Pocketing Package Printing Profits

No matter how many once-printed items are digitized, packaging is one category that will always require printing. You can’t, after all, pour corn flakes, squeeze tooth paste or sprinkle seasonings out of a smart phone or tablet.

The ongoing need for new and different packaging spells opportunity for many print providers, who see the sector as a growth area. Simultaneously, a wave of new devices created specifically to print packaging is poised for introduction in the coming months. It makes for a segment loaded with intriguing trends and developments. We recently asked experts to weigh in with their thoughts on the trends that will shape the packaging sector in the years ahead.


Increasingly segmented

Not all that long ago, shoppers buying detergent found one type of Tide, and one type of Cheer. Now there are many types of each. This “versioning” of packages means shorter runs and more rapidly changing packaging, says David Zwang, chairman of the Ghent Workgroup of Danbury, CT.

“The changes are happening very quickly, and that’s playing havoc with the consumer package companies,” he says. “They have to compete against lower-priced house brands, so they’re trying to differentiate themselves. In addition to shorter press runs, it means a lot more pre-press.”

Packaging is one of the few segments of the print market where pre-press stands on its own, as not just an operation but a business, he adds. There is a major reliance on pre-press companies specializing in pre-press packaging, and pre-press as an industry in packaging has been on an upsurge. “There are a lot of opportunities, because the turn times are so much shorter,” he adds.

Kevin Karstedt, CEO of Buffalo, NY-based Karstedt Partners, LLC, says his research finds packaging printers are seeking production or operational relief in the way of tools that produce short runs more effectively in their shops.

They can, for instance, move troubled shorter jobs to resources better able to handle them, such as digital devices, and run the larger orders on the analog equipment designed to best handle them.


Personalization of packaging

In addition to increasingly being segmented, packaging is becoming increasingly personal. At one time, pizza shops ordered 50,000 generic boxes, which were printed, stored and shipped to the shops as needed.

Today’s shops have perhaps 500 to 750 boxes printed and delivered per week. Those short runs allow them to change the messaging on boxes as needs change, says Mark Swanzy, Chief Operating Officer of Xanté (Booth 5007) in Mobile, AL.

“The trend is for pizzerias to sell advertising to local insurance companies, hair salons and other merchants,” he says. “When there’s a child’s birthday party, the customer may want five boxes with little Johnny’s picture on them. They might have their specials of the week on the box, or, if they’re serving a heavily Chinese customer base, some writing in Chinese on the box.”

The labeling market is also becoming more personalized, according to Swanzy. “But it’s the personalized box that is becoming a trend,” he adds.

Karstedt agrees there’s an opportunity for digital in personalization. But the real need for digital, he adds, is “in the operational relief, in allowing short runs to be done on equipment well-designed for short runs.”


Introductions of new devices

As packaging materials go to print, they will increasingly be printed on a new breed of digital machines expressly designed for package printing, Zwang says. “Up to this point, we’ve seen a very limited number of machines designed specifically for packaging, but that’s going to change,” he adds.

“In the next six to 12 months, you’re going to see, first in a dribble and then fast and heavy, new devices specifically made to address the packaging segment’s needs.”

The new machines will print everything from labels to folding cartons to flexible packaging, helping spark the kind of growth seen previously only when commercial print started to go digital. “I think this will happen a little faster than that, because we’re so much further ahead in digital’s evolution now,” he says.


New types of packages

These days, you can walk into a gas station convenience mart and buy a single glass of wine. “There are a lot of different ways packaging can be offered these days. The packaging industry is getting it down to not a sample, but a single-serve size aimed at a single person,” Swanzy says.

Also, he says, where once a corporate or wedding function might have called for 50 water bottles with custom labels that too often fell off in the cooler, today’s digital devices enable 50 customized labels to be professionally printed for the bottles by print providers who actually make money on these jobs.