Flexible Packaging: A Market Full of Digital Print Opportunity
Flexible packaging has consistently been among the fastest growing industry segments in recent years as brands and consumers continue to realize the convenient, functional, and resealable attributes it brings to multiple market segments. But with the many complexities inherent in the flexible packaging segment, digital production technologies have been slower to take hold, compared to other areas of packaging.
But as more digital printing and finishing solutions hit the market, package printers are introducing brand owners – many of which are startups or small-sized brands – to a packaging format they may never have thought they could achieve, given conventional technology’s dominance in flexibles. During the virtual Digital Packaging Summit, two printers who have invested in digital flexible packaging production technologies shared their experiences on the leading edge of this growing packaging trend.
Hosted by Summit Co-Chair Kevin Karstedt of Karstedt Partners, the panel conversation featured Simon Smith, managing director of CS Labels in Wolverhampton, U.K., and Chuck Christopher, executive VP of national sales for All State Printing in Huntington Beach, Calif.
Smith opened the conversation describing how CS Labels, one of the largest digital printers in Europe, added flexible packaging to its robust portfolio of labels. Within its facility, the company utilizes six Xeikon digital presses, including two CX500 models and three CX3 dry toner presses. Additionally, Smith shared that the company has entered the inkjet realm with a Xeikon Panther press. Eleven GM finishing lines conduct the converting processes, he said, and for flexible packaging, the company also implements a Karlville laminator.
All State Printing meanwhile, was born as a greenfield company that Christopher and his partners launched to support his existing large-format flexible packaging business. Christopher said that All State brought its first HP Indigo 20000 digital press on board in November of 2018, and recently took delivery of HP Indigo’s latest model, the 25K. Similarly to CS Labels, All State utilizes Karlville equipment on the converting side, in addition to a Digicon 3000.
While cost-effective and efficient short-run production has been one of the most attractive advantages of digital package printing since its inception, Smith and Christopher said that there is far more to the digital flexible packaging picture. For CS Labels, Smith said that incorporating digital flexible packaging was also about providing added value to longer runs that can only be achieved via digital, such as speed to market and packaging security features. Christopher added that with digital, brands can increase their packaging flexibility, creating new SKUs and promotions, which can enhance the communication between the brand and the consumer.
“Being able to go to a smaller market space and have specific things for their brands helps them over social media and other platforms that Millenials buy through,” Christopher said. “A lot of times, being able to run those extended SKU counts through digital allows them to be more relevant in these online spaces.”
Speed to market was another advantage that CS Labels and All State Printing have found via their digital equipment — and is one that can entice a customer to pay a premium for their packaging. Smith explained that many of the customers CS Labels works with have products hitting the market for the first time, and require significant handholding during the packaging production process. Providing mockups and test runs that can get to shelf quickly is an important step for these brands in their journeys, he said.
“Speed to the marketplace is the key and sometimes that will enable you to upcharge a small premium compared to other manufacturing processes that exist,” Smith said.
For All State Printing, Christopher explained that digital production technologies can also be advantageous in emerging market segments. Given the company’s California location, he explained that the cannabis market has stood out as a prime target for digital.
Christopher shared how due to the evolving regulations and laws surrounding the sale and use of cannabis, brands in this segment are constantly updating their packaging to stay in compliance. This has led to brands steering away from investing in packaging in large quantities so they can avoid winding up with unwanted or obsolete inventory. But beyond short run advantages, Christopher said that digital provides security solutions such as QR codes and unique numbering that conventional technologies cannot.
“We’re doing the work to make secure packaging,” Christopher said. “Consumers can scan it and make sure the product came from the correct vendor. Doing a random number generator or a unique barcode is not possible in large format [conventional].”
Smith said another interesting aspect of digital flexible packaging, is that because of its many advantages, customers often become less focused on price. Instead, he explained that the responsiveness and flexibility that digital provides can be more enticing, and an excellent avenue toward new business opportunities.
“People pay to turn products around in specific times for product launches,” he said. “A lot of businesses we’re dealing with are start ups or it’s their first time buying a pouch. They need handholding and consultative approach.”