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4 July 2024

FINAT hosts optimistic European Label Forum 2024

The self-adhesive label association’s annual ELF welcomed 280 visitors and 35 exhibitors to Athens. On behalf of FINAT, James Quirk reports.

The FINAT European Label Forum 2024 welcomed 280 visitors from 24 countries to sunny Athens on 22-24 May, including the event’s highest-ever number of label printers. The tone of the self-adhesive label industry association’s 65th annual conference was one of cautious optimism amid rising growth and slowing inflation following the European sector’s annus horribilis in 2023.

Sustainability and artificial intelligence (AI) were key themes of the conference, while the event also featured the FINAT Label Competition, a comic play alongside dinner and dancing at Gazarte in downtown Athens, and table-top stands from 35 leading industry suppliers, including gold sponsors Labelexpo/Labels & Labeling, Avery Dennison, Mark Andy and UPM Raflatac.

Wednesday 22 May – announcing the winners of the FINAT Label Competition

FINAT’s master of ceremonies Vlad Sljapic announced the winners of the 44th FINAT Label Competition 2024 on the first evening of the ELF, following welcome drinks and the opening of the table-top exhibition. The experienced judging panel consisted of Tony White (chairman), Murat Sipahioğlu and Steve Wood, aided by the marketing expertise of Steven de Cleen.

The number of entries increased to 236 from 212 the previous year, with submissions from 45 companies from 22 countries worldwide. Austria once again provided the most entries – 45 – followed by Greece with 24.

The highest number of entries by category was Wines (52), followed by Alcoholic Drinks (28) and General Applications (22). The number of entries using digital as one of their main processes increased slightly to 112.

This year, categories were reduced from 28 to 21 to consolidate the less popular ones into a catch-all General Applications category. These changes, in addition to the modifications made in 2023, produced a more streamlined competition.

The Best in Show award went to German converter Achertäler Druckerei for Waldulmer Art Series 2023, of which the judges said: “This was a really impressive label which took the entire judging panel by storm.” The label was the winner in the Printing Processes Group.

The winner of the Marketing/End Uses Group was Marzek Etiketten+Packaging, Austria, for Yuzucello. The winner of the Non-Adhesive Applications Group was Ҫiftsan Label and Packaging Company, Turkey, for Valeria Strawberry Cheesecake Crème Mains. The Innovation Group award went to Germark, Spain, for Pulsera Sanitaria RFID. A Special Judges Award was given to Eltronis Specialty & Security Printing, Romania, for “Seek the Images”. Click here for a full round-up of the winners.

Thursday 23 May

Denise Haitoglou, president of Greek label association ELSET, welcomed delegates to Athens and gave a brief overview of the local market. Growth last year was at 8-10 percent, with the food sector performing strongly. A recent study showed that local companies are starting to take action on sustainability and recycling. “We are very happy to host this event in Greece,” she said.

FINAT president Philippe Voet opened the conference and pointed to the upcoming EU elections. “A great deal has changed since the last elections in 2019. No one could have dreamed what we have lived over the past five years. As an industry, we have lived through lots of crises, but we can get through them thanks to innovation. We manged problems before, and we will manage them again.”

Voet introduced independent marketing strategist and FINAT’s “moderator-in-residence” Bert van Loon, who teed up the morning’s proceedings by quoting the Greek philosopher Socrates: “I know that I am intelligent, because I know that I know nothing. I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.”

General business climate – socio-economic and market trends

The opening presentation – “Europe in a new age of empires” – came from former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, who made an impassioned case for a stronger, more integrated EU in the face of threats from new “empires”. “China and India are not countries, but civilisations. The same goes for the US and Russia,” he said. “The next decade will be a brutal competition between these big countries, or ‘empires’. There will be no place for nations not under the umbrella of an empire. Sweden and Finland recently became members of NATO. Why? Because they want to have security and stability in a world dominated by competition between so many big entities. This competition is economic, technological and military.”

Verhofstadt, who was appointed chair of the Conference on the Future of Europe in 2022, an initiative aimed at revitalizing the EU, cited three major risks: military, regulatory and political. “The risk in this new world is of violence – a military risk. It is a world to which war has returned. After decades of globalisation of the world economy, now there is a risk of deglobalisation, an unravelling of economic ties. Countries want control over their own supply chains. Recent EU legislation of AI was conducted separately from G7 partners – another example of deglobalisation. So there is also regulatory risk. The third risk is political. Some liberal democracies are turning towards populism. Immigration is one driver, as is increasing inequality and economic uncertainty. Social media has encouraged polarisation.

“Are we prepared for this new world? My answer is no, we are not prepared geopolitically, militarily, nor technologically."

“We need a political overhaul of the entire system. The EU is not a union. We need to create a union that is really a union in defence, politics, fiscal policy, health and energy. The EU has a budget that is 1 percent of the GDP of EU countries. This is ridiculous. We need new governance of the whole EU. Otherwise we will not survive this new age of empires.”

Anum Javed Beg, label market analyst at AWA Alexander Watson Associates, and Jules Lejeune, managing director of FINAT, then presented the key findings of the latest FINAT RADAR report.

“Last year was the worst nightmare in terms of labelstock demand since we started recording the numbers in the early 2000s,” said Lejeune. “The impact of destocking was more than 2 billion sqm of lost label production.”

The precipitous fall in labelstock demand in 2023 represented a 25.8 percent decline on the previous year and returned consumption to levels last seen in 2013. It was created by a perfect storm of events: supply chain issues during Covid – exacerbated by the Finnish paper mills strike in March and April 2022 – led to converters stockpiling materials. As supply chains recovered, rising interest rates and inflation pummelled consumer demand, meaning the excess stock took longer to flush through the system.

Destocking of label materials began in Q4 2022 and continued until Q3 2023. The final quarter saw growth tentatively return. Recovery accelerated in Q1 2024, but demand has yet to return to previous levels.

Lejeune pointed out that, despite the travails of 2023, structural patterns were not reversed. Filmic roll labelstocks continue to grow strongly, for example, from under 20 percent market share in the mid 2000s to almost 30 percent in 2023.

Anum Javed Beg extrapolated some broader trends from the RADAR report and its surveys of brand owners and converters. For brand owners, sustainability has become a “significant concern”, while they are keen to invest in technology which streamlines production processes and reduces waste. They want to diversify their supplier base and explore local sourcing options. Converters, meanwhile, cited raw material price increases as their primary concern, with competition from alternative technologies also ranking highly.

Lejeune concluded by outlining the principal drivers for growth: sustainability, innovation, supply, demand and industry. “It is still a mixed picture across Europe, but there is room for cautious optimism,’ he said. “Inflation is easing and we are seeing a moderate economic recovery.”

Developments along the supply chain

Linda Lichtmess, strategic market analyst, Food & Drinks, at Euromonitor (D) presented the latest insights on consumer behaviour, highlighting five new trends which are reshaping retail. First, consumers are looking for value for money. Their new financial mindset means they want better deals and find ways to outsmart the system, but don’t compromise on quality. Second, they want transparency. They have taken steps to live more sustainably and want businesses and governments to step up, but are sceptical of misleading claims and under-delivered sustainability promises. Third, they want to enjoy themselves: more stress in day-to-day life means consumers seek moments of joy in their purchases. Fourth, integration of AI. Consumers are becoming more comfortable with increased integration of AI technologies. And finally, health and wellness has become an increasing trend among consumers, who are looking for companies to meet these needs.

The session concluded with a panel of renowned industry leaders – Günther Birkner (CCL Label), Hassan Rmaile (MCC), Michael Wareka (Marzek Labels), Jeremy Lagay (Iconex), Guido Spachtholz (HERMA) and Fernando Girón (Fedrigoni) – in a wide-ranging discussion which covered industry challenges, sustainability, regulation and technology.

The panel added their perspectives to the FINAT RADAR report data revealed earlier. “The global packaging industry is worth $1 trillion, with labels around $40 billion of that,” said Hassan Rmaile of MCC. “The label is a few percent of the overall package, so is often lower down the brand’s priority list. But it has the biggest impact on sustainability and shelf impact.”

“We look at data after the event,” pointed out Fedrigoni’s Fernando Girón. “Labels can help collect data in real time, and AI could help us to process that data much faster.” Jeremy Lagay of Iconex added: “The data show there is a changing economic environment, with increasing focus on value over volume.”

Michael Wareka of Marzek Labels said environmental regulation, documentation and certification was key but questioned: “How are we trying to achieve it? It’s about sustainability, not bureaucracy. As it becomes progressively more difficult for smaller companies to meet all these requirements, this will increase consolidation trends in our industry.” Günther Birkner of CCL Label described PPWR as “a good starting point”, adding: “Now we have a framework. It is not perfect – it will be an evolution.” Herma’s Guido Spachtholz said: “Good progress has been made in recent years. But to reduce CO2 levels, there are still steps to take.”

FINAT cartoonist-in-residence Philip Barrett presented an impressive visual wrap-up of the key takeaways of the morning, which was then compared to AI tool SnapSight’s automated summary of proceedings.


Michel Scholte is founder of the CSRD Academy, an initiative to prepare industries such as the label and packaging sector for the EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), which he described as “the perfect opportunity to start valuing your impacts and dependencies”. CSRD is a set of reporting rules about companies’ sustainability, performance and strategy, which will be mandatory for some 11,000 to 50,000 companies. “In a financial economy, companies report financial information. Sustainability comes in a different section,” he said. “But now, under CSRD, this will become one and the same report. It will lead to more harmonisation of concepts and definitions.”

John Eisses of Dutch consultancy firm Berenschot presented the story of AIPIA, the Active and Intelligent Packaging Industries Association, which is preparing a funded initiative to develop and implement smart packaging technologies to restructure food supply chains. “About one third of all the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted every year,” he said. “Intelligent labels and packaging can make a difference in the quest to combat waste along the supply chain.”

The project has attracted 41 partners in 27 countries. Eisses outlined different examples of how smart labels and packaging are being employed to reduce food waste, including fruit quality monitoring via a handheld IoT system combined with a package-level active marker. Active product labels, RFID and accessible QR codes can also be effective.

Following a summary by FINAT’s Regulatory Affairs Manager Pablo Englebienne, a panel made up of Marzia Scopelliti (EUROPEN), Fabrizio di Gregorio (Plastics Recycling Europe), Suvi Rasa (UPM Raflatac), Graham Holder (Ceflex), Sergio Collado (Sulayr Global Service, PET recycler), and Noël Kasmi (Avery Dennison), addressed the question: Are we ready for the EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWR)?

The goals of the 300-page legal document, developed over the past five years, are to reduce the amount of packaging and packaging waste in the market, promote reusable packaging, ensure all packaging in European market is recyclable, ensure the use of post-consumer recycled waste in packaging, and harmonise the markings used across the EU.

“There is still a lot of work to be done,” said Ceflex’s Graham Holder. “The agreement is only in principle. Legislation has been put together in the absence of hard data – because all this is new. Going forward, we need to get hold of that data. A lot of collaboration is needed for the industry to speak with one voice.”

Asked what next steps companies can take, Suvi Rasa of UPM Raflatac said: “The solutions of today might not be the same as tomorrow. As a raw material supplier we innovate to create solutions that match the criteria, but converters are crucial for educating the brand owners.” Fabrizio di Gregorio of Plastics Recycling Europe added: “We can increase the amount of material recovered by getting the label design right. There is a spirit in the recyclability guidelines.”

Marzia Scopelliti of EUROPEN urged: “Designing packaging that is recyclable is a key actionable area.” Avery Dennison’s Noël Kasmi pointed out that the requirement for packaging reuse “might require an intelligent label – this is an area we can help.” PPWR also brings opportunity, agreed the panellists. “I am optimistic,” said Sergio Collado of Sulayr Global Service. “Some say PPWR is the start of a new era.”

There followed a brief announcement of FINAT’s partnership with Packaging Europe, which will see the winners of the FINAT Sustainability Awards unveiled at the Sustainable Packaging Summit, on 12th November 2024 in Amsterdam. Click here for more information.

After FINAT cartoonist-in-residence Philip Barrett’s visual wrap-up of the day, delegates dined and danced – with equal measures of enthusiasm – at downtown Athens entertainment venue Gazarte, also enjoying a comic drama depicting the Greek gods Poseidon and Athena vying for the patronage of Athens, then known as Kekropia after King Kekropas.

Friday 24 May


After an introduction from moderator Bert van Loon and a look at SnapSight’s automated summary of the previous day, AI strategist and influencer Katie King spoke about how businesses can harness the fast-developing technology to maintain a competitive edge. “The world is changing so fast. AI is the defining technology of our generation,” she emphasised.

She asked the audience what they feared most about AI. “Impact on privacy” received the most raised hands, beating “Making my role redundant”. (One vote for the latter came from your correspondent, who, unnerved by SnapSight’s insightful AI-generated summaries, found himself wondering how many more ELF reports will be written by a human.)

King, who sits on the Cross-Parliamentary Committee for AI in the UK and is a published author on the topic, summarised the different forms of AI which can be employed by businesses: interactive, visual, functional, analytic and generative. “In marketing, AI can bridge the gap between online and in-person experiences, differentiate your brand and build loyalty with customers,” she said, citing successful case studies from Heinz Ketchup and UK retailer Tesco.

“Having a human in the loop, for empathy and contextualisation, is essential,” she affirmed. “And we need some sort of international agency for oversight. But don’t be afraid of AI. It’s big data which can help you make better decisions. It’s not about AI, but about change.”

Dieter Tschemernjak, Partner and Co-creator of Inno-Verse, an AI-enabled innovation and strategy platform, presented case studies related to the label and packaging sector. He likened AI’s potential disruption of business strategy to digital camera technology’s rapid takeover of analogue techniques. “The risk of being left behind is enormous,” he warned. “We need to adapt the way that we strategize. Generative AI is leading to a paradigm shift in the way we work. The question is not whether creative AI will replace human labour, but how human labour will adapt to AI.”

Label leadership

Laura Bas, a Gen Z expert and former UN Youth Ambassador, presented her thoughts on how the label and packaging industry can attract young talent. “Every new generation brings change, and change always meets resistance,” she said, highlighting a quote from Socrates that showed concern over the younger generation was as prevalent among the ancient Greeks as it is today.

According to Bas, Gen Z members tend to be outspoken, like things to be personalised, and are very internationally oriented. They enjoy new challenges and are learning new skills, and want to feel trusted, belong to a collaborative environment and feel their work is making an impact. She highlighted the importance of mentoring within companies, and listening to younger employees’ needs and ideas.

The topic was further explored during a panel featuring Laura Bas alongside Tom Baker (Baker Labels, UK), Dana Kilarska (Purgina Labels, Slovakia), Iban Cid (Germark), and Anastasios Politis (IC – International Circle of Educational Institutes of Graphic Media Technology and Management, Greece).

The panellists agreed that the label industry is finding it hard to attract young workers. “I love printing. How do we transfer this love into something that they can understand?” asked Anastasios Politis. “There is a branding issue with our industry.”

According to Tom Baker, whose grandfather founded the business and whose father runs it, Baker Labels “pushes the culture side of things very hard. There is a focus on training and well-being. We like to offer things outside of what’s normal.”

Iban Cid of Germark admitted: “It’s tough to attract young talent to our industry. The problem is that print is not sexy – young people don’t want to get their hands covered in ink. But packaging – the branding of the product – is sexy, so we focus on that.”

Slovakian converter Purgina Labels aims to attract young people out of school for work experience and training, said Dana Kilarska. “Culture is important. We choose carefully. We try to explain what we are doing and why.”

“People look for a place where they can learn – this is more important than earning a lot of money,” said Laura Bas. “Some people don’t want to sit in an office – they want to do things and make things. This is an asset for your industry, as is the fact that you can see the results of your work everywhere.”

The closing keynote came from Tim Foster, part of the gold-medal-winning British rowing team at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney and now a coach. He told inspirational stories about the team’s achievements and the interaction between him and his teammates, James Cracknell, Matthew Pinsent and Steve Redgrave. “There are those who want to be the best, and those who want to be seen to want to be the best. We were the former,” he said.

The team’s success, according to Foster, boiled down to foundation of trust, openness to conflict, consistent commitment, full accountability, and a focus on the right results. “In our final race before the Olympics, we were thrashed,” he recalled. “In the post-race meeting, each of us tried to take responsibility, and we also called each other out. Without that constructive conflict, we would not have won six weeks later. When you are winning, it is difficult to be critical. The challenge is not only to get to the top, but to stay at the top. Sometimes it takes a defeat to bring that catalyst for change.”

FINAT cartoonist-in-residence Philip Barrett presented his visual wrap-up before FINAT president Philippe Voet drew the ELF to a close and thanked all those who had helped to organise the event.

“The European Label Forum 2024 came at the intersection of different critical drivers,” said Voet. “After a difficult year of destocking, Q1 showed a strong rebound in material procurement, but economic prospects remain uncertain. With rising populism across Europe and European elections ahead, there is growing uncertainty about the direction of Europe as frontrunner in the circular economy transition, although PPWR will ultimately create a level playing field for the sector. Generative AI and digitalisation are important to improve sustainability along the supply chain, but automation of processes will not ease the pressure of labour shortages in the short run. A concerted effort is needed to attract Gen Z. I hope members found knowledge and inspiration to address these topics. Our industry can drive the change.”

FINAT Managing Director Jules Lejeune added: “Since its first edition in 2015, the ELF has become the main discussion platform for business and opinion leaders in the European label industry. Attendance numbers are now around 10 percent higher than pre-Covid. It is always a pleasure to work together with volunteer industry leaders to construct a programme, brick by brick, that meets the satisfaction of members and associates of FINAT. I am convinced that aside from the superb networking events during the table-top expo, the award ceremony and our dinner party the day after, our 250+ delegates took home valuable insights, inspiration and memories. I would like to thank every member of the community who contributed to the event’s success.”