Short runs, promotional packs, experimental designs—all benefits of today’s digital printing technologies. In addition to new developments announced at the interpack show in May in Dusseldorf, Germany, Packaging Digest sat down with Bob Miller, vp, sales, Packaging Technology Integrated Solutions, a division of HAVI Global Solutions, to talk about some of the trends driving new opportunities for brand owners.
What’s going on at the consumer level that makes digital printing on the packaging line so attractive these days?
What I often wonder is how much is visible to the consumer. They are looking at it as a package. The more customized it is, that’s what draws them in. So I look at it as…it’s less about the consumer being conscious of the fact that the package was digitally printed, and more the fact that it’s customized or personalized for them.
When you start looking at some of the things that affect them almost tangentially—like in pharmaceuticals and some of the medical aspects of it, where they’re starting to get much more concerned about serialization and one-to-one compliance—those are the areas where it’s really going to start to affect consumers, even though they may not be aware of it, the fact that it’s been enabled by a digital platform. That’s going to have a difference in the cost basis and the availability of those types of products.
Talk a bit about the consumer benefits of serialization.
The one-to-one traceability is a key aspect. That comes back to product safety and regulatory compliance. That has much more to do on the pharma and medical side than on the general, commercial side where you get more into the brand-centric aspects. When M&M’s went online with their product, they were able to personalize the M&M, the product. But where they were limited was…“I’d like to put a picture of my son on the package when I order them for his birthday party.” That’s now what’s being enabled. It’s that mass customization on a very personal scale.
It’s not just the main product. I want to go on the website and I’ve got 20 kids coming over to my house for my son’s birthday party. Now I can get custom packaging with his picture or even with the names of each individual child on it. That’s where it’s starting to get very interesting. That’s where the consumer is going to appreciate it.
We did a lot of work with digital over the last 10 years. So many companies were approaching it as a replacement for long runs, as opposed to saying, “There’s always going to be place for long-run production.” You have to look at it as a different objective here. If you’re just going to create millions of the same image, digital doesn’t make sense. But if you do want to go to that customized aspect—where you are able to do that one-to-one personalization—that’s where it’s starting to come into play for the consumer and the brand owner.
Other than attracting the consumer with this customization—and then the product safety aspect of serialization—is there a third area maybe for consumers?
Again, it’s almost a tangential benefit for the consumer. The benefit for the brand owner is being able to—call it rapid prototyping—get new and promotional products on the market much faster at a much more reasonable price point. The benefit to the consumer is they’re going to get access to those products, as opposed to having to do a full product roll-out and promotion.
One barrier for [digital printing] applications has been food because of the UV ink set that you have to use within the digital print. I haven’t checked recently, but up until six months or a year ago, there was not an ink set that had been approved by AIB because of the smell. It wasn’t because they had any actual health issues. But you could not bring the packaging into the plant where the odor would affect the products. So there was a hard dividing line there; a lot of applications were not able to get into the food.
When asked about environmentally friendly inks (such as soy- or agri-based), HP said it has a latex ink that looks promising.
That’s been the last barrier. Once you get into food, that opens up an enormous number of possibilities, both with the branded consumer products and, when you think about the applications with QSR space, quick-service restaurants. Instead of doing national or regional promotions, you could feasibly do city or neighborhood-based promotions. So you’ve got a cost-effective means to promote your high school or Homecoming at a single restaurant that may be near that high school. Those are some of the opportunities that are really starting to get exciting—if they are able to bridge that gap around the technology.
But they would have to have local manufacturing or a very organized, managed supply chain.
It has some definite implications for the supply chain.
So there are secondary packaging implications to that as well.
Definitely. But a lot of companies are taking a hard look at that because it’s very different from the long-run or weekly [model], but there is definitely a market there. So it’s finding a way to short-circuit the supply chain without losing any of the benefits of it. There is that cost/benefit ratio.
This is kind of exciting. As you mention this, it brings up…earlier you talked about the M&M’s example, which is order online and direct ship to consumers. This, though, is still taking advantage of the existing supply chain and retail/wholesale distribution system.
This could do the same thing. You don’t need a week’s worth of supplies for a potential one-store promotion. If you can get the other converting issues addressed…
Ah! And how many retailers want a special pack?!
Exactly. That’s where this could get very interesting.
Do you see any barriers in the manufacturing area for the brand owner because of the technology? Is it a different workflow that they just have to learn?
It is a different workflow but companies like Esko have become entrenched in the process. Packaging is nowhere near what advertising and commercial print went to 10 or 15 years ago—very much turnkey and automated a lot of the processes. It’s going to be a lot closer, around color management. Brand owners are getting more sophisticated in their comfort level in designing for those processes.
And they’re more forgiving because the technology allows you to manage it. You’re not making a huge investment in tooling so, if you have to make a change, it’s a negative impact. It’s, literally, if you don’t like this impression, you can change the data and create a new one on the next output. It’s a safer environment to do the tests.
We are at the threshold for brand owners to embrace digital printing on the packaging line because it is almost as easy as flipping a switch and it just runs.
It is. HP had some short-run die-cutting, embossing and foil stamping. Finishing is also starting to come online very effectively in that space. So it’s opening a lot of possibilities.