Sustainability – key aspect of flexible packaging

Speciality Films and Flexible Packaging Conference 2015 review

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Bill Magee, group director – printing and packaging, Michelman. Photo PSA

Looking for the future at drupa 2016Brand new perspectives in packaging print

“Thanks to impressive print packaging, brands can seduce customers into a change of purchasing vote at the point of purchase,” says Superbrands founder Marcel Knobil. “We would end up with less brand and more bland were it not for the attention that the packaging attracts.” Superbrands is acclaimed worldwide as being an independent authority and arbiter of branding excellence, committed to paying tribute to exceptional brands and promoting the discipline of branding.

Today’s packaging trends are driven by longer supermarket opening hours, continually enhanced print technologies and capabilities and demand to protect brands and increase recognition

The impact of a winning combination of text and graphics extends way beyond fronting up that initial beauty parade. As well as being the ‘eye candy’ that hooks the consumer in the first instance, a perfectly reproduced external image provides consumers with an often subliminal product recognition and reassurance that can be the brand owner’s banker in a congested retail space.

Today’s packaging trends are driven by longer supermarket opening hours, continually enhanced print technologies and capabilities and demand to protect brands and increase recognition. Not only surviving but attaining the status as the preferred choice under such highly testing conditions is one half of the brand owner’s greatest challenge. The other is to meet it at an affordable cost.

Controlling quality
With the high probability of color variations occurring not only between different substrates, but also print processes – and indeed from one printer to another, not only in different locations but even when they are running presses made by the same manufacturer –  maintaining consistency can be a complex undertaking.

The best way to meet it is to ensure that all the contributory links within the supply chain which are engaged in steering the progress of a printed pack from hatch to despatch are all able to interact via an open entry web-based platform.

“Our vision is to connect the supply chain from the brand owner to the retailer and to make that flow broader and richer,” says Jef Stoffels, Esko marketing director.

“We do this by adding greater functionality which meets the go-to-market and quality needs of CPG (consumer packaged goods) businesses and retailers. We also make it possible for the brand owner to ensure that the flow of data is secure and transparent, mistakes and errors can be picked up early or avoided altogether and the net result is to get products to market faster.”

John James, export manager – Wells Plastics. Photo PSA

Similarly web-based color management systems can extend the same degree of comfort and control to brand owners over how pre-determined color parameters are then replicated accurately irrespective of substrate or supplier, ensuring a guaranteed consistency of color reproduction that underpins brand authenticity and integrity. For instance X-Rite’s PantoneLIVE color management solution could be ideal for the brand owner as it has control over the pre-determined color parameters, which are stored in the cloud for use as and when required by his supply chain. This ensures accurate replications of the accredited brand image irrespective of substrate or supplier.

Pressed to perform
Converters equipped with smarter production facilities can be more directly instrumental in achieving cost and performance benefits to brand owners. Using high-definition flexo plate and software technologies, it is now possible to meet the requirements of 85% of current flexo-printed, flexible packaging without detriment to the finished result from CMYK plus white rather than using special inks.

Pankaj Poddar, chief executive officer – Cosmo Films. Photo PSA

“Working out of a reduced color palette means there are less plates and less waste ink. It ticks a lot of boxes,” says Ultimate Packaging (UK) sales director, Chris Tonge. “Whilst global players like Unilever and P&G have been specifying these solutions for the past 10 to 15 years, smaller brands are realizing there is a cost advantage in that you can control the colors a lot better if you set the right standards.”

It’s not just improvement at the front-end that is raising quality and performance standards in flexo, a print process accounting for over 40% of a current global printed packaging market worth around an estimated 250 billion Euros per annum, particularly for flexibles and corrugated board applications. Speed on the press and consistency across substrates are key. Ultimate Packaging has recently installed two additional servo-driven Bobst flexo presses ahead of drupa. Offset has also responded positively to deliver cost-efficient shorter run-lengths, for example Heidelberg’s Speedmaster Prinect Inpress Control inline automated turbo charged system which can change plates between jobs within ten minutes.

Digital mindset
What has sparked these improvements in analogue press technology is the increasingly potent challenge posed by digital print; not least in meeting brand owner requirements for cost-efficient shorter run lengths – and thereby, lower inventory levels – and the ability to differentiate products on-shelf through customization. Whilst affordably utilizing variable data has always been part and parcel of the digital print proposition, it’s now clearly on the retail marketing radar following its successful adoption by high-profile retail marketing campaigns run by Coca Cola, Heineken, Nutella and a steadily growing band of global blue-chip brands. “To take our brand off the packaging and replace it with something other than the Coca Cola script wasn’t easy to do within a structure like ours, where we operate according to very tight brand guidelines to protecting it,” says Coca Cola packaging innovator Greg Bentley. “The digital print capability enabled it to happen, but the marketing campaign is the really smart thing.”

“The combination of technological muscle and marketing inspiration is what it takes to make customization fly,” says Paul Randall, HP Worldwide Brands business development manager.

“It’s breaking away from the mindset of packaging being the static bearer of logos and ingredients tables and using it as a media opportunity for consumer engagement to the benefit of the brand. The media landscape has changed. It is becoming increasingly fragmented between above the line spend (bought media), PR and below the line (earned media), and packaging (owned media) – with the latter two increasingly linked together. Not surprisingly, brand owners are now regular visitors to HP’s Graphics Experience Centre in Barcelona.”

Likewise Xeikon’s technology centre in Antwerp. “For brand owners attending our Xeikon Café programme, it’s a two-track learning curve,” says Labels and Packaging marketing director, Filip Weymans. “First, understanding how the benefits of digital production can be translated into diversifying communication towards the audience they’re reaching out to and second, how the technology can address needs within their business model – notably, being faster to market and making better use of working capital.”

“While the adoption of digital is an accelerating trend, despite the buzz being created it’s still under-selling its potential,” says SAB Miller global packaging manager, Doug Hutt. “The top ten brand owners in the world are generating over a quarter of a trillion dollars in sales. If just 10 to 20% of these were digitized with the balance going to analogue, that is still a very large potential revenue that converters haven’t yet grasped.”

“FMCG companies should be more proactive in going out and talking to the packaging industry – and the packaging industry should be addressing those issues and coming up with solutions,” says Doug Hutt, SAB Miller global packaging manager.

Meanwhile, faster-running inkjet technology looks poised to dictate the next chapter in the digital packaging print story, not least via the keenly anticipated commercialization of digital guru Benny Landa’s ‘nanographic’ presses engineered to deliver variable data printed material at offset speeds.

The finishing touch
Customization is not the only route to catching the consumer’s eye on-shelf. Short-run, cost-effective special effects such as high gloss, glitter, metallic without recourse to hot-foil stamping and even Braille are also within the remit of next-generation digital postpress enhancement technology now establishing itself within the finishing sector. Also providing a more cost-effective means of achieving greater stand-out is the take-up of cold foiling using the analogue process – notably as an alternative to laminated and or metallised substrates for labels and cartons.