Many printers, in order to survive in today’s challenging marketplace, are looking to add new revenue streams. One of the most promising is packaging print. So, the Digital Imaging Association (DIA, Toronto) gathered together a unique panel of experts with decades of experience on January 20 at 12:30 pm (EST), who revealed how they positioned themselves for success in the long run. The helpful hour-long webinar Veer Into Packaging also explored the opportunities and challenges that exist in this growing market sector, with an emphasis on folding cartons.
Panelists included: April Burke, VP of Operations at Bellwyck Packaging; Mike Millard, Director of Prepress Services at Ellis Packaging; Rich Pauptit, President of Flash Reproductions; Dr. Thomas Griebel, Product & Key Account Manager of Packaging Inks at Huber Group; and Ray Fagan, Sales Specialist for Post Press, Packaging & Digital at Heidelberg Canada. The Moderator was Stephen Longmire, National Sales Manager at print-finishing specialist, Sydney Stone.
- Commercial printers were hit hard with lower print volumes (as high as 60% lower in some areas of the country) during the COVID-19 lockdown. Some printers successfully switched production lines to PPE, soft packaging and folding cartons to make up the difference. However, there were still major challenges in the sourcing of equipment, workflow, attracting skilled press operators, understanding of production supply lines, and relationships with vendors.
- VLF Packaging held its own in Quebec for food packaging, while Ontario focused primarily on 40-inch offset. Opportunities in western Canada centered on reduced run lengths with more SKUs.
- There were large increases in folding-carton production as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, primarily due to food deliveries and restaurant curbside pick-up. There was also a food-packaging increase of about 30% during the first 6 months of the pandemic. Canada is still setting records (up to 300% before the pandemic) in take-out food packaging.
- On balance, the year 2020 saw packaging production eventually return to normal levels – i.e. a 10% increase over 2019 levels.
- Not surprisingly, cosmetic packaging is still slowing down, while pharmaceutical packaging (especially vitamins) is gradually increasing.
- Training and staffing of skilled equipment operators remains a troubling issue – particularly at companies with 24/7 production shifts.
- The pandemic seemed to condense 10 years of packaging trends into one turbulent year, with increases of short-run and luxury packaging, prototyping and the emergence of new start-ups.
- There still exists supply and raw materials’ challenges because customers had ordered more product that was needed due to the COVID-19 pandemic – especially in the corrugated sector.
- Sustainable packaging is either holding its own or becoming more and more prevalent. Packaging printers must lead the way as advocates in this regard, while also reducing their carbon footprint in their production processes.
- The move to low-migration inks for food packaging will continue as new restrictions emerge. Europe is ahead of the curve in this regard. Canada does have similar requirements but no immediate additions to restrictions are on the horizon.
- Sustainability must first be driven by brand owners and printers rather than imposed by government legislation.
- The biggest challenges moving forward will be plant, process, and safety audits, as well as removing risk factors to meet food-safety standards and earn certifications in this key area.
- Capital expenditures will remain high, depending on your specific niche market, and workflow integration will continue to be an important factor affecting success.
- Prototyping will continue to be essential if you want to earn new customers.
- Building more skilled sales teams and client relationships is still a must.
- Acquisitions of smaller companies by larger packaging firms will likely continue.
- The push to different substrates, more bio-degradable media, use of eco-friendly inks, and implementing more sustainable in-house production processes, will also continue.
- Acquiring skilled younger talent in production as well as in sales will continue to be a major problem.