Commentary & Analysis
MPS: A Multinational, Multi-Capable, and Multifaceted Packaging Producer
With a manufacturing footprint that spans more than 50 plants on three continents, Multi Packaging Solutions (MPS) stands at the crossroads of nearly every major market and technological trend in packaging production. In this interview, MPS’s Erin Willigan talks about what it takes for a diversified packaging company to remain a leader on a global scale.
By Patrick Henry
Published: September 30, 2014
Multi Packaging Solutions (MPS) is a global provider of packaging solutions to the healthcare, entertainment, and branded consumer products markets. Headquartered in New York City, the company operates manufacturing plants in nine states and has additional facilities in Europe and Asia. This year, MPS expanded its reach by completing a merger with Chesapeake Services Ltd. and by acquiring Armstrong Packaging, both in the U.K. It also acquired the U.S. specialty card producers Integrated Printing Solutions and Jet Lithocolor (see sidebar below). We asked Erin Willigan, vice president, global marketing for MPS, to bring us up to date on the company’s progress and to discuss how it caters to the diversified customer bases it serves.
With its recent acquisitions, Multi Packaging Solutions now has more than 50 manufacturing locations worldwide and employs over 7,200 people. What are the advantages of having a footprint this large? What are the challenges of coordinating everything that goes on within it?
As an international company operating on three continents, we have a key differential advantage: the ability to offer both local and global capabilities. As one company with one vision, we offer a complete suite of cartons, labels, inserts and leaflets, rigid boxes, and specialty packaging in a wide range of materials. We share a common philosophy of technology leadership, innovation, a complete suite of product offerings, and a commitment to developing end-to-end solutions to customer challenges.
Our scope and scale create a unique platform for global brand managers, offering regionalized production for international brands and brand consistency across geographies. Our unified global resources offer an unparalleled approach to supply chain management, allowing brands to be developed, launched, and managed in coordinated fashion in all geographies.
Please talk about MPS’s R&D activities: the capabilities your R&D team have and the projects they currently are pursuing.
At MPS, our focus on customers and commitment to innovation have driven our growth. We take on new challenges every day, gaining valuable insights that help us tackle the next challenge.
We’re invested in the next frontier of our industry, from digital front-end and data management to next-generation printing technologies, adhesives, materials, and equipment. If the challenge calls for new printing technologies, materials, inks, or coatings, our R&D team can dream it and do it. But our innovations go beyond ink on paper to include supply chain solutions, software and workflow solutions.
MPS has said that it considers data management essential to success in packaging production. How is MIS integrated into the production workflow?
Packaging today is about much more than aesthetics—many of our customers integrate data into their packaging that enables them to track and trace products throughout the supply chain, deliver digitally downloadable product information, or personalize packaging for individual customers.
These challenges are as much about data creation and management as they are about printing. We are leaders in variable data and digital printing, with the front-end systems and production equipment needed to process orders and generate, manage, and print variable data for specific needs.
What is the most important investment in production capability that MPS has made in the last 12 to 18 months? What has it enabled MPS to do better for its customers?
We recently installed an HP Indigo 30000 sheetfed digital press in Lansing, MI, as the next phase of development of digital printing. This addition to our digital fleet helps achieve our goal of short-run high quality folding cartons. Combining the advantages of digital with structural innovation and decorative finishes will help us deliver a complete solution for customers, offering the aesthetics, service, and cost reductions needed for branding and supply chain excellence.
We have been a leader in digital printing since 2000 when we purchased our first digital press, an Indigo Omnius Webstream. We initially focused on pressure sensitive and cut-and-stack labels for small customers, such as retail florists, wine, and specialty foods. As digital technologies evolved, we expanded our business model to support large healthcare clients with just-in-time service to eliminate inventory and obsolescence. Our early efforts to push the limits of digital printing included late-stage customization for folding cartons with our proprietary hybrid process, combining offset folding cartons and digital labels.
Today, our fleet of digital print engines is the centerpiece for our turnkey offering of total solutions from electronic ordering, direct-to-press workflow, and diverse finishing operations. Our digital offering now includes database driven brand security, e-Pedigree, and customized digital label portals.
How much of MPS’s packaging printing is digital? How does the company expect to see shares by process change over time?
Customer order patterns often require multiple printing processes, with short runs printing digital and longer runs printing conventionally. Recognizing the importance of color matching across technologies, we employ GRACoL 7 standards at all of our locations to ensure consistency, regardless of which printing technology was used.
Of MPS's principal markets—healthcare, entertainment, and consumer brands—which is the fastest-growing or shows the greatest potential for long-term growth?
We have strategically focused on growth markets where print and packaging is integral to their brand identity, product integrity, and supply chain efficiencies. We view the healthcare and branded consumer markets as offering strong long-term opportunities, driven by positive demographic and consumer trends in the markets in which we operate.
Is MPS seeing increased demand for short-run packaging?
Yes. We are seeing more SKUs and shorter runs due to an increase in store and boutique brands and a desire to keep inventory levels low. This is true for both labels and cartons in the consumer goods and nutritional markets. Our investment in digital and the latest flexo and offset presses with faster makeready and changeover times helps us remain competitive in this changing environment.
There is also increasing interest from customers in digital printing for product launches, sales samples, and variable data. Here digital is unmatched with regard to flexibility and economics.
What about demand for personalized (i.e., variably printed) packaging and/or labels?
Rather than personalized print and packaging, we have seen a significant increase in demand for unique serialized codes for custom digital content as part of a product bonus feature. The ability to offer customers access to a richer product experience by combining print and digital content creates a stronger brand association and deepens brand loyalty.
What do MPS customers expect the company to provide in terms of “green” or “sustainable” packaging? What exactly do these concepts mean to them?
Most of our customers have incorporated social responsibility into their products and supply chain. There are many different requirements, depending on brand priorities for sustainability, includes sustainable materials, efficient product transportation, reduced carbon footprint, and reduced materials usage, to name a few.
In response, we’ve invested in earth-friendly products, technologies, and manufacturing processes. We have taken a comprehensive approach to sustainability in order to help customers layer green features into their products, depending on how sustainability fits into their brand.
This approach has helped us deliver environmental solutions to customers that are effective and measurable, something that is important in tracking and reporting environmental improvements.
Is complying with government regulations for packaging safety and performance a large part of the MPS workflow?
Government regulations in the healthcare market are a significant part of our customer print and packaging requirements, often driving design and manufacturing considerations.
For example, recent regulatory changes in requirements for drug information have driven demand for new label and insert configurations. Customers have turned to us to find ways to accommodate more information on labels and inserts. In response, we have developed a whole new array of extended content labels that carry more information in the same footprint. We also have redesigned folding configurations and materials for product inserts that accommodate the additional information with taking up additional real estate.
In branded packaging for consumer products, what design trends are predominant (or emerging) right now?
Retail space is competitive, with more products competing for consumer attention. Brand owners are looking for ways to stand out from the crowd to capture the consumer’s attention and gain competitive advantages.
We have seen tremendous interest in our decorative technologies that create movement, shimmer, shine, interactive, or tactile experiences that surprise customers and create product interest. Unique shapes and materials are also gaining interest.
For example, we have worked with a number of customers in the distilled spirits, cosmetics, and specialty foods markets to create wood veneer labels that speak to the heritage and authenticity of the brand. We lead the industry in developing new and innovative ways to print and convert new materials, which traditionally may not have been used for labels, cartons, or marketing promotions. Our design teams are skilled in structural and decorative innovations that help customers explore how to create memorable brands.
It’s often said that packaging printing is the only “recession-proof” segment of the printing industry. As a leading multinational packaging producer, does MPS find this view too simplistic?
Many of our markets do not follow the trajectory of broader economic trends. Demographics and consumer priorities often determine where the product we provide packaging for fit into an individual’s budget. The healthcare and branded consumers markets that we serve do tend to exhibit steady growth with strong demand underpinnings.
2014: A Year of Growth by Acquisition for MPS
This year, Multi Packaging Solutions stood for an industrywide trend toward consolidation by completing four major acquisitions that brought it new capabilities and broadened its already extensive customer base:
Chesapeake Services Ltd. (Nottingham, U.K.) is a leading supplier of printed folding cartons, leaflets and labels, and other specialist packaging to the pharmaceutical, confectionery, spirits and food markets.
Armstrong Packaging (Arboath, Scotland) produces a broad range of rigid box styles made largely from paperboard that are embellished with other materials.
Integrated Printing Solutions (IPS) (Centennial, CO) provides end-to-end card solutions for the credit, debit, prepaid, healthcare, loyalty, and gift card markets.
Jet Lithocolor (Downers Grove, IL) also delivers end-to-end solutions for gift, loyalty, membership, and other card programs.
“Joining Chesapeake and Multi Packaging Solutions will greatly benefit our customers and employees,” said Marc Shore, CEO, Multi Packaging Solutions. “The combined manufacturing footprint and technological capabilities are truly unique and will position us to match our customers’ needs with a broader range of products and operational flexibility.”
Shore added, “The ability to produce these goods and services in the United States, Europe, and China will also give our customers consistency on a global basis. We are very excited to bring these two families of passionate, hardworking and committed employees together as they will ensure our future success.”
Mike Cheetham, CEO of Chesapeake, said, “I’m excited about the prospects the merger offers for our collective customers, employees and suppliers. Both companies have benefited from a strong ongoing investment program and will continue to invest in order to deliver on the considerable growth opportunity this merger presents. Our extensive global network of dedicated operations provides our customers with a strategic partner for their long-term needs.”
The acquisitions of Jet Lithocolor and IPS solidify the market position of Multi Packaging Solutions by adding a full complement of card production capabilities to its existing creative services, decorative technologies, and sustainable solutions. These capabilities include laminated card production, imaging, affixing, direct mail, and fulfillment. The combination also creates a fully integrated supply chain for cards, carriers, multi-packs, and point-of-purchase displays in a range of materials, with turnkey resources for design, production, and distribution for open- and closed-loop card programs.
“The addition of IPS and Jet greatly benefits our customers and significantly enhances our ability to provide unique solutions with an aggregate of products, technologies, and services,” commented Shore.
The Armstrong acquisition expands the company’s global platform for luxury packaging, gift sets, travel retail, and commemorative editions. Armstrong’s product development and rigid box manufacturing complement Multi Packaging Solutions’ existing manufacturing, creative design, project management, and global sourcing capabilities.
“The addition of rigid box capabilities was a logical extension of our suite of value-added print and packaging solutions,” said Cheetham, who now serves as president of Multi Packaging Solutions. “Armstrong Packaging is a highly respected supplier with a talented team of dedicated individuals. I am excited to welcome them to Multi Packaging Solutions.”