Narrow Web Europe

Never make predictions

By John Penhallow | January 15, 2010

The previous Narrow Web Europe update expressed surprise that so few European press manufacturers had gone out of business. The ink was not dry on that text before another press maker went under. Werner Kammann Maschinenfabrik, with 260 employees, was a family run business typical of the “Mittelstand,” that tissue of medium-sized companies often quoted as the backbone of the German economy. Founded in 1995, Werner Kammann specialized in printing and converting equipment, and recently developed, and exhibited at Labelexpo, a narrow web combination press with waterless offset plus flatbed screen. At the time of writing the company is still being run by the official receiver, and management is “looking for a solution that offers a continuation of the business, possibly through the sale of the business to an external third party.”

Readers may also recall that the previous news from Europe announced the “cooperation agreement” between French label converter JPL, and the Swiss-based Pago Group. Alas the marriage – if it was a marriage – will not now take place. Having failed to reach agreement on the Pago deal, JPL will now “continue to grow using its own resources.” There is no suggestion at present that the French company might be keeping other options open, but you never know.

For Pago, failure in France has been offset by success on the other side of Europe, in Romania. In November, Pago was able to announce its acquisition of Gebacolor, a leading Romanian pressure sensitive label converter. “As a second step in our East European strategy,” says a spokesman for the Swiss company, “We will be laying the basis for expanding business with multi-national customers both in Romania and in other parts of Eastern Europe.” Pago is already manufacturing labeling systems in Romania, and this latest move is an interesting contrast to the strategy of CCL and other global label converters who have mostly used Poland as their springboard for Eastern Europe.

FINAT’s goodish news: We are still sinking, but slower

Label association FINAT, which carries out a quarterly “business confidence” survey of its members, reports that in the third quarter of 2009 the balance was positive (i.e., more optimists than pessimists) for the first time since the start of 2008. The calamitous fall in demand for labelstock in Europe recorded earlier this year (year-on-year falls of -12.1 percent in Q1, and -11.6 percent in Q2) was reduced to a mere -1.7 in Q3.

This “recovery” must be set against the fact that the first two quarters of 2008 were still relatively good, unlike the third quarter 2008, when the rot really set in. A more reasonable gauge of the industry’s health is given by the total figure for January-September 2009, during which labelstock sales as calculated by FINAT were down 8.3 percent.

Tunnel vision

If you wanted to hold a show about all the things we drink, you could do worse than to site it in Munich. In October, the Bavarian capital was again home to Drinktec, and again many labeling companies were exhibiting. Of the 60,000 visitors to the show (slightly down from the previous year), fewer than half were from Germany, and numbers were sharply up for visitors from North and Latin America.

Reactions from exhibitors were upbeat but guarded. Volker Kronseder, CEO of bottling and labeling giant Krones says, “There’s light at the end of the tunnel, but we aren’t out of the tunnel yet.” 2010 will continue to be a tough year for the industry, according to Krones’ Werner Frischholz. “We must get out of the red,” he insists, adding ominously that the company (which employs 10,000 worldwide) would “do everything to maintain jobs.”

Although further retrenchment looms large among company news from the label business, several European exhibitions seem to be doing well. The International Converting Exhibition (also held in Germany), which closed its doors on November 26, is a modest affair compared with Drinktec (or Labelexpo), but it reported 27 percent more visitors and 20 percent more exhibitors than in 2007. Label-related exhibitors included Erhardt + Leimer, ALS, BST, IST Metz, Dr. Honle. and Semket Labeling Systems.

Press sales: Could this be spring on winter’s traces?

Narrow web press sales in Europe are clearly increasing, despite uncertainty about the state of the world’s economy. From Italy’s Omet comes news of two recent successes. A nine-color Omet flexo press has been delivered to Israel’s Shmuel Lerner Ltd. This machine will be used exclusively to produce shrink sleeve labels for the local beverage market. Omet’s other recent sale was to a label converter in Costa Rica, a country that few Europeans could pinpoint on a map. The press is a nine-color flexo line fitted with inline solvent lamination, and the buyer, Polymer, makes plastic packaging. It is perhaps significant of a trend that neither of these narrow web presses is destined to make pressure sensitive labels. Omet has been stressing the multi-functionality of its presses and also their register stability, particularly during acceleration and deceleration, with consequent reduction in waste. The strategy seems to be paying off.

Omet is only one of many Italian equipment manufacturers focusing on the narrow web field: There were 50 Italian exhibitors at Labelexpo, and they have a reputation for aggressive export policies. Now comes controversy as – allegedly – the Italian authorities have signed an agreement with the Italian Printing and Converting Equipment Industry Association whereby the state will co-finance to the tune of 50 percent all these equipment makers’ investments and acquisitions. President of the French Printing Equipment Manufacturers’ Association Monsieur Jacques Chirat (not to be confused with Jacques Chirac, ex-president of France, now enjoying a well-earned retirement) is crying foul. “This is manifestly unfair competition in a sector already endangered by price cutting. “At a time when we are trying to work together with other European partners to promote the restructuring of the European print industry, it is essential to act to invalidate these parasitic excesses which breach both the spirit and the letter of European law.”

Within the 27 countries of the European Union everyone, of course, accuses everyone else of bending the rules on competition, but the one thing that unites all European manufacturers is the state of the US dollar/euro exchange rate, which, having for a longish time been close to parity, now seems to be stuck at around €1 = $1.50. This means that compared with mid-2008, US label equipment manufacturers have been able to cut selling prices in Europe by more than 30 percent and not reduce their US dollar margins by one cent. Press maker Mark Andy, like everyone else, was hit by the global downturn, and for a while label converters weren’t investing, however attractive the price; now some of them seem to be making up for lost time. Recent MA sales include a quickly finalized deal (seven days from first demo to signing) with Hungarian converter Gocsej Nyomda in Zalaegerszeg.

Swiss equipment manufacturer Muller Martini, maker of a range of printing and converting machinery including narrow web offset presses, is back in the news again. After acquiring the patents of the now defunct Drent-Goebel relating to variable format offset technology, MM has announced plans to make further cuts in staff, with 100 jobs going in Germany and Switzerland. The company employs around 3,500 worldwide, and has not stated whether there will be job losses in other parts of its network.

Britain’s recycling label aims to reduce confusion

For centuries the inhabitants of the British Isles chucked all their waste into the sea (and then complained when some of it washed up on their own beaches). But now the tide has well and truly turned, and Brits are at the forefront of a welter of ambitious recycling schemes. So much so that the public has become totally confused by the “confusing array of symbols and messages on retail goods” telling them what can and cannot be recycled and how.

To deal with the problem, the British Retail Council has come up with a brand new on-pack recycling label. The label comes in three categories, depending on how likely it is that a customer’s local authority will accept specific packaging materials for recycling: widely recycled, check local recycling, and not currently recycled. The scheme is voluntary, but the BRC claims that “participants have put the new label on 50,000 different product lines, and over 85 percent (by sales) of grocery retailers have signed up.”

Whether the new label will in fact supplant the other recycling symbols is a moot point, but the new initiative is grist to the mill of Britain’s ailing label converters, who need all the boost they can get right now.
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