Is packaging a business segment for all companies in the printing industry? Certainly, it is a business area with a compelling physical end product and great potential, as was demonstrated with impressive figures at Packaging Congress 2021. However, the print shop has to get involved in the supply chain and deal with the megatrend of sustainability in the process. Much applause was given to the speakers, who were able to give the participants an indication of what is important on the road to success.
Since 2000, the consumption of packaging paper and cardboard in Austria alone has increased by 23 percent from 814,399 tons to 1,003,373 tons in 2020. In addition, there is packaging made of plastics and glass. Due to the growth rates in e-commerce, the demand for packaging is bound to continue to rise. The fact that the recycling rate for packaging will need to be 50 percent by 2025 according to EU regulations poses a problem. It was therefore clear that the Packaging Congress would focus on the four “R’s”: Reduce, Replace, Reuse and Recycle.
The keynote address was given by Dr. Gertraud Leimüller. She is the founder and managing director of winnovation, a company that is now active in banking, healthcare and mobility, among other sectors. She has recognized that the packaging industry is being massively affected by the transformation. The finding of one of her studies from 2017 is: “The high amount of packaging waste generated, especially from plastic, bothers Millennials. Avoiding packaging waste and food waste is one of the top six issues in their diet.” That the amount of packaging waste increased in times of the pandemic is commonly heard from all waste management companies.
Likewise, as was heard in the later presentation by Sonja Bähr of Tilisco GmbH, all stakeholders need to be honest and transparent about sustainability to avoid being accused of greenwashing in the truest sense of the word. The fact that print shops play a major role here became clear just by looking at the packaging value chain. Unlike in commercial printing, packaging manufacturers have to join the line and deliver an intermediate product instead of the end product. The manufacturers and packers receive feedback from retailers and end consumers. Here, the print shop is left out in the cold. It is therefore even more difficult to influence the innovations and the transformation. It is almost impossible for print shops to obtain usable data, which could be decisive in the further development of print products.
Andreas Schabert from the agency brand.pack is well-versed in packaging design and confirmed that the drive to realize sustainability inevitably drives innovation. Sustainable means thinking about the end of the product and the recycling process as early as the design stage. He spoke of the “circular design” of packaging, which is increasingly part of the overall product. He named four fields that play an important role: Material and sourcing, shape and feel, graphic design and finishing, and end-of-life and circulation. His comments on a wide variety of materials made it clear that the print shop plays an important role; after all, the materials are typically to be printed or glued.
It became clear to those present that packaging is part of the product. Designers and printers have to come to the same table for the quite costly product development. “What does an agency expect from a print shop in this regard?” I asked Andreas Schabert. “From our point of view, print stores today are under a lot of pressure to meet expectations. On the one hand, people expect new developments and innovations from the printing industry, and on the other hand, these companies are under a lot of cost and competitive pressure. Therefore, test runs with new materials or printing inks must be thought through well in advance and the expenditure must be clearly coordinated. In our view, the costs must be borne by those who also benefit from them monetarily. Of course, it is in the interest of both the manufacturer and the customer to drive innovations forward – after all, if they are successful, everyone benefits. The print shop has the advantage of gaining experience with new materials, including for further customer requirements; the customer has the advantage of being the first to benefit from new developments,” responded Andreas Schabert.
Packaging must comply with the Circular Packaging Design Guidelines, emphasized Magister Univ. Lecturer Dr. Manfred Tacker. He is the founder and lecturer of the bachelor program in Packaging Technology and the master program in Packaging Technology and Sustainability at the FH Campus Wien.
Johannes Michael Wareka, from Marzek Etiketten und Packaging, has been in the business for a long time and has enjoyed great success. In his lecture, he explained that packaging communicates the value of the contents and the image of the brand. He also emphasized that packaging is not merely garbage and demonstrated the value of packaging with an impressive portfolio. The fact that a company in the label and packaging segment of the print market requires skills that go beyond printing, became clear by the time Marzek’s dedication to labeling technology, supply chain management and sustainability were presented.
From the keynote to the closing statement, it was clear that printers who want to move into the print market segment of packaging need additional resources to be successful. Customer centricity is even more important than perhaps in other areas. So, what is the next step for print shops to move closer to the center of the decision-making process with customers?
Magister Peter Sodoma from the Printing Media Association Austria (“Verband Druck Medien Österreich”) sees two key points for the journey ahead. First: specialization, in line with customer needs. The print shop can do exactly what a particular customer segment needs (for example, a special digital printing process combined with processing of special data, logistics, finishing). These examples show that the innovation called for at the congress, especially by Ms. Leimüller, comes from dialog with the customer. What does the market need? What does the customer need? How can I help him, support him, make it easier for him? This direct interaction with the customer gives rise to innovations with new business models and collaborations (for example, with IT companies, logistics providers, creative agencies). Second: The digitization of the business model. Taking this even further than a web store, it is a solution that in turn perfectly serves the customer’s wishes on a digital platform and produces a printed product as the end product. This could be mass customization, for example. The customer orders personalized goods with his own motif in very small quantities.
I am convinced of the importance of packaging printing, not only because it is indispensable, but also because the print results across the entire range of finishing contribute significantly to the overall product success. This particular challenge arises from the addition of mass customization and sustainability. But this is precisely what holds enormous potential, and to leverage it is exciting. In the long term, I see packaging as an option for the continued existence of the printing industry. “It’s not that easy being green,” said Johannes Michael Wareka, quoting Kermit the Frog, and he’s certainly right, but after all anyone can be green.