Label Summit Latin America

By Steve Katz | July 13, 2010

The annual conference returned to Mexico City � with a focus on business management and emerging technologies.

This year it was Mexico City's turn to host Label Summit Latin America. The annual event has been alternating between El Distrito Federal and São Paulo, Brazil. Tarsus, the show's organizer, reports that this edition of the event attracted more than 700 visitors – which is more than twice the amount of visitors as there were during the 2008 version. The summit took place May 11-12, at the Hilton Mexico City Reforma, located just steps from the famous Reforma Avenue, at the entrance to the city's famed, historical downtown district.

The conference had some distinct differences from the 2008 edition. For the afternoon sessions, delegates were able to choose between two streams of which ran concurrently – one dedicated to business management and the other with a focus on technology. The business management stream focused on streamlining production and costs and taking advantage of multi-media platforms. The technology sessions focused on digital and flexo printing, label applicator technology and the growing use of management information systems.

The session topics ran the gamut, and while some focused exclusively on issues facing Latin American markets, others were more general in nature, and were of benefit to converters and suppliers of any size and scope. Some of the sessions were panels, while others featured just one speaker.

Networking in the exhibition hall
Ronaldo Mello, VP Materials Division South America, Avery Dennison, was first to the podium, and he talked about the current state of the Latin American label market, as well as areas where there's the most potential for growth. He said that in 2009, business in the region declined as end users reduced their inventories and looked for cash. "Customers were focused on survival," he said, noting that the third and fourth quarters showed signs of improvement.He also pointed out that in South America and Mexico, it's the personal care sector that has the highest potential for growth in the PS industry.

One of the highlights of the conference was the formal introduction of AMETIQ, the new converter-created Mexican label association founded in 2009. Fabian Silva Yedra, sales director for Etiquetas Anro, a Mexican converter, and one of the charter members of the organization, talked about the new organization, its goals, and how it came to be. "We decided it was time to stop thinking and start working," he said. "As of one year ago, we are a legal entity. Our goals are to improve and strengthen the industry – and we need suppliers to join us."

Shrink sleeves was another engaging topic. Introduced as a shrink sleeve expert, Accraply's Seamus Lafferty declared that the opportunities for converters of shrink sleeves is something of a "global phenomenon." Of all the shrink sleeve segments, Lafferty stated that heat shrink is growing the fastest. "Mexico is an interesting place to consider shrink," he added, pointing out that the only nation globally that didn't grow in the shrink market is Japan. Among the principle motivations for shrink sleeves, he said, is "the thinking that there's less competition than there is in PS labels."

One of the afternoon's highlights was Steve Smith's presentation. Smith, formerly of Denver, CO, USA, based Lightning Labels (and one of the converter's founding partners), discussedhow the company leveraged the internet and digital technology to give prospective customers online quotes. "It was a radical idea at the time," he said.

The UPM Raflatac booth
Image is everything, according to Smith. Drawing upon Lightning Label's beginnings, when the founders were just learning the industry, Smith said, "Even though we didn't know anything about printing, we created the image that we did." And the internet played a major role in the company's development – and still does to this day. Smith underscores the importance of establishing a strong web presence. "Anyone who finds us via the web is a hot prospect – if they're looking, they're buying."

And when it comes to a company's website, it's either "engage the visitor or lose," Smith added. "You need to make this thing live and breathe. A website needs to constantly evolve and add value."

Rounding out Day One was a presentation by Jay Dollries, president of Innovative Labeling Solutions (ILS), Hamilton, OH, USA. Dollries focused on private labels, and discussed how ILS has leveraged its labeling and packaging capabilities in positioning the company as a full-service branding partner.

The morning of Day Two featured a session titled "Partnerships and Knowledge Sharing in a Global Industry." The panelists, Fernando Aranguren of Flexoprint, Kurt Walker from Tesa Bandfix, and Luis Maria Garcia of Multilabel, shared their thoughts on the benefits of partnering with other company's in the industry, and what to look for when deciding upon a company to team up with. "Look for a company with which you can have empathy," advised Maria Garcia, adding, "and one that is not a direct competitor of yours. You want to have a synergy and be able to grow together," he said.

Aranguren noted that Flexoprint, a Mexican converter, is focusing on finding a partner in the U.S., but cautioned that for a partnership to work, "there has to be a mutual trust." He also emphasized that it's crucial to have a clear idea of what you're looking for and to know yourself as a company.

Another Day Two highlight was when three key members of Etiquetas Anro formed a panel to discuss the challenges of a family-run business. Fabian, Amin and Nidia Silva Yedra, all close family members, talked about how to overcome some of the challenges that present themselves when brothers, sisters and parents are working together. The panel pointed out that having defined roles and gaining experience in other industries before coming to work for the family business is helpful in having a successful working relationship among family.

Justin Styers and Billy Ibarra of Styers Equipment Company
While there was a sense of optimism among exhibitors and delegates for the emerging Latin American markets, many of the region's suppliers and converters are still reeling from the effects of the global recession. Styers Equipment Company, Overland Park, KS, USA, a company that specializes in selling used and refurbished converting equipment, is a regular exhibitor at the summits. Justin Styers, VP Marketing, says that while the company had its best year in 2008, it's down 45 percent in 2010 in its foreign business.

"Financing has become a big problem in Latin America – the converters here are having the same problems as in the US. Lending is few and far between, and major press manufacturers are having a hard time, as are used equipment companies," said Styers. "The biggest challenge with equipment purchasing is cost, and with high tariffs, importing is a problem.

"People are running at 90 percent capacity instead buying a new machine. It's taking 60-70 phone calls to find a good prospect; it used to take about 20. The market hasn't recovered the way we thought it would," Styers said, adding, "But one good thing about the economy being down is that people are more focused."

And the Label Summit Latin America is a good place to focus, as the attendees are eager to learn, and the exhibitors are hungry for business. But they may be focusing somewhere else when the summit returns in two years. There was a distinct buzz going around the show floor that perhaps in 2012, when the event comes back to Mexico, the show will be in Guadalajara.