Jon Fultz is business development manager, Packaging, Fujifilm North America Corporation, Graphic Systems Division. He was interviewed by QP editor Karen Lowery Hall. Learn more about Fujifilm at www.myprintresource.com/10013800.
QP: What do you see as the driving force behind the recent surge of interest in printing for the packaging market?
Fultz: One of the main drivers behind this interest is that high quality short-run printing of packages is now a reality with digital printing. Packaging will always have to be printed—even your tablet and smartphone still come in a printed package of some kind. Serving regional markets and rolling out limited distribution of new products has led brand owners to seek out low cost methods to print prototype and short-run packaging.
So many other areas of traditional printing are in decline that printers are looking for new sources of revenue by adding to their current offerings or extending new services to their existing customer base. What we’re seeing is that many of our customers found they were only doing part of their customers’ work—brochures and sell sheets, maybe some banner and poster jobs—but there was an entirely untouched area of opportunity to expand into packaging.
We’ve worked with many customers to help them make the transition; exploring new technologies and innovations and making the right investment in the right equipment. Without having to go out looking for new customers, using existing personnel and resources, they were able to expand into a new market and grow their business.
QP: What factors should printers consider in order to determine whether they should add packaging to their services?
Fultz: Printers should assess the types of legacy expertise they currently possess that can transfer over into package printing and add value. There are some traditional package printers who may not have the expertise in handling graphics files or producing variable data, such as serial numbers and expiration dates, that another printer may have, and that specific expertise adds great value to package printing.
Assessing print capabilities and capacities would be another factor, as well as the need for investments in capital equipment and/or personnel to service the packaging market.
QP: Can you please explain the various ways a printer might approach the packaging market? For example, printing prototypes or full-on mass production.
Fultz: We have customers who began by doing package prototyping and moved into production. When they identified customers that could use their help they began by developing a few samples for them, packaging prototypes with regional customization or variable data. In some cases, just a few specialized packages were all that was needed; in other cases, their prototypes led to a production run they could produce or a mass production contract with a bigger, more specialized printer.
QP: For those printers who do opt to get into packaging, how should they market their capabilities?
Fultz: Find out if your existing customers have a demand for or are investigating package printing, and if so, how much? Just a few prototypes or full production runs? Our customers who began with prototyping had enough business from their existing customer base at first that they didn’t need to find new customers until they were fully up and running, and then they had great referrals and word of mouth as well as an excited well motivated sales force.
QP: How is the balance between analog and digital output in the packaging market space, and where does flexo fit into the picture?
Fultz: The market share for digital printing in packaging is small, but is projected to grow rapidly as quality, speed, and the breadth of packaging substrates capable of being digitally printed increases.
Flexo will remain on a slower but still steady growth curve as it continues to increase in quality and take business away from offset and gravure printing. The quality of flexo continues to improve and increase efficiencies due to innovations in plates, anilox, ink, and press technologies.
At drupa this year, Fujifilm introduced its Flenex DLE System for flexo printing. Flenex will be a true game changer in that it will save significant time, labor, and consumable costs over current flexo plate technology, while providing very high quality output.
QP: What emerging trends do you see that might affect the packaging market in the future?
Fultz: Customization is a major trend and includes the need for regional versioning, multiple language versions of packages, special offers, and promotions printed right on the packaging. This leads to short-run printing and the need for low cost and high efficiency. Special corporate colors are also important as well as color consistency, which is critically important to major brands.
More environmentally friendly solutions will play a big part in packaging as greener, more sustainable solutions are demanded by print buyers and brand owners. Innovative designs in packaging, such as unique containers, total package shrink labels, and substrates will lead to changes in the market. There is a continued demand for shorter runs, specialized packages, multiple versions, and customization that will cause significant changes. There will be more prototype and short-run packaging as brands test products and markets. This will drive more use of digital technology to cost effectively produce these package applications.
QP: As more vendors and printers move into the packaging market, do you think there is a danger that it will become commoditized in much the same way that traditional print production has been?
Fultz: Packaging design and use of innovative print technologies make packaging less susceptible to commodization. Brand owners want to keep costs low, but are also keenly focused on shelf appeal and use packaging to position products and enhance brand value. Traditional print production does not offer as much opportunity to differentiate and add value, and is therefore more subject to commoditization.
As technologies advance, there is always the challenge of “faster, better, cheaper”; the key is to keep up with the technology, even ahead of it. Fujifilm provides its customers with innovative technologies that help to keep them ahead of the competition. New plate, ink, and digital technologies, all vital components of the Fujifilm portfolio, help our customers add value and reduce the risk of commodization.