At Labelexpo Brussels in 2016, a team from Herma UK completed a charity cycle ride from their office west of London to the Belgian capital. They were admittedly fully clothed, but to pedal 300 miles, even for something as important as Labelexpo, you need to be slightly mad. Move several degrees further along the same curve and you find Mike Burton, CEO of AB Graphic, who earlier this year rowed solo across the Atlantic in an 18-foot boat. It will not have escaped your attention that all these splendid eccentrics were British. Just as British as that country’s present Foreign Secretary, any one of whose remarks about women, foreigners and prosciutto ham would have been enough to get him ridden out of town on a rail in most European countries (even faster, no doubt, in the US). And even Boris Johnson pales into insignificance before his fellow-countryman, the late Screaming Lord Sutch, who stood for election to Parliament dressed in a leopard skin as chief of the Monster Raving Loony Party. Dame Edith Sitwell, author of the book English Eccentrics puts it down to “that peculiar and satisfactory knowledge of infallibility that is the hallmark and the birthright of the British nation.” Just how this idea of infallibility will work out over the soon-to-begin Brexit negotiations is anyone’s guess.
Big Changes on the BOPP Front
BOPP is reckoned to be one of the up-and-coming filmic materials for both labels and flexible packaging. Readers of L&NW will recall that, just recently, CCL shelled out a cool $1.13 billion to buy British BOPP producer Innovia. Less publicity was given to the present and future expansion plans of Indian producer Jindal. After closing its research center in the United States, Jindal last year decided to concentrate all of its R&D activities in Virton in Southern Belgium. This new research center is adjacent to the Virton production plant, which Jindal acquired from ExxonMobil in 2012. Jindal’s other production sites in Europe are in the Netherlands (Kerkrade) and Italy (Brindisi).
Your correspondent attended the official opening of the R&D center and was duly impressed. In a hall a good 300 feet in length, Jindal had all the equipment needed to conjure up a wide variety of mono or multi-layer films (BOPP, BOPE, BOPA and many more) with up to 28 different ingredients. From the polymerization unit at temperatures up to 250 degrees, a narrow web then emerges to be stretched and pulled to a maximum width of more than three feet and a thickness that can go down to just 10 microns.
Pascale Wautelet, Jindal’s R&D director, outlined the parameters that a producer must optimize for each application: “For food one can look for rigidity, resistance to moisture and/or light. We are particularly working to reduce the thickness (and thus the cost) of a film while maintaining the same functionality. Among the many flagship products Jindal has successfully developed, I would mention metalized BOPE and OPP that we were the first to develop and market.” The different coatings of the films serve mainly to optimize the printability. A major success of Jindal’s R&D was the development of roll-on-shrink-on label films that shrink up to 50% in machine direction.
At this research center, as in all of its factories, Jindal does everything to be an “eco-friendly” industrialist. “We recycle most of our waste – our films contain an average of 11% recycled material – and we have reduced our carbon footprint by 40% since 2011,” said Wautelet.
The research center also has a complete printing and packaging workshop area. This means that researchers can simulate the behavior of a new film right through to the retail outlet and the final consumer. “Our main axis of research at the moment,” said Pascale Wautelet, “Is to bring together all the best features of the PE and BOPP without any of the disadvantages.”
Jindal’s Label-Lyte range of white polypropylene films are of particular interest for the label sector. In this range, the Label-Lyte Platinum Thermal film, demonstrated (exclusively!) for your correspondent, is particularly ingenious.
William Grisard, a member of the Jindal research team, explained: “The face material is a printable white polyolefin film. Under it is an invisible layer of black pigment. To ‘print’ a bar code for example, the label is passed under a printhead, which, by a chemical process, removes the white surface, exposing the black pigment and gives a particularly clear, indelible effect.” This specialty labelstock does not come cheap, but since the black pigment used in this film is integrated into the film structure itself, there is no need for thermal transfer ribbons or thermal coatings.
Managed by the second and third generation of the Jindal family, the company has big ambitions: “We are no longer just a BOPP producer,” said Oliver Bruns, CEO of the Virton site. “Whatever the client’s requirements, we want to provide a film that meets or exceeds their expectations.”
Over the past six or seven years, many corporations – and not just in the label and packaging business – have found themselves with lots of cash and nowhere to put it. With interest rates at rockbottom, and economic uncertainty inhibiting fresh investments, they have looked to acquisitions to expand. This trend has had a profound effect on European, and particularly on French, label markets. The major European countries all have between 400 and 600 roll-to-roll label converters, but there is a clear trend toward concentration in ownership. The French PS label association recently estimated that the top 10 groups now account for over 50% by value of all self-adhesive label sales in France. The CPI Group has been one of the most active in the acquisition stakes: now with annual sales of €350 million, the group in 2016 acquired one of France’s biggest independent converters, APE (sales: around $20 million) plus another smaller company, Label Pack. Reports suggest CPI could be on the prowl for more acquisitions.
The same could be said of CPC, which has acquired several packaging and label companies, including Marcal in Spain, Haferkamp in Germany, and Oralu in France. If acquisitions in France tend to be homegrown affairs, the same is not true in Germany, where Rako has inspired the merger with X-Label and Brazil’s Baumgarten, giving the newly-formed group a turnover of half a billion dollars. A second plant in China, opened in February 2017, has given the new group, called All4Labels, extra clout in the huge Chinese label market. A senior consultant with a European-based M&A consultancy, Jean-Pierre Brice, reckons there will be more acquisition activity in Europe. “Labels are generally a profitable business, and many smaller and medium-sized label converters are family businesses where the owner is coming up to retirement age. We are seeing a move from owner-managers to salaried professionals.”
A Great Gulf
When we think of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), we mostly conjure up a picture of vast oil-fueled wealth and maybe transit airports on long-distance flights. But despite its tiny population, the UAE is home to one of the more successful label and packaging shows, which took place in March of this year in Dubai. Label press manufacturers Nilpeter, Omet, Bobst and Heidelberg were among the 200 exhibitors, as were digital specialists Durst, Primera, Konica Minolta and Afinia Label. Finishing equipment manufacturers Martin Automatic and RotoMetrics exhibited, but substrate producers, apart from UPM Raflatac, were thin on the ground.
Held alongside the show was an event dedicated to IML, which was organized by Printech together with Omet, Prati Converting and Flint Group. Around 50 companies, mostly label and flexible packaging printers, participated. IML is still very much a minority technology but with high expectation of growth in the next five years. Omet export manager Paolo Grasso, along with Chiara Prati, Philip Eappen and David Chambers of Flint Group, were among the speakers at the event.
A Look Ahead
Ask most people in Europe about the future, and they will tell you which candidate you should vote for, or more likely not vote for, in the coming elections: France, imminent, Britain in June, Germany in September. For the label business, the date not to miss is the FINAT European Label Forum in Berlin, Germany in early June. Many of the national label associations will also be holding meetings before the mass holiday exodus: the French association in the delightful southern town of Montpellier, the German equivalent in the no less delightful World Heritage Village of Rust in Austria. Italy’s GIPEA tells us “there are no events planned at the moment,” but that may be just because someone forgot to update the website. Then on the fall side of the holiday period, we have the big biennial jamboree, which is Labelexpo Europe. But more, much more of that in future editions of L&NW.
Putting Printers in Prison
Printers and converters may rise and fall, but rarely do they finish behind bars. So here is the cautionary tale of Jean-Daniel Decoster, formerly owner/manager of the Decoster Group. At its peak, the Group employed 300 people at four printing plants in Northern France, and its bankruptcy and subsequent liquidation sparked sharp protests from the Force Ouvrière union. Decoster was accused of feathering his own nest to the detriment of his companies and employees. Things came to a head in April of this year when the Criminal Court sentenced him to a year’s prison without the option, plus fines and damages totaling over $600,000. Such exemplary punishment is rare today in Europe, no doubt because, at least in the print sector, company managers are generally honest (or smart, or both).
There was a time, however, when even careless proofreading could lead to dire consequences. In 1631, one Robert Barker, printer to His Majesty King Charles I, produced and published a bible with just one word missing from the Ten Commandments. For printing: “Thou shalt commit adultery,” the hapless Barker was fined £300, a considerable sum at the time, and deprived of his printer’s license for five years. Those were rough times, and Barker was lucky to escape prison or even execution.
King Charles, a few years later, was not so lucky.