Things really started looking up for Norway in the 1960s with the discovery of lots of offshore oil and gas in the country’s offshore waters. Prudent investments and social spending over the rest of the 20th century and into the present have made the Kingdom of Norway into a quiet success story among European states. Although it has an extensive free trade agreement with the European Union, it is not a member, and other Europeans find prices in Norway range from high to outrageous. If you don’t believe that, try buying a round of drinks in a Norwegian bar.
Trondheim is about halfway up the long Norwegian coast and is the home of Skipnes Etikett, a family-run converter who has been producing pressure sensitive labels since 1969. With 24 employees and annual sales of 70 million Krone ($8 million), Skipnes rates as a medium-sized converter on the small Norwegian market and has just invested in another press from Netherlands-based MPS. Skipnes bought their first MPS flexo press in 2004, a second in 2007. The recently installed MPS EF 430 press comes with APC (Automatic Print Control).
According to manager Roald Skipnes, it is the first flexo press in Norway with over eight printing stations. Skipnes adds, “This opens a world of new possibilities for us and our customers, with the capability of printing more creative and challenging labels.”
To print more complicated label designs, Skipnes’ new EF 430 press is equipped with units for reverse printing, adhesive printing, making multi-layer labels and finishing units, including cold foil, lamination, and a sheeter. The company claims to be the world’s most northerly label converter (Trondheim is on the latitude of Fairbanks, AK, USA, so this could be right).
MPS’ success in providing presses to this converter is to be commended, since it was certainly won in the teeth of competition from a certain Famous Danish press manufacturer (no prizes for guessing the name) who quite reasonably considers the whole of Scandinavia as its home market, thanks to close cultural and language ties.
Skipnes is certainly a go-ahead converter, but it is a minnow compared with another, better known Norwegian name: the Stavanger Blikktrykkeri og Maskinverksted, a century-old company, which in the 1960s wisely changed its name to Skanem. Originally in the metal can business, the group has for the past two decades been a major international label converter. Following a centuries-old atavistic instinct, the Norwegians also headed first for England, where they acquired a plant in Liverpool, followed by another in Cardiff. Continuing to grow mainly by acquisition, the group today has 15 label production sites and 1,200 employees. Its most recent investments have seen Skanem move into East African, Indian and Thai markets.
The present CEO is Ole Rugland, who joined Skanem as managing director in 1985 and in August 1986 acquired ownership of the company via an MBO. And in case you’re wondering, yes, the Skanem Group does use lots of presses from that Famous Danish press manufacturer.
M&A in the low countries
There is a flat, triangular-shaped bit of Northern Europe, which has at various times been ruled over by the French, the Austrians, the Spanish and the Germans. Never, curiously, by the English but at a guess this was only because they were always busy elsewhere. Today, this smallish piece of real estate is shared by Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg. Between them they have four official languages, plus a host of dialects. The 29 million inhabitants of Benelux seem to disagree with each other on just about everything but always with battles of words, not brickbats or other offensive weapons.
This encourages business people who just want to go about their lawful activities, which in the label sector often involves M&As. A few months ago, Belgian label converter ASQ was acquired by the Dutch group Optimum, which now boasts seven label plants and annual sales just short of $100 million. Meanwhile Belgium’s Saint Luc Label acquired the Netherlands-based Pharmalabel. The newly merged group will have sales of over $60 million. Guido van der Schueren is a name long familiar to many older members of the global label community. His involvement dates back to a partnership with the Denoo brothers, whose company Barco Graphics was a pioneer in developing prepress software for narrow web printing.
Out of Barco grew Artwork Systems, founded in 1992 with van der Schueren at the helm. The rival Danish software specialist Esko acquired Artwork and van der Schueren stayed on as manager of EskoArtwork until 2011. His center of interest then shifted at least partly to the US, and he now runs PMC Corp., a private equity vehicle that invests mainly in graphic arts software. As such, he has a controlling interest in Hybrid Software and Packz Software. He now plans to gain a majority interest in Global Graphics, a quoted company that develops and markets, among other products, Harlequin RIP software. By this latest acquisition, van der Schueren “intends to create a global company that can actively contribute to the productivity and profitability of printing and printing businesses.”
It would seem that even at age 68, this Belgian is a match for any Flying Dutchman.
Good news from Italy
When the Italian label association GIPEA held its annual meeting in Milan, delegates heard the findings of a study by the Centro Studi Assografici, which estimated the growth of the Italian label industry at 6%, putting it in fourth place in Europe, behind Germany, Britain and France. This news was received with more than a little satisfaction by the assembled delegates. Not surprising when you think that Italy, despite being one of the most civilized countries in the world, generally ranks pretty low down the European rankings for anything economic. The conference also heard a preview presentation by Italo Vailati of a GIPEA document giving important guidelines for ensuring regulatory conformity in food labels. The definitive document will be available later in 2019, according to Vailati.
The Judgment of Paris
Your correspondent recently had the honor to be a member of an international judging panel that met in the French capital. The jury spent a day poring over 70 digitally-printed labels trying to decide fairly which ones deserved the prizes. Several interesting points came to light. Firstly, the actual print quality is more and more difficult to fault, even under the magnifying glass. Gone are the days when minute register errors and other mistakes ruled out many entries. Only a very few of our 70 labels could in any way be queried on print quality.
Secondly, the (mostly French) contestants used much ingenuity in working with curious and unusual substrates. Grass-based papers featured in several wine labels, while other labels were printed on a cotton face material. While one or two used paper printed to look like wood, others preferred wood made to look like paper. Some got extra marks from us for achieving effects difficult or impossible to realize in conventional label printing. A few got marked down because the handwritten accompanying notes were so illegible, they could almost have been written by a pharmacist.
Want to know who the winners were? Sorry, the jury’s still out.