Berlin conference brings together brand owners and suppliers

Digital print for retail packaging

brand owners
CS Labels is producing bespoke special stand-up pouches to exacting technical specifications

The pulling power to scale-up and accelerate the use of digital printing in packaging lies with retailers and brand owners whose insight into customer buying habits and desires indicates directions of travel for an evolving technology. Packaging end-users want to be in the driving seat of potentially transformative process changes and Tesco, Nestlé, Twinings and Mars used a European digital printing forum in Germany to urge the sector to pave the way for its speedier growth by resolving thorny commercial issues concerning project ownership, cost and profitability forecasting, and a lack of standardization among print suppliers

Paul Earnshaw, packaging manager of UK-based supermarket chain Tesco said he had come to Digital Print for Packaging, run by Smithers Pira with German partner PrintPromotion, to fix gaps in his knowledge about the technology, and to ‘get the conversation going’ on why customers – the buying public – would care about digital print. He gave the audience clear direction on what Tesco needs from digital print supply partners, “We are obsessed by the customer perspective and I am focussed on the customer’s world. Give me the knowledge and relate it to the customer.”

Acting as Tesco’s technical link to all product categories, Earnshaw listed what the ‘second biggest [packaging] buyer in the world’ hopes to get from digital technology – new customer propositions, market testing, variable print for mass customization, personalization and customer matching, especially relevant to pharmaceuticals; also solutions for cost control, crisis management and market intelligence; and ‘anything to reduce packaging.’

Dr Sean Smyth, print consultant at Smithers Pira, forecast that by 2020 digital printing won’t just be mimicking analogue but will be disrupting the supply chain as it exists at the start of 2016. The technology will be in the hands of players that are part of the manufacturing process, and packaging will be a catalyst for change in retail distribution and marketing, through mobile phone apps and other new ways of engaging consumers.

Digital suppliers outnumbered analogue at Labelexpo 2015, Smyth said, with introductions in digital carton-printing and corrugated B2 and larger machines. DS Smith has shown faith in the market potential by spending US$ 7 to 10 million on a 2.8 metre wide machine to digitally print on corrugated. Newcomers are now offering direct to pack printing on glass bottles, tubs, lids and tubes.

Case studies revealed the social media generation of smart entrepreneurs prising open gaps in the retail market that would not exist without digital printing. Retail Goliaths are less agile and implement change in production processes only when it comes with hard and fast guarantees. Big names demand upfront certainty related to cost and profitability, and they require a level of service standardization that allows them to switch between suppliers. They want the knowledge to make informed choices between digital and analogue, and to be reassured that both systems can work on the same line. They are considering bringing digital print capability into their own manufacturing environment. Above all, the packaging end-user wants to see actual results fulfil pre-set profit targets and expectations.

Digital printing can achieve significant uplift in terms of product price and brand profile. A premium brand of food for dogs, Purina Just Right, commands a 50% higher price because it has a tailored formulation and digitally printed packaging with the names of the pet and the owner.

A British internet gift fulfilment firm, Intervino is personalizing bottles of champagne, to double, and more, the incremental profit margin. Digital printing turns any product into a gift ‘with the illusion of thought’ says the company’s founder Richard Askam, and thinks the next wave of technology will aim at ‘mass personalization’  – a step beyond ‘mass customization.’

The market is estimated to grow by 20 to 25% from a low base, led by flexibles (40%), cartons and corrugated (35%), metal, caps and closures (10%) and rigid plastics (5%). Among the many market drivers for adoption are ‘free from’ ranges, expansion of flavour ranges, ingredient changes and customized recipes, languages and pack sizes, demand for on-time supply, and legislation change. In addition, industry is calling for an end to packaging obsolescence and increased security through product authentication and traceability, important in pharma products, fine wines and especially aeroplane parts. Japan and China are using QR codes to validate cigarette brands.

Twinings is looking for a print partner to help with complexity in print houses, and with speed of production. The tea brand, which moved all of the British production to Poland in 2010 and has an Indian subsidiary, produces numerous varieties that run to more than 3,400 SKUs across the world.

Global category lead packaging Tomasz Galka wants to achieve annual price agreements with suppliers but says digital printers make this hard to get. He is concerned by an absence of consistency in capability across suppliers. Galka welcomes interest to work with him on cartons. He said cost and future efficiency were the priorities, not so much print technique.

How to make digital turn into a profit and how to incorporate digital on its own lines, are questions to which he’d like answers. Fast delivery is important, but Galka says he waits for a digital estimate for up to four weeks compared with ‘a week or two’ for flexo. He’s looking for a way to digitally overprint promotional flashes on an analogue line.

Twinings has introduced digitally printed pouches and is ‘playing with labels’ for tins. It is looking to have a digital process in-house ‘within a year or two’ for labelling mockups and testing, and wants advances in cutting labels to shape.

Simon Smith runs a small family labels company in the UK that has committed to digital technology and innovating in the newly emerging market of digital pouches. Based on CS Labels’ experience Smith offered these tips – “Cost should not be the selling point” and “Sell into the market even for long runs.”  He is using Xeikon technology to produce a Breakfast Variety Box for Graze, an online brand of nutritious snacks delivered to customers’ doors. Smith says the digital process handles weekly production runs across multiple SKUs that must be delivered in 72 hours, a varied ordering pattern, and recipes which are being constantly updated and changed.

Smith says the digital pouch “pushed both the technology and CS Labels’ digital experience to the edge.” He claims that to date the solution and flexible pouch offering is unique to CS Labels. “We have been able to produce hundreds of thousands of bespoke special stand-up pouches to our customers exacting technical specification,” he said, and this has improved the company’s standing in the digital market.

Amberley Adhesive Labels helped Scottish soft drinks brand AG Barr customize bottles of Irn Bru using 57 of the most common tartans in Scotland, with project partner Amerik Packaging. Design house Jones Knowles Richie came up with an idea that became a variable data job that ran 24 x 7 for 19 days, says Amberley’s technical and commercial manager, David Richards. The company was part of the much reported Share a Coke promotion that enabled customers to order bottles labelled with people’s names. Organic skincare brand Neal’s Yard Remedies is the firm’s largest single digital label customer, relying on the technology to make timely changes to product labelling. Amberley is now offering product differentiation using HP Mosaic software, a system that creates multiple individual images from a seed file.

In the view of packaging end-user Mars Confectionery Europe, digital technology should focus on short to medium size runs and short lead times; on personalization, printing of variable data and reducing packaging complexity; and on adding premium quality – in the travel retail sector, for example. Mars packaging manager Jan Duffhueas says he is looking for solutions to help meet aims for sustainability and take out cost.

Kurz Digital Metal technology enables Cewe to offer a decorative, ‘real metal’ look for high-end packaging, greetings cards, photo books, and more

Nestlé spends more than 7 billion Euros on packaging materials and has more than 64,000 pack specifications, and as a brand owner is responsible for packaging safety. It is aware of the contamination potential of inks, and the safe use of digital inks is the first priority, says Amaury Patin, Nestlé specialist in packaging food safety R&D. Most digitally printed packaging is found safe and compliant, which he says is due to good collaboration between ink developers and suppliers. Nestlé has introduced digital printing for corrugated aisle-end shelves, solid board, labels and flexibles. It is now considering samples of direct printing onto PET bottles, glass jars, plastic caps, tin cans of baby milk.

Digital metal
Cewe Stiftung is best known in Germany as a supplier of greetings cards and photo books and is now targeting personalized, high-end packaging and label markets for wines, champagnes and spirits with a digital metallizing system from Kurz. Digital Metal technology is designed to give a decorative ‘real metal’ look by applying silver, gold, rainbow effects and custom holograms onto paper and board, which are overprinted digitally. There was a lot for the team to learn says Susanne Jansen, Cewe sales account manager for commercial digital printing – how to deal with the fifth color in a manual workflow then convert the knowledge to an automated workflow, how to curve in prepress and how to make the results effective for customers.

German company Ernst Roeser has been mastering direct printing on glass, using a low-energy LED UV system by KBA-Kammann to produce ‘unique’ products decorated with photo realistic images and multi-colored patterns. Lacquer and spot colors provide visual standout and tactile characteristics. Mass production began in 2015 and weekly capacity is up to 300,000 pieces for all container shapes and some 10 to 15 products are in the market.

The digital method allows small lot sizes with many artwork changes, and technology being used is suitable for round, oval, flat and uneven surfaces. Ernst Roeser technical manager Frank Hammerschmidt thinks the technique has latent potential, “It takes time for designers to realize this process can be used.”

Packaging South Asia is the cooperating media partner for drupa 2016 which is scheduled to be held from 31 May to 10 June at Dusseldorf, Germany.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

It is the right time to support our high-impact reporting and authoritative and technical information with some of the best correspondents in the industry. Readers can power Packaging South Asia’s balanced industry journalism and help sustain us by subscribing.

– Naresh Khanna

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