Industry Trends, Lessons Learned Spotlighted at Packaging Impressions Forum at PRINTING United Expo
Held during the PRINTING United Expo in Atlanta, the Packaging Impressions Forum featured label and package printing and converting research by NAPCO research analyst Cory Francer, in addition to thought leadership from David Bennett, president of Bennett Graphics; Scott Cotton, president of BP Solutions Group; and Terry Swade, corporate operations manager at Salem One.
Presenting research that he and his team have done on packaging and label opportunities, Francer said, “What our research has shown is that label and packaging is not just a growth area, a stable area to make a move into, but it's one that commercial printers, wide-format printers, and promotional products printers as well have really looked to expand into actively.”
Specifically, data from the “2022-23 State of the Industry Report” showed that printers working within the packaging and label segment anticipated significant growth over the next three years. By product type, the expected three-year growth was 15.8% for folding cartons; 12.2% for flexible packaging; 11.3% for labels, decals, and tags; and 10.6% for corrugated.
Numbers aside, why get into packaging in the first place? Responses from the State of the Industry Report indicate that printers have three main reasons: being able to take on print jobs on a consistent basis, becoming a versatile provider of diverse solutions, and expanding their clientele base to serve budding industries such as cannabis and CBD.
In a panel discussion moderated by Packaging Impressions editor-in-chief, Cotton explained that when BP Solutions Group entered the folding carton market about 16 years ago, the company wanted to find something “that can’t go to the internet,” and that would set them apart from its competitors.
“Our market has been famous over the last 30 years for copycat services between other printers in town, and at the time, for 30 grand, you could get into the wide-format business and anybody could lease that equipment and move into it,” he said. “We decided we wanted to do something a little different. So today we are the only folding carton manufacturer of our size in western North Carolina.”
Nowadays, Francer highlighted, commercial and wide-format printers may have a lower entry cost to producing labels and folding cartons, given that those applications use printing processes and materials that these printers would already be familiar with.
Swade emphasized this: “It's a lot easier to get into it and a lot less capital expenditure, and you can get into it,” he said. “But you’ve got to know the language, you’ve got to talk to your customers, know where you're at, and know what your entry point is.”
Flexible packaging and corrugated products may have greater entry costs, but these items are in high demand with huge opportunities for growth, according to Francer.
Upon entering the packaging segment, one of the big trends that printers should look out for is customer awareness and use of digital printing.
“Something to keep an eye on when you're getting into the space is that brands are looking to produce more individual label versions,” Francer said. “They're looking to grow their product lines, and the expanding number of SKUs that are getting put out into the market is really a trend to just keep an eye on. But the good news there is that digital is a great solution to help navigate through that.”
Customers are also increasingly aware of the finishing possibilities.
“You've got different substrates you've got to know about based on the end use, but the finishing — there's so many options, and every year, clients get more sophisticated,” Bennett said. “They see a product on the shelf that's got a raised spot UV or something different and they want to know: Can we do it? So, the journey is never done.”
Above all, the panelists agreed that there are many hard lessons to be learned when entering the sector. These range from ensuring consistent and accurate brand colors on print jobs, to communicating about specifications; for BP Solutions Group, miscommunication resulted in doing a $38,000 job twice, Cotton said.
To combat these issues and others, Bennett, Cotton, and Swade suggested hiring or otherwise working with someone who is already an expert in the industry. Their insight can help you avoid the worst of the learning curve, though it doesn’t make you immune.
But don’t be intimidated, because as Swade explained: “If you don't make a mistake, you don't get better. And we still make them, so as much as we know, we can turn around and make mistakes.”