Narrow Web Europe

Acquisitions, ownership and global pursuits

By John Penhallow | July 7, 2009

The hottest news from France, as already reported in L&NW’s online version, is the acquisition, by the country’s third biggest label converter, of Bopack, hitherto the biggest. This will create a market leader with a 15 to 20 percent market share in France. The acquirer, Autajon Group, is a home-grown packaging and label converter with more than 2,000 employees, and the combined Autajon-Bopack will have no fewer than 11 label plants in France, and two further plants in neighboring Benelux.

Commenting on the acquisition, Autajon’s International Sales Manager Gilles Poncato said: “This is an excellent fit because Bopack is strong in several key sectors, in particular in pharmaceutical labels, where Autajon is strong in packaging for the pharma sector. Bopack has also developed valuable expertise in several other niche markets, like security labeling. Pharmaceuticals and high-tech security applications are among the label end user sectors that are least affected by the downturn.”

A key question now is what plans the Autajon Group has for further international expansion of the kind undertaken in recent years by CCL, Skanem and others. Autajon is already present in the USA with its packaging division, so could the group be looking to acquire label converters in North America? “Unlike some of our competitors, we are not looking to expand in the Asia-Pacific region,” says Poncato. “But Eastern Europe and the USA are definitely on our list.”

Another European label converter which definitely does have Asia on its mind is Rako, based in Germany and one of that country’s top three narrow web converters. “China is currently one of the fastest-growing markets worldwide,” emphasizes Rako’s managing director, Philip Schmidt-Prange. “Although we’re still a relative newcomer to the Asian market, we are benefiting from our European customer links. Rako is planning for the long term in China. As a result, the current economic crisis is not affecting us. We prefer to see it as an opportunity.”

In April 2009 Rako opened its first production site in China, in Hangzhou, some 180 kilometers from Shanghai, with a 12-color RCS 330 from Gallus.

Both Bopack and Rako are family owned businesses, for which the handing on of management to the next generation is not always easy. For UK’s Sessions of York, a 200-year-old label and packaging producer, it has proved not merely difficult, but impossible, according to Mark Sessions, great-grandson of the founder of the company. Now reaching retirement age, he regrets that none of his four sons are interested in taking over the business, which employs 100 in the north of England. The company is therefore up for sale.

“But whether a sale takes place in six months or six years depends on whether I find the right pair of hands – someone who will keep the company going in the same way that we have run it,” he says. Cash-rich companies wanting to get a share of the UK label market, take note!

Some UK label executives are not waiting for outsiders to make an offer. AGI Media’s European Managing Director Andrew Scrimgeour has led an MBO at the group’s UK label operation, AGI Labels, part of the MeadWestvaco Group. The company, to be renamed AJS Labels, employs 50 in Littlehampton on England’s south coast. As part of the deal, the new owners also acquired a label plant in the north of England, to be rebranded AJS North. Scrimgeour declined to reveal the value of the deal, but confirmed that the finance was from non-private equity sources.

“Finance is available for the right opportunities and the right people, and I do have a reputation for turning businesses around,” said Scrimgeour modestly.

Pressure sensitive labels for returnable bottles

Pressure from ecological groups means that the returnable bottle is increasingly used in Europe. Removing the label by washing, however, is no easy matter, according to Nicolas Towers of Krones. Pressure sensitives are gaining ground not only for wines but also for the beer labeling sector. “Synthetic PS labels tend to curl up into a roll the size of a matchstick,” says Towers. “The consequence of this is that they penetrate into the ‘clean’ section of the washer.”

Krones says, though, that it has now overcome most of the problems associated with washing off filmic PS labels, using specially developed bottle washing equipment. Krones is looking to labelstock manufacturers to develop more washing-friendly materials.

“With the PS materials currently available,” says Towers, “even with our newly developed washing equipment, we won’t be able to give the same guarantees that we have for paper face materials.”

Heidelberg – again

Readers of this column will recall the financial problems besetting Heidelberg, widely considered in Germany to be “too big to fail.” Recent events in the US and elsewhere have proven that there is no such thing. Nonetheless, the German Wirtschaftsfond (Economic Fund) has been given clearance to provide additional credits of around $400 million to Heidelberg, plus an additional $550 million in the form of guarantees. Amounts like this will not make headlines in Detroit, but are an indication of European governments’ concern to preserve “national champions,” even if to some it looks like protectionism.

Security labeling conference postponed indefinitely

The PISEC security conferences, founded by Mike Fairley and acquired by IDEX Exhibitions, has clearly been hit by the present downturn, and seems to be moving closer to Tarsus, organizer of the Labelexpo exhibitions.

Buzz Carter, director of IDEX Exhibitions, says, “The original planned two-day PISEC conference, exhibition and workshop event, which was to be held in Athens, is being postponed to a new date and venue in 2010 or 2011 when the global economy is expected to be more favorable to a major international conference of speakers, exhibitors and delegates. After discussion with the Tarsus Group we believe that for 2009, the inclusion of PISEC elements within the Labelexpo event will provide product and image security professionals with an excellent opportunity.”

Innovia invests

That the English love their ancient monuments is no secret. Label and packaging film manufacturer Innovia has nonetheless decommissioned two of its 1940s vintage production lines. A new production line, involving a $20 million investment will ultimately become Innovia Films’ highest output line.
“This state-of-the-art equipment will allow the manufacture of some grades faster than currently achieved and will consistently improve quality on others,” says Alexander van’t Riet, Innovia’s global sales and marketing director.

A rock and a hard place

A UK company, Baker Self-Adhesive Materials Ltd., has launched what it says is a revolutionary face material, branded as EnPLUS, which “Prints like paper and acts like plastic,” according to Baker’s Materials Manager David Richards. “EnPLUS can be used with a wide range of inks and print processes and has the same printability as conventionally made paper products,” he says. “Having similar characteristics to plastic, it combines high scuff and water resistance with additional strength and durability.”

This is not the first time a 100 percent mineral substrate has been developed, of course, but if this new material performs as well as its promoters affirm, then the ecological argument could be a trump card – which Richards is quick to play: “EnPLUS is based on natural rock minerals that are constantly replaced by the earth’s water systems, so its use contributes to the reduction in the number of trees needed for paper production and also helps preserve the environment.”

Europe’s biggest label event

Labelexpo Europe 2009, to be held in September in Brussels, is virtually unaffected by the economic problems of the world, if we are to believe the organizer’s hype. Your correspondent will be on the spot to give you the inside story!

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