The international labelling association FINAT convened its European Label Forum in Berlin in June, since Germany hosts well over 400 label printing companies today, including Hagmaier Etiketten, whose Managing Director, Thomas Hagmaier, had served as FINAT President for the last two years. He handed over the presidency to Chris Ellison of OPM Labels, UK, at the event.
Now in its third year, the European Label Forum replaces FINAT’s annual congress, to meet the changing needs of the label and packaging industry. “With the new event,”, comments FINAT Managing Director Jules Lejeune, “we aim to encourage business and opinion leaders to address topics relevant to the longer-term future of our business.”
‘The Other’ Michael Jackson and Industry 4.0
The prime all-embracing topic addressed by the forum was change – the fourth industrial revolution – and its relevance for the label industry. Opening keynote speaker, ‘The Other’ Michael Jackson – an expert and consultant in change, and a renowned international speaker – summarised the major change challenges as computing, communication, connectivity, collaboration, and convergence, and defined them one by one. “The more things change, the faster they change”, he showed; and his message was “if you are not disrupting your industry, you are rapidly becoming outdated.” He proposed a new central focus – on the future destination of a business – supported by a concept of ‘effective togetherness’, embracing objectives, information, networks, and teams – because, he said “people united by a real deliverable, and visibly-manageable common purpose, deliver more effectively.”
Jan Denys, Labour Market Expert at global recruitment company Randstad Group, examined the strategic question of employer branding. Today, there are new profiles for employees, created by new forms of work, which demand new talents and skills in such arenas as social media, design, innovation, and transdisciplinary thinking. Mr Denys offered ten ‘golden insights’ into successful recruitment in today’s transitional world – including being realistic and patient, daring to dream, have an eye for diversity, think global, and do not fear the future. In the label industry, he adjured delegates to raise their employer branding to encourage recruitment.
The impact of digitisation
“What can be digital, will be digital” was the uncompromising statement of Stephan Lechel, a partner in Porsche Consulting and leader of the company’s Competence Center. He urged delegates and the print and packaging industry: “disrupt yourself, before others do”, because digital technology must become a key feature of their business in a variety of forms – in their print offering, and in customer interfaces, production and systems efficiencies, and automation of repetitive processes. While some 75% of companies surveyed in Porsche Consulting’s recent management survey indicated they agreed on this point, only 35% already have a digitisation strategy – and only 30% have the required competence to achieve it. 52% of respondents said they saw great future opportunities for smart packaging, so label and packaging companies must embrace digitisation for a successful business future, with, as Mr Lechel said, “a focus on value propositions, effectiveness, and efficiency.”
Labels and the ‘Internet of Things’
The forum’s focus moved even closer to the needs of the brand, packaging, and label markets as Andy Hobsbawm, co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer of smart products platform EVRYTHNG, looked at the Internet of Things. Its inception has meant, he said, that “the age of smart products is happening now”, and it has brought considerable change in terms of customer interaction and resultant data collection, plus supply chain efficiencies, stock monitoring, and reduced counterfeiting and grey market losses. Andy Hobsbawn adjured the label industry “to stop thinking about what you do as purely physical. Labels and packaging are the digital bridge between the physical product and a cloud-powered universe of real-time data and software applications – ‘jumping off point’ for services in the supply chain through to retail, consumers, and beyond. If label companies don’t figure out how to answer the call and transform their labels into smart, digital assets, they’ll be out-manoeuvered and out-competed by those who do.”
Debating the ‘smart’ agenda
Andy Hobsbawm, Stephan Lechel, and Jan Denys were then invited by Marc Büttgenbach to discuss the future with the delegates, who asked questions interactively via their smart phones. The lively discussion covered many topics, including exploiting digital interaction in business-to-business labelling applications; using digital tools to promote label recycling; and how web robots – bots – can deliver real value.
Label industry scenarios 2020-2025
Delegates participated in a management workshop on keeping the future at the top of today’s label industry agenda, and creating four scenarios for the years 2020-2025, hosted by Paul de Ruijter and Renate Kenter, De Ruijter Strategy. The workshop centred on a fictional label company and its owner, and the different routes to achieving a satisfactory balance sheet result in an arena where key influencers in the label industry today – protectionism, consolidation, technological disruption, and a shortage of qualified labour (particularly of incoming ‘young talent’) – must be managed. The workshop left delegates with plenty of food for thought during their evening entertainment: dinner at Berlin’s Classic Remise centre – a reconstruction of a historical tram depot now housing a wonderful collection of classic cars.
Direct-to-container digital print
An upcoming technology in the product identification segment, direct-to-container digital print, was the opening topic on the next day’s agenda addressed by Corey Reardon, President and CEO of market research consultants AWA Alexander Watson Associates. Examining the advantages and disadvantages for brand owners as evidenced by a recent AWA opinion study, he enumerated the substantial list of demands at brand–owner level – from functionality and turnround time to cost, marketing benefits, and sustainability issues – and explored the impact of direct digital print on existing label technologies, suggesting that self-adhesive label volumes might be the most affected. He identified the end-use segments most likely to adopt direct-to-container technology (probably the beverage and home and personal care segments), and the equipment manufacturers already active in the field; highlighting growth drivers that will determine the future of this potentially-disruptive technology for the label industry.
Jules Lejeune reported on the results of FINAT’s six-monthly RADAR review of the market, along with the association’s European labelstock consumption statistics. There was almost 25% growth in labelstock demand between 2010 and 2016, driven by an increase in packaged consumer goods, particularly food; high-quality branding; and variable information print for online shopping, process automation, and consumer protection. In the same period, regional growth was dominated by southern Europe, but eastern Europe – especially Hungary, Poland and Romania – led the growth trail, with relative cumulative growth at more than 60%.
Digital print prospects in Europe
Current status and prospects for digital print in the European narrow-web sector were explored by Jennifer Dochstader and David Walsh of market researchers LPC in their FINAT Digital Label Study 2017. Of the 2000 digital presses already installed in Europe, 76% are toner-based and 24% inkjet/hybrid, but research indicates that inkjet presses will grow at 14,5% per annum to 2022. 28% of European converters are planning to purchase a digital press within the next two years, but challenges for converters remain. Cost of ownership, press downtime due to service issues, and finding enough business to fill the available digital capacity were the three top-ranking concerns. The survey ended with an evaluation of brand owners’ responses to digital label print.
The FINAT business debate
Paul de Ruijter returned to the platform to present delegates’ suggested outcomes for the future of the imaginary company featured in the prior day’s workshop, and then welcomed four high-powered representatives of the global label and packaging industry for the FINAT Business Debate: Chris Ellison, owner of OPM (Labels and Packaging) Group and FINAT President; Geoff Martin, President, CCL Label; Adrian Tippenhauer, CEO of All4Labels; and Mike Henry, Executive Vice President, Constantia Flexibles Label Division. The four panellists talked around the current business environment, answering delegates’ interactive questions; and providing real insights into their ‘live’ world today.
Keynote: the wider context
From an inside view of the industry, the agenda moved to an outside evaluation of the wider context: the future of the European economic and political landscape. This was the closing keynote, presented by Joschka Fischer, Vice Chancellor and Minister of Foreign Affairs in Germany 1998-2005, currently co-chair of the Executive Board of the European Council on Foreign Relations, and also running a business consultancy in Berlin. One of the most highly-respected statesmen of recent years, Joschka Fischer connected past and present, to create an awe-inspiring vision of the future centred on Europe’s need to bring together all its different national cultures – “Europe means diversity”, he underlined – “in a united front, to peacefully protect and promote its continued success and happiness because, after all, there will,” he said, “be a shift of power from west to east – and who will then take care of us? Our common destiny will be very important!”
Food for thought
European Label Forum delegates were generous in their applause for a keynote speech that certainly left them with food for thought, and Chris Ellison joined them as he closed the formal agenda, and thanked all the speakers, and the many supply chain customers who had sponsored the event – including Gold Sponsors Labelexpo Global Series and Labels & Labeling; Avery Dennison; Gallus; MPS; Nilpeter; and Wacker Chemie. With a personal agenda now fuller than ever, Chris Ellison commended “the excellent European Label Forum programme”, and, as newly-elected FINAT President, added with enthusiasm: “I am really looking forward to the next two years!”