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Digital in Dublin

Digital in Dublin

Leading manufacturers from Ireland and across Europe gathered at the Marker Hotel in Dublin on 3 June to hear about developments and possibilities in digital print from HP. The following is an abridged version of the evening, covering brand-owners thoughts on the future of digital.

Nancy Janes, worldwide programme director for HP Indigo, opened the discussion, saying: "The print market is constantly growing, with print jobs needing to be fulfilled faster, and bigger and wider format presses being required to allow for digital print across larger surfaces. These developments in digital are continuing to unlock cost-effective designs, finding new ways to add value to packaging and engaging with consumers".

Many attendees did not use digital printing extensively, whether through lack of communication about current techniques from their supply chain, or through not understanding the cost benefits. First speaker Silas Amos, partner at Minerva Studios, discussed the possibilities of going digital. "While consumers might not know or care if a product is digitally or flexo printed, they do want unique, engaging, personal and relevant packaging and products. Digital allows agility beyond being able to make more designs. You can test, adjust, design and launch in real time, easily scaling up pilots to national roll outs. Packaging is the least interruptive media in an increasingly fragmented consumer market. Agility is key to reaching and engaging today’s distracted or disinterested consumer, and while they can turn off their phone or tablet, they cannot turn off their packaging in their homes."

Speaker Steve Lister is the innovation director at Charterhouse – a consultancy that advises over 500 leading brands on sustainable packaging solutions. He said: "We focus on three pillars of innovation: materials, design and technology. All three are underpinned by sustainability.

Ice cream sticks to grow plants

"In paper, there have been a number of sustainable developments that tie the product, planet and innovation together, such as Favini who has been working with paper made from cocoa shell. Or the sticks for ice cream that have seed ingrained in them, so when you have eaten your ice cream you can drop the stick into the ground and plants will grow. Heineken has made paper from recycled beer products and it can be manufactured for less than conventional paper."

Amos said in response to moderator Maev Martin’s question about the benefits of digital: "Packaging can be more relevant to a location, personal interest or occasion." Lister testified to the power of digital, saying: "Digital is a means to an end, but it provides a never-ending series of means, and supports brand and quality growth across packaging lines. You can print one and upwards, something that is impractical or even impossible with larger-run conventional print."

Martin’s next question was about the ideal print run for digital. Christian Menegon, business development director of HP Indigo, said: "Right now, if we are talking a print run of millions, conventional print is better. However, if you want thousands of units in minutes, or short variable data runs, there is no question that digital is better. We do not see digital’s future in big, long standardised runs, which is why it is not a replacement to conventional print, but a supporting market."

Lister said: "It’s important to challenge your supply chain partners to see what print they can do for you. There are a couple of simple questions you can ask to see if a job is possible. It might need a change of print houses, but unless you ask them you will not get told about the full range of printing available. When we were walking around DSCOOP, I met a printer who is capable of the precise printing needed for a new Walls Magnum pack due out in the new year. Without having met this printer I would have no way of being able to fulfill this project."

Following the question session, Janes opened up the discussion to the participants for additional questions and insights as brand-owners.

L’Oreal’s Sally-Anne Tingle said: "It depends on the campaign, whether it’s marketing or brand awareness or engagement, but packaging is not seen as the key component. It’s seen as a cost, but it’s not focused on from perspective of what can we do to enhance it, in the same way marketing or social media might be."

Michael Neville, procurement manager at the Kerry Group said: "Homogenisation of packaging lines in Ireland in particular and with retailers specifically is the big issue as there is almost no point of differentiation on the shelf. This is of more concern than security for those in the private label or food industry, as it is far more difficult to make your product stand out. I am not sure if digital has a role to play in these conditions, but I would be interested in finding out more about how it might."

Lisa Deveney, marketing manager at PepsiCo expressed concern: "The fear for us would be going through the process and proving it works with short runs in retail only for the retailer to take the idea in store and cut us out, using the benefits of digital to raise the profile of their own products. We might succeed with a regional or narrow SKU, but the worry is they would then take it across their whole portfolio far quicker then we can keep up.

"There are times when a retailer has enacted a clear-floor reduction and we have been told at the last minute that the POS has got to change. It seems digital would provide a way of being able to fulfil these changes even in the protracted time scales given. Even though I like the idea, I question how helpful it could be, or would be when spending time chasing artwork or last-minute changes and not be able to concentrate on product development and packaging."

Ken Maguire, general manager of packaging at Ornua raised some doubt: "Digital seems a little counterproductive in the sense that you are concentrating on short-run turnaround of 200 or 300 labels. I am not sure about the financial benefits of multiple short-run projects across increasing product lines, compared with a single large run."

Neville countered: "It’s not worth turning on a flexo printer for less than 5,000 or 10,000 cartons, but digital is more agile. Supermarkets today have too many SKUs with diminishing volumes and it’s a case of finding the best cost-effective fit to get the product on shelf at the highest quality. Dave Lewis of Tesco recently announced they are simplifying their range by about 30-40% and the remaining SKUs can be covered by digital printing."

This led to the final discussion about waste management, where retailers profit from waste, receiving payment from waste companies, and not having to pay for packaging in the first place. Janes confirmed that digital reduces waste and costs, so it benefits brand-owners financially and permits them real-time changes