birla Research Institute (BRI, Nagda, India). For value chain related activities, a state of art “Textiles Research & Application Development Centre” has been established at Kharach, Gujarat-India to entire textile value chain from yarn to fabric to garments. On marketing front, our reach extends to the entire globe, through marketing offices. On a global level, our major strength is in spun-dyed fibres and now our other specialities such as Non-woven, Modal and Excel have started penetrating in global markets. Our brand “Birla Cellulose” is firmly entrenched in the market. Our value added marketing services comprising of technical, logistical, financial, marketing and informational support have enabled us to emerge as the most preferred supplier of VSF in world."
We all know that there’s consolidation in the industry; what else will you do to grow? Are acquisitions or joint ventures part of the strategy?
"We would be looking at both organic and inorganic modes of expansion for realizing our growth aspirations. We have recently acquired Pulp & VSF Plants in Canada and China respectively. We have also initiated a Pulp & Plantation Project in Laos. Concurrently, brown field VSF capacity expansions, capable of producing Speciality Fibres Non-woven, Modal are taking place at all existing locations. We have increased our production capacity from 1250 to 1550 TPD during the last year, which will further increase to 1950 TPD by next year."
Our visitors would like to know about your current product line and new ones that are in pipeline?
We offer Viscose Staple Fibre in multiple specifications of denier, cut length and luster to suit the varied requirements of textile applications such as for woven, knitted & worsted segments. We offer Spun Dyed VSF in more than 5000 shades. We also offer VSF for non-woven usage. We have also launched 2nd generation fibre “High wet Modulus Fibre (HWM)”. With commissioning of capacities in Thailand, the size of HWM offering will increase. Our strategy for 3rd generation fibre is also on anvil.
Could you kindly elaborate on the prospects for viscose vis-à-vis cotton and polyester?
"Viscose despite all the talks of an imminent debacle has continued to sustain itself against all the pressures of substitute fibres namely PSF & Cotton. In fact, VSF during the last 5 years has grown at a higher rate as compared to cotton and other man-made polyester/synthetic fibres. It is my belief that VSF despite its certain limitations of wet strength etc will continue to find increasing consumer acceptance on the back of its comfort feel, softness, luster, and moisture absorbency. Besides VSF is the most versatile fibre for blending with all other textile fibres.With global warming and rising temperature levels, VSF has started finding increased acceptance in ladies wear, beach wear, intimate apparels etc where comfort matters more as compared to fibre strength. Usage of VSF in these segments provides ultimate consumer satisfaction, which is difficult to be matched by either Cotton or PSF. VSF will also continue to find increased acceptance in Non-woven segment particularly wipes, diapers, tampons and medical applications where its properties of moisture absorbency as well as hygiene can be leveraged highly. Usage of VSF in Non Woven segment has been growing at the rate of 7 per cent CAGR in last 5 years. To sum up, based on newer applications and usages coupled with increasing consumer preference, I feel that VSF will follow a course some what independent of Cotton and PSF while at the same time complement PSF and supplement Cotton in traditional applications."
What branding exercises are being followed in your company?
"Our offerings whether from India, Thailand, Indonesia or China are all marketed under the mother brand “Birla Cellulose” and sub brands Birla Viscose, Birla Modal & Birla Excel. An umbrella brand has enabled us to create a common identity for our product across the globe irrespective of its production origin and creating of awareness and consumer pull. Towards promoting our brands, we are engaged in manifold efforts. Besides print media, we are sponsoring Fashion Shows, Brand launches, and participate in national and international exhibitions. We are also doing co-branding with National and international brands of repute for Birla Cellulose based products. All these exercise follow a specific Birla Cellulose pattern to create a common brand perception with the consumer. In India we have also build up design studios to showcase VSF based products including the proactive collection developed at our own state of art Textile Research & Application Development Centre. These design studios are located in major textile centres."
Your Company had received the prestigious “Stockholm Industry Water Award” in 2004. What R&D goes into this?
"The award was a testimony to our Group’s efforts of sustaining the ecology around the factory place and socio-economic development of village communities. Water is a scarce resource and as a part of our environmental consciousness, we took upon ourselves to reduced water consumption year after year through equipments increased efficiency, adoption of innovative cleaner process technology and also eliminated use of heavy metal (Zinc) in production of VSF for the first time in the world. This enabled part recycling of wastewater and reducing the pollutants load in discharged effluent. The treated wastewater is used locally for irrigation. Our efforts were recognized by Stockholm Water Foundation and honoured as the first Asian Company to have received this prestigious award. "