ASPA gears up to combat counterfeiting

India's battle against counterfeiting has intensified as it grapples with a 25-30% market infiltration. From pharmaceuticals to FMCG, no sector is immune. In this context, the Authentication Solution Providers' Association (ASPA) is leading the charge to raise awareness and combat the counterfeit menace. Aditya Ghosalkar talks to Manoj Kochar, president, ASPA

12 Mar 2024 | By Aditya Ghosalkar

Manoj Kochar, president, ASPA: The collaboration between governments and businesses is essential to combat counterfeiting

India ranks among the top five countries for counterfeit goods, given the vast domestic retail landscape plus insufficient governmental regulation and legal framework.

Post-pandemic, the surge in eCommerce and online retail has fostered a thriving environment for counterfeit goods. Forgery is prevalent in the apparel (31%), FMCG (28%), and automotive (25%) sectors, followed by pharmaceuticals (20%), consumer durables (17%), and agrochemicals (16%) segments.

An ASPA and CRISIL report, State of Counterfeiting in India 2022, points out that almost 89% of consumers acknowledge the presence of fake products in the market, and 31% of them willingly purchase them.

What stops consumers from reporting such falsity? Manoj Kochar, president, ASPA, says, “Plenty of reasons, such as sensitivity to price, demand-supply gap, desire to buy luxury brands, peer pressure, and social motivation lure consumers in illicit practices.”

“However, 27% of consumers are unaware that the product is counterfeit at the time of purchase,” adds Kochar. “That’s why ASPA believes it is important to promote conscious consumerism and have a national strategy to curtail the circulation of counterfeits and illegal products.”

Strategy

Recognising the imperative need to foster an anti-counterfeit ecosystem, ASPA released a five-year strategy from 2022 to 2027. “In the transformed post-pandemic era, envisioning the product ecosystem without the increasing integration of anti-counterfeiting, authentication, and traceability solutions is inconceivable,” says Kochar.

He emphasises, “The collaboration between governments and businesses is essential to combat counterfeiting. It is a multi-faceted approach that benefits both consumers and the marketplace.”

In this direction, measures are being taken by the government, especially in the pharmaceutical space, and responsible brands are investing in product protection solutions. The objective is to safeguard the well-being of citizens, protect products and services, prevent consumer deception and ensure the vitality of businesses.

The considerable return on investment in authentication solutions instils confidence that India will experience a substantial surge in adopting these advanced technologies and solutions.

Approach

Kochar says, “A lot of big brands practise this, so should all the brands follow: adopting authentication solutions, monitoring the supply chain more effectively, and taking the help of the enforcement agencies. The more widespread this is, the higher the chance of the brand outsmarting the counterfeiter since the brands also interact closely with their authentication solution provider.”

At the authentication supplier end, where most of them are ASPA members, the Indian industry has migrated from offering just holographic solutions to multi-technology-based solutions for physical verification. Several Indian companies have developed traceability solutions to tighten the supply chain and prevent an inadvertent entry of a counterfeit product.

Foolproof?

Vigilance is crucial. Consumers should proactively inspect packaging, labels, and product quality, looking for signs of tampering, spelling errors, or missing information. Any suspicions or encounters with counterfeit goods should be promptly reported to authorities, consumer forums, or brand owners.

Kochar says, “This can be done by verifying product authenticity through overt tools such as holograms, online tools, apps, or manufacturer-provided QR codes.”

The practice of seeking out packaging that has anti-counterfeit technologies as a guarantee of authenticity benefits the consumers to make informed choices, report experiences, and thereby foster a zero-tolerance culture for counterfeiting. This aids ASPA’s goal to raise awareness about the broader economic and social consequences of the subject.

Traceability solutions

Tech tackles the tricksters, but the best fit matters. In a bid to fight the fakes, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and the best approach is technologies tailored to customer needs across varied industries, products and geographies.

Technologies such as digital QR codes and physical holograms can be integrated into packaging as anti-counterfeit solutions. The former provides traceability, supply chain management and higher consumer engagement.

What’s trending? Kochar says, “Merging the physical and digital technologies leading to a ‘phygital’ solution. A lot of authentication solution suppliers are now creating a label or packaging that comprises the QR code and all its associated benefits with holograms, security design and printing. This will be a potent and popular tool to combat counterfeiting.”

Yet an evolving technology, non-clonable QR code is slowly gaining recognition. It is a high level security feature where dense QR code can be printed on any substrate, and the authentication is done via an app; apart from these, there are variable QR codes, embellished QR codes, and QR codes printed with security inks add complexity, making replication highly challenging.

Journey of ASPA

Established in 1998, ASPA began its journey as the Hologram Manufacturers Association of India (HoMAI), focusing solely on holograms. It played a pivotal role in establishing the global Hologram Image Register (HIR) in 2010, creating a unified database of security holograms. A year later, it developed the Hologram Safety and Security Management Standards (HSSMS).

In 2014, HoMAI transitioned into ASPA expanding its reach to all authentication solutions. The focus has been: raising awareness, advocating for change, conducting research, and fostering innovation within industry.

ASPA actively participates in industry forums like FICCI Committee Against Smuggling and Counterfeiting Activities Destroying the Economy (CASCADE), and organises events like ‘The Authentication Forum’ to promote continuous innovation and collaboration across the supply chain.

The year 2024 marks the 25th anniversary of ASPA. The organisation now boasts over 78 members specialising in physical and digital authentication solutions.

ASPA has a new governing body, under Kochar’s leadership as the president. Ankit Gupta of Holostik India is the vice-president, Luv Shriram of Veritech is the general secretary and treasurer. The other governing body members are Saurabh Agarwal of Avery Dennison; Vikas Jain of ACVISS Technologies; and ex-officio, Nakul Pasricha of PharmaSecure. Co-opted governing body members are Ranesh Bajaj of Vinsak and Gaurav Sathaye of United Inks.

The new governing body's members represent the authentication and traceability segments. With its silver jubilee celebration, ASPA marches towards building a more secure ecosystem.

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