The Latest Paperboard Packaging Trends Revealed at PRINTING United
Packaging was back in the spotlight during the PRINTING United Digital Experience yesterday as industry experts and leading printers and converters from the folding carton and corrugated segments took to the virtual stage. The day included in-depth research from leading industry analysts, panel conversations with printers at the leading edge of the latest technologies and trends, and multiple product demonstrations.
Lisa Cross, principal analyst for NAPCO Research, returned to the PRINTING United programming to provide an overview of key statistics learned from NAPCO’s ongoing surveys of package printers, converters, and brand owners.
On the technology front, Cross explained that while about 99% of printed output across the folding carton and corrugated industries is produced on conventional equipment, prevailing trends across both industries are leading printers and converters to explore digital printing and production technologies. In surveys conducted among brand owners, Cross said that the top packaging challenges reported include supply chain efficiency and responsiveness, designing packaging that influences purchasing, product versioning, and creating unboxing experiences for e-commerce consumers. With these brand owner demands and increasing technology available, Cross said she expects to see an upswing in digital printing across both of these packaging segments in the years to come.
“We think there are a few things we can expect to continue [in 2021],” she said. “Expect the use of digital to increase in folding carton and corrugated.”
Digging into Digital’s Drivers
To deliver the day’s keynote presentation on the trends and opportunities across folding cartons and corrugated, Kevin Karstedt and Jeff Wettersten, the two industry analysts and consultants that form Kartedt Partners, provided an overview of some of their recent research into these two segments, along with the packaging industry as a whole.
One of the key challenges facing package printers and converters is SKU proliferation, Karstedt said. He explained that although the phrase has become a buzzword in recent years, it’s still an important trend to understand. Wettersten explained that as brands expand their product portfolios, it is pushing more runs through printing plants, albeit at lower quantities.
“The implication to the printer or converter is substantial,” he said. “With these runs you have the associated set up. Productivity is declining and setup is increasing. It’s a problematic area for printers and converters to address.”
Karstedt said that a significant opportunity in the folding carton and corrugated segment stems from the influx of smaller-sized brands in need of high-quality packaging in lower quantities with fast turnarounds. In a recent conversation he had with a brand owner, Karstedt said this brand owner expressed a frustration that when searching online for packaging solutions, all they could find were the large manufacturers or e-commerce suppliers.
This market, which sits somewhere in the middle of the very small brands and the mega brands has specific packaging needs, and opportunities are available for those who meet them, Wettersten added.
“It’s an underserved market, and what they’re looking for is speed, flexibility, agility, and responsiveness,” Wettersten said. “It’s not about providing a product. What it comes down to is workflow. How do you make it easier for an owner managing packaging on a part time basis?”
Following the keynote from Karstedt Partners, the day’s first panel dove deeper into digital, as Cory Francer, editor-in-chief of Packaging Impressions, was joined by representatives from folding carton and corrugated companies that have embraced the technology.
On the corrugated side, Justin Best, VP of graphics and production for Precision Digital Printing, shared his experiences with the startup company based entirely around the EFI Nozomi C18000 digital platform. Representing the folding carton industry, Chris Kline, general manager of Wingate Packaging, discussed how his company’s adoption of the HP Indigo 30000 digital press, along with digital cutting and creasing equipment from Highcon, has benefited both Wingate and its customers.
At Precision Digital Printing, Best explained that he and other members of his family started the Jonesboro, Ark.-based company after being impressed with the high speeds and quality of the Nozomi. Best described how the company was launched in 2018 as a direct-to-the-trade digital printer. Because the single-pass, direct-to-board, inkjet technology is so new, having debuted in 2016, Best said a key component to creating the startup was hitting the road with samples in hand, showing prospective clients just how strong the quality of the press is.
“That’s what sealed the deal for us – the reception of people that had not seen what digital was capable of,” Best said. “And it’s a big investment. We saw ourselves as a value-add rather than replacing flexo or litho. It’s another tool we can provide to our customers.”
Wingate Packaging on the other hand, integrated its digital equipment into an environment that had previously been based entirely around conventional flexographic and offset printing. Kline explained that the initial impetus behind Wingate’s decision to add digital printing and converting equipment to its arsenal centered on customers’ declining run lengths and a need for high-quality packaging samples.
Having found that customers were relying largely on fairly rudimentary packaging samples, Kline said Wingate launched its First Article Program, in which it uses its digital equipment to produce production quality samples using the HP Indigo 30000 and Highcon equipment.
“We can produce up to three production quality samples that were printed on the HP and cut on the Highcon laser cutter, versus a copy machine and CAD table,” he said.
And while Wingate’s First Article Program gives customers the freedom to explore other companies for their production runs, Kline said in many cases it has led to increased business in-house, as the final version of the package can then be transferred to Wingate’s conventional equipment.
Hear From the Trendsetters
In the packaging industry, there are clear strengths that each packaging format provides. In the paperboard-based segments of folding cartons and corrugated, three of those strengths are sustainability advantages, a luxury brand appeal, and opportunities in e-commerce. Joining Francer for a panel on these trends were Kerry Brown, VP of operations for Curtis Packaging, Hilda Murray, executive VP and co-owner of TPC Printing & Packaging, and Justin Stacey, VP of e-commerce solutions for Fantastapack.
Regarding sustainability, one of the top advantages that paperboard-based packaging provides is its recyclability. But while curbside recycling is both highly visible and easy for consumers, the three companies on the panel have each taken their environmental initiatives to new heights.
Curtis Packaging, a folding carton printer and converter in Sandy Hook, Conn., has put environmental initiatives at the forefront of its business. For example, Brown detailed the company’s efforts in utilizing alternative energy solutions, while reducing its overall energy consumption. For example, he said that Curtis Packaging is largely powered by wind energy bought off the grid, and uses solar power to produce 40% of its electricity on site. As for its materials, Brown said that the company makes a concerted effort to ensure that it is sustainably sourcing all of its paperboard.
“I work closely with our supply partners,” he said. “I go out in the forest to check how materials are forested to make sure it's being done sustainably.”
At TPC Printing & Packaging, Murray explained that the Chattanooga, Tenn.-based folding carton company has put forth a significant effort to reduce plastic from packaging. She explained that as brands and consumers push back against plastic packaging, TPC has helped provide alternative solutions. For example, rather than plastic trays, Murray said TPC can provide molded pulp trays.
“Any trade show that I’ve been to, it is all about greener sustainability,” Murray said. “And it’s sticking now. It was not sticking 10 years ago. The younger generation is absolutely dedicated to getting rid of plastic and that’s where we’re trying to devote our efforts.”
Fantastapack, which is an e-commerce platform for corrugated packaging, utilizes water-based inks and sources its corrugated material from a plant approximately three miles from its facility, which Stacey said helps reduce the company’s carbon footprint.
But another sustainability initiative the company has embraced is through One Tree Planted, in which the company makes a donation for every order received, which supports the planting of trees.
“Every time someone makes an order on Fantastapack, we make a donation that leads to another tree being planted, and now tens of thousands of trees are being planted,” Stacey said.
In addition to sustainability, luxury packaging for high-end market segments has emerged as a major advantage for paperboard-based packaging. At TPC Printing & Packaging, Murray said the company serves several cosmetics and spirits brands that can benefit from a package that corresponds to their luxury brand essence.
The company has invested in an array of technology to deliver visually appealing printing and a variety of embellishments. Murray said that the company’s new 10-color Koenig & Bauer press featuring a cold foil system from Eagle Systems, along with North America’s only 40” Scodix digital foiling and coating equipment gives the company a wide selection of techniques to choose from when embellishing a package.
“We have a lot of ability to improve our workflow and enhance the tactile and decoration both digitally and with conventional processes, whether it be offset, conventional stamping and embossing, or with the Scodix,” Murray said.
In the corrugated segment, the rapid rise of e-commerce across several markets has led to printers and converters exploring ways to enhance corrugated packaging beyond just printing one or two colors on a brown box. With the advent of single-pass, direct-to-board inkjet printing, the technology has opened doors toward packaging personalization and high-graphic production that was previously unavailable to much of the market.
Stacey explained that Fantastapack, with its HP PageWide C500 digital press, allows customers to embrace customized packaging options, along with interior and exterior printing. These new packaging opportunities, he says, ensure that brands can achieve similar consumer engagement in an e-commerce setting, versus the in-person brick and mortar environment.
“Your box is your billboard,” he said. “In e-commerce, someone is coming to your site and the best touch is when they get that box.”
To listen to all of these sessions, along with product demonstrations from centers around the world, register at https://digital.printingunited.com/register/. And for more content and information, download the official PRINTING United Digital Experience Guide for Day 8 here.