The program addressed the major items of interest and concern surrounding this industry.
The opening session focused on opportunities and growth in key release liner markets. Corey Reardon, AWA president and CEO, opened the event with an overview of current market trends and status. Still dominated by labelstock, the market segments in which release liner takes a role also include hygiene, medical, industrial, envelope, tapes, and food and bakery applications, among others.
Glassine and SCK paper are still the first choice for release base, with a 36% share of the market, with PET film – a 16% share-- now claiming second place. Asia remains the fastest-growing regional market followed by the developing market in Africa and the Middle East.
The value chain as a whole has, as AWA research shows, also experienced extensive merger and acquisition activity, which has led many companies to consider themselves within the global bracket.
One of the areas of concern in recent years in the pressure sensitive label industry has been recycling – particularly of release liner by-products. As Reardon showed, there has been considerable activity in this arena, as 74% of companies approached by AWA researchers now have a working recycling program, and the packaging industry as a whole now has access to appropriate recycling facilities that are, for release liner, offering real second life opportunities for the substrate. Other ongoing areas for concern include increasing costs – particularly for transportation and energy.
Sourcing transparency and sustainability
Robyn Buma, vice president of global procurement at Avery Dennison, addressed the impact of the increasing demands for transparency on material sourcing in the label industry, with particular emphasis on the need for sustainability.
"Sustainability is not just a hot trend or buzzword – it is a shift in global behavior," she said.
She detailed the positive sustainability trends being exemplified by major brands, including Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, Danone, Nike, and Coca-Cola, and moved on to examine how the value chain is reacting to the challenges these initiatives present – for both converters and suppliers. It is, she underlined, essential for the industry to respond positively. "The time is now, to collaborate, innovate, and do," she said. "It’s from our materials, and from the contributions of the bold innovators behind them, that we’re creating solutions to the sustainability challenges that matter most – and ensuring a thriving future for our business."
An executive leadership panel discussion moderated by Corey Reardon followed, featuring Loparex CEO Simon Medley, Dow’s Massimo Rebolini, and Panoval CEO Wilco Van Zwieten, who among them explored the real-life impact of many of the current business challenges round the world – from COVID-19 to Brexit, US/China trade relations, and the need to attract and retain young graduate professionals to this industry.
Market-focus: Labels and graphic arts
The agenda for the label and graphic arts session was prefaced by AWA Associate Anum Javed Beg’s market overview. Pressure sensitive labels, she said, claim no less than 48% of the global market, and Jules Lejeune, managing director of FINAT, detailed trends and developments, both in markets and materials and in the association’s strong activity in the field of recycling and sustainability.
Going beyond self-adhesive labels, he indicated many label converters today are also printing flexible packaging, shrink sleeves, and wraparound labels to broaden their offering tothe brand owners – whose agenda also demands of converters shorter print runs, fast turnaround, and the ability to print variable-information-printed logistics labels.
Jan ‘t Hart, senior director, Innovation, Sustainability and Compliance, Avery Dennison Label & Packaging Materials Europe, detailed current and future processing of liner by-products – mainly glassine papers but also, increasingly film release base. "It will take all of us to solve the challenge," he said, describing Avery Dennison’s pursuit of success through its strong, active recycling partnership with Cycle4Green, Lenzing Papier, Ecor, and Romei Replastics.
What paper can do in terms of design for recycling in label applications was discussed, with a case study on curling control, by Mikko Rissanen, UPM Specialty Papers’ Director, Business Intelligence and Development. More value from release liner can be gained through a combination of improved paper yield, lower raw material costs in silicone coating, improved processing, and higher efficiency in downstream converting and customer service.
The voice of the customer was heard in the last presentation from The Coca-Cola Company. Jerome Labie, R&D innovation manager, EMEA, discussed consumer trends and packaging sustainability, and how the company views both as innovation opportunities. Smart packaging, premiumization, and consumer engagement with packaging are all fields where Coca-Cola and other beverage manufacturers have actively experimented with on-shelf product visibility to promote sales.
The formal conference program was complemented throughout by a well-supported tabletop exhibition and extensive networking opportunities, including cocktails and canapés on the first evening, during which Reardon presented the AWA Release Liner Industry Leadership Award, given annually to an individual who has demonstrated singular dedication, service, and leadership to the release liner industry. Alex Knott of Dow was declared this year’s winner.