Narrow Web Europe

Label events proliferate

March 11, 2011

As reported in last issue’s Narrow Web Europe news, European trade shows in general, and the November packaging show Emballage in particular, are still plagued by falling attendances. This ambient depression does not seem to be affecting preparations for Labelexpo Europe, due to be held in Brussels at the end September of this year. The show’s organizer, Tarsus, is said to be concerned that virtually all the space is already sold and that it may be necessary to open up another hall. Typical marketing hype, you may say. But your Europe correspondent has heard from two would-be exhibitors who have been given the choice of going on a waiting list, or taking a booth at the back of the least fashionable hall, or right next to the men’s room.

Dutch label press manufacturer MPS is a regular exhibitor at the Brussels show, and CEO Eric Hoendervangers says his company will be showing three presses this year (as against two at the 2009 event). “At present we have reserved the same booth as before,” he reports, “but if we can’t fit everything in we’ll be trying to get some extra space.”

In 2010, in addition to Labelexpo Americas in Chicago, Tarsus has held label shows in India and in South China (Guangzhou), and label conferences in Mexico City, Barcelona and Tokyo. The company is said to be scanning the globe for suitable venues to launch other label events.

While the Labelexpo shows remain as world leaders, there are plenty of other event organizers eyeing the label sector and looking for opportunities. Easy Fairs is a UK-based organizer specializing in no-frills, low-budget shows. This company’s Labelling Innovations show, held February 23-24 in Barcelona, Spain, had mostly Spanish converters as exhibitors, but also attracted suppliers such as Domino, Markem-Imaje and Videojet.

In France, digital label printing is the theme of a symposium in mid-March bringing together all the world’s major digital label press manufacturers, along with several substrate and ink manufacturers. Speakers from Xeikon, HP Indigo, EFI Jetrion and EskoArtwork will join ink manufacturers and makers of finishing equipment to discuss the latest technical and commercial developments in digital narrow web printing. Sales of digital label presses have been brisk in France, and this symposium is attracting not only the major converters (most of whom already have at least one digital label press) but also the several hundred small and medium-sized converters who are looking closely at digital technology but who prefer to have their conferences in French.

Britain: down but not out
In recent months, Narrow Web Europe has not brought you very much news from Britain; this is mainly because the UK label sector is only just starting to emerge from recession. Too many label converters still have spare capacity and are not investing even if they could get the banks to cough up, which generally they cannot. Labelgraphics, in Glasgow, Scotland, is a happy exception: In December 2010 the company took delivery of its second RCS 430 Gallus press. This family-run business specializes in metalized and clear-on-clear labels for the pharmaceutical, and personal care sectors. It also provides a lot of labels for Scotland’s two main drinks, one of which is bottled water.

Edale is one British machinery manufacturer which, like Labelgraphics, seems to be keeping head and maybe even shoulders above water. The company has navigated through the doldrums of its local market by expanding export sales and pushing into new technologies with both standard and custom-designed machinery. Edale label presses can be found in some remarkably out-of-the-way countries, including the Baltic states, Vietnam, Belarus, and even Herzegovina. Some parts of its export network have been in place for a long time. “Iran is a case in point,” says Bernhard Grob, Edale’s urbane and multilingual export director. “I went to Tehran 20 years ago when Edale had a booth at an exhibition, and during the show met the owner of Kalabarchasb, a Tehran-based label converter, who subsequently bought two of our presses. We have done business regularly ever since, and last year Kalabarchasb installed another two Edale presses bringing the total to seven – and the original presses, now 19 years old, are still running!” New technologies being developed by Edale include digital printing (in conjunction with Agfa) and most recently a flatbed diecutting unit for folding cartons.

AB Graphics is another UK-based machinery manufacturer relying on exports to keep itself in growth mode. CEO Tony Bell explains, “The UK label market is still pretty flat, but our business is 90 percent export, and our converting equipment for digitally printed labels is selling exceptionally well everywhere in the world, including the US, where we recently exhibited at Dscoop6. Our US manager Al Spendlow told me he can barely sleep with so much work fulfilling orders. He can't decide whether business is exhaustingly successful or successfully exhausting.”

Export markets can be exhausting for other reasons: In the more volatile ones, politics is never far from the surface in deciding which suppliers get orders in their pocket and which just get egg on their faces. Iran is off limits to US-based exporters, and a whole swathe of Arab countries from Algeria to Bahrain are temporarily rather unattractive to everybody, including many of their own inhabitants, but many of the lesser-known European countries are very much open for business, as Nuova Gidue has shown in former Yugoslavia and Mark Andy is proving in Estonia.

Survivors in Central Europe
One of the truly remarkable aspects of 20th Century history in Central Europe is the way in which some print companies survived invasions, wars and 45 years of Soviet occupation to retain their identity right through to the present time. One example is Introl in Poland, set up in 1973 (still in the heart of the cold war) by Romuald Szperlinski, to follow in the tradition of his father and grandfather, both printing entrepreneurs.

Introl is now part of the Skanem Group, but Obchodni Tiskárny, a.k.a. OTK, is still independent of any group and is the biggest label and packaging converter in the Czech Republic. Founded in 1879 in what was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, OTK today has 500 employees (including its plant in Romania and its sales offices in Moscow and Germany) and annual sales of $65 million in 2010. Originally a gravure-only printer, OTK now also runs three flexo and two UV flexo presses, three rotary offset presses, a recently-acquired HP Indigo ws4500 digital machine and a range of automatic CTP and DTP equipment. According to CEO Petr Ryska, the move into digital label printing “increased flexibility and opened up new sales and business opportunities for us. It contributed to the significant increase we saw in our annual sales in 2010.”

...but end of the road for Illochroma?
Once part of the Spear Group and until recently a force to be reckoned with in Belgium, France and Poland, label printer Illochroma was rescued from insolvency in 2007 by the French investment fund Green Recovery. For Illochroma it turned out to be neither green nor a recovery. Despite recording 2009 sales of $26 million and claiming a 25 percent market share of the European food label market, the company again went into bankruptcy in December 2010 and in January 2011 an administrator was appointed by the Tribunal of Commerce. Excessive investments and “a prototype press which kept breaking down” were among the reasons given for Illochroma’s debacle. Unless another investor comes forward to try his luck, this faded flower of the European printing industry will be dismembered and its assets sold off, with the loss of around 100 jobs.

Euro zone: from Greek fire to Baltic boom
For most of 2010 it was hard to pick up a newspaper without reading that the Euro zone was heading down the chute, with German politicians suggesting – only half jokingly - that the Greek government should sell off the Acropolis to help pay its debts. But on January 1, with very little fanfare, Estonia (population 1.4 million) became the Euro zone’s 17th member country.

Labelprint, a self-adhesive label converter in Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, is a big fish in a small pool. It recently acquired its largest competitor, Paraprint, and now has annual sales equivalent to more than $5 million. In conversation with your correspondent, Labelprint’s founder and CEO Sten Sarap was lukewarm about his country’s entry into the Euro zone. “We only won our independence from the Soviet Union 20 years ago and now we’re giving up sovereignty to the European Union. In business terms the euro currency is completely neutral to us. The main thing is that the recession is past and our economy is really moving ahead now.” Labelprint already runs several Mark Andy presses and will shortly be taking delivery of another from the same manufacturer.

Divorce – Italian style – and an optimist
While Italy’s Northern League party threatens to secede from the rest of Italy and Prime Minister Berlusconi awaits his next court appearance on charges that even broad-minded Italians find a little over the top, the Italian economy is doing rather better than expected. Industrial production, believe it or not, is up 4 percent in the year to November 2010. Latest figures for the country’s budget balance show a deficit equivalent to 5 percent of GDP, not brilliant, but slightly less bad than the average for the Euro area.

So far, however, Italy’s label converters are feeling less than perky, according to Enrico Gandolfi, Omet’s sales manager for Italy. Omet makes narrow and midweb presses and has a healthy export business, but according to Gandolfi, “Sales prospects for the Italian label market are not so shining, because of the slow economic recovery compared to other countries. However, Omet’s continuous innovation, its specific market knowledge, its rock-solid reputation, and its complete range of printing presses, allow us to be optimistic for the future. We are not cheaper than our competitors but fortunately for the customers this is not always the most important selling argument.”

...and fortunately for all of us he’s right....up to a point.

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