Private Label Buyer

Brand Owners, Converters Embrace Digital Printing for Packaging

June 26, 2013

Digital printing continues to generate interest for packaging applications, with SKU proliferation, brand differentiation and niche marketing driving the trend.

In preparation for Pack Expo this fall, PMMI Director of Member Communications Kate Achelpohl talked about the future of digital printing for packaging and how the technology will affect converters and consumer packaged goods companies.

Q. Digital printing is still being touted as the next big thing to hit packaging. Why is that?

A. Digital printing is well suited to short-run print jobs, offering lower overall cost and shorter lead times than conventional technologies for smaller jobs. That aspect of the technology is attractive to brand owners, who are increasingly using targeted packaging to increase market share and sales. Targeted packaging includes promotional, seasonal and limited-time packs; cause-marketing tie-ins; and packaging printed in different languages. Digital printing enables personalized and on-demand packaging, and it speeds up product trials and prototyping. The technology also makes it easier and faster to bring line extensions to market.

In some cases digital printing is used for larger runs, in combination with other printing technologies. For example, The Coca-Cola Company recently launched a packaging campaign in Europe that features hundreds of millions of customized labels. The company’s converters printed the standard portion of the Coca-Cola labels using a conventional printing technique and then used digital printing to add a popular first name or nickname to the labels. A name such as“Fiona” or “Lotte,” was digitally printed on each label where the logo would normally appear.

Q. For brand owners, what are the key benefits of shorter print runs?

A. Having the flexibility to economically print a smaller volume of packaging provides several important benefits. First, there’s branding. Your packaging is the first window into your brand, and digital printing offers you the chance to make more of those windows. You can customize a package to a particular market, whether that’s a demographic segment or a geographic location, because you don’t need to print in the millions. You can print in the hundreds, thousands, and it’s easy to do. That gives brand owners the opportunity to hone their messages and communicate what they want to communicate to particular audiences.

Short runs can also reduce waste and save money, because you only print what you need. It’s targeted printing rather than mass printing. The risk of packaging obsolescence, which translates into wasted substrate, ink and electrical energy, is greatly reduced. And you don’t have the expense of storing mass quantities of printed packaging. For a holiday promotion, which is by definition time-sensitive, you don’t need hundreds of millions of red-and-green packs. You just need enough to meet demand throughout the holiday season.

Time savings is another key benefit. Short runs with quick turnaround help brand owners get new products to market quickly, so they can be more responsive to market shifts and changes in demand from retailers and consumers.

Q. What are the sustainability benefits of digital printing?

A. Again, shorter runs generate less waste of printed packaging and reduce energy consumption vs. longer runs. The energy savings are at the operations level, but they accrue in other ways, too. You’re not heating or cooling a warehouse full of printed packaging, for example. Digital printingalso provides a paperless workflow, which reduces paper waste. Itessentially eliminates make-ready waste, as well.

Another sustainability benefit is reduced transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, because you’re moving around less printed packaging. And from an air-quality standpoint, there are a growing number of environmentally friendly inks for digital printers – formulas that are low in volatile organic compounds.

These environmental advantages ripple through the supply chain, with each player benefiting from the efficiency of printing only what is needed, when it’s needed. Every organization that participates, from the ink supplier to the retailer, stands to benefit.

Q. What are the challenges to adopting digital printing solutions, and what is the expectation for when they will become more commonplace?

A. When companies have a printing technology in place, with all the investments that represents – including equipment, experienced operators and a proven supply chain for consumables like substrates, inks and varnishes – there can be reluctance to transition to something different. There is a capital expense required to install digital printing equipment, and there’s a training component. Switching to digital printing is an involved process.

Even so, industry watchers say digital printing is making good inroads. Research from Smithers Pira shows that the market for digital printing for packaging will experience a 23 percentcompound annual growth rate to 2014.

Q. What are digital printing solutions providers doing to help converters, brand owners and printers overcome the challenges?

A. In addition to reaching out through standard sales channels, digital printing suppliers are becoming more involved in educating converters, CPG companies and printers about the benefits of this technology for packaging applications. The equipment manufacturers and others in the supply chain are working with industry groups, going to trade shows, writing white papers and generally increasing potential users’ understanding of the technology and why it’s so well suited to printing labels and other types of packaging.

There’s also a great deal of collaboration among various types of companies, like digital printer manufacturers and film converters, to help customers find exactly the right solution for their applications.

Q. What industry resources are available to help manufacturers connect with these solution providers?

A. Pack Expo in Las Vegas, the show runs from Sept. 23-25, offers brand owners and converters a one-stop-shop for packaging innovation – and this includes digital package printing technologies. The Brand Zone is just one of the show’s customer-centric features to enhance help attendees maximize their time at the event. This area is dedicated to packaging solutions that help brand owners attract consumers at the point of purchase. Among the many materials and container solutions housed in The Brand Zone, attendees will find a wide range of package printing technologies, advanced inks and substrates. The show will also provide conveniently located educational sessions that address branding and packaging trends andchallenges. Additionally, Pack Expo is where professionals from a wide range of industries go to source packaging innovation, creating networking opportunities to network and address how technologies from one market segment may apply to another. This cross-fertilization of ideas is essential for our industry to grow and thrive.

To register for Pack Expo 2013, visit Discounted registration is available throughSept.9.