Europe's supply chain participants in the self-adhesive label industry
by Kurt Walker, FINAT President
The self-adhesive label industry is more ‘together’ then ever now that the national label associations, their members and FINAT are working together as a coherent group through the establishment of the empowered and active National Associations Board (NAB)…
FINAT’s role as an ‘umbrella organisation’, bringing together Europe’s supply chain participants in the self-adhesive label industry, would hardly be possible without the network of national label associations that represent the industry at a regional and local level: DLA, Denmark; UNFEA, France; VskE, Germany; GIPEA, Italy; ANFEC, Spain; GFF, Sweden; ESD, Turkey; and BPIF Labels and BSRLA, UK. To benefit the continuation and expansion of sound, profitable and authoritative business profiles for their member companies, these nine associations are now working together in a positive spirit of exchange under the auspices of FINAT, in pursuit of enhanced knowledge-sharing at a variety of levels.
A practical pathway
The creation of a National Associations Board, with volunteer representation from all member associations, has proved to be the right enabling device. It's jointly-defined – and ambitious -- agenda, includes topics as wide-ranging as environmental concerns, joint trading standards, education and training, benchmarking, international events planning, and a shared internet portal .
NAB volunteer board members are familiar figures in the industry, like Robert Mägerlein (DE), Chairman of VskE , which represents not only German label industry players, but also many from Switzerland and Austria. Robert believes continuity and stability are the key success factors for a local industry group. ‘All our regional label industry associations have been “growing up” and becoming more professional.’ ‘Today’, he continues, ‘there is a real need to talk to each other across the geographies and across the industry – to discuss issues and opportunities. In this dynamic, increasingly globalised industry which is experiencing fundamental technology change, we nowadays can’t do anything meaningful on our own in terms of coping with future challenges. FINAT has made this pan-European connection not only possible, but a functional reality.’ Francesc Egea (SP) is Chairman of the FINAT Young Managers Club as well as a member of the NAB. He is enthusiastic about the board’s role in facilitating meaningful dialogue between the converters at a local level, the national associations themselves, and FINAT because, he says, ‘this is an excellent way to jump over walls and break down barriers…! It means we can all talk about the many important issues we have in common, and the Board meetings are the link that enables us to do so in a direct and relaxed way, and makes opportunities for lots of debate!’
Global and local
In a world where globalisation is now a fact, the small and medium-sized companies that kick-started this industry are experiencing not only the opportunities of cross-border trading, but also international partnerships, mergers, and acquisitions. They also face challenges that come with entry into the international arena: price pressures from global brand manufacturers and retail groups; an evolving global environmental agenda; and technology change. These are key areas which are likely to challenge a local or regional organisation, but where the NAB and its member associations can now benefit enormously from a shared information and knowledge base, defined and initiated by themselves with the practical, enabling support of FINAT. Comments NAB member Aydin Okay (TU), from ESD: ‘The NAB gives us a chance to use common experiences across Europe to solve our own specific local problems. It’s great to be part of the team that’s steering this initiative.’
Francesc Egea confirms: ‘In the last few years, the collaboration between our association and FINAT has indeed been much more active. This is a changing marketplace, and cross-border trading has become a normal practice. Working in a broader geographical context with our sister associations and FINAT has put our ANFEC converter members in touch with a wider portfolio of suppliers; helped us benefit from others’ best practice experiences; and, of course, kept us abreast of the status of international regulations. And ANFEC plans to help more Spanish label converters to visit Labelexpo this year, by subsidising their hotel and travel costs.’
One national association that has revived after years in decline is the UK association, BPIF Labels, which is chaired by John Bambery (UK), now also an NAB member. He says: ‘While our national association is able to provide services to its own supplier and converter members, in today’s ever-shrinking world, FINAT provides a platform which enables cross-country issues to be addressed and solutions to be found, without duplication of effort.’
The Italian label association, GIPEA, is enthusiastic about the increased communications from FINAT which, says NAB member Domenico Tessera Chiesa (IT), have ‘turned out to be a true connection with our national association.’ Domenico adds: ‘On top of this, it has been possible to share experiences, studies, activities, and data on a European basis, which I believe has great value.’
Representing UNFEA on the NAB is Dominique Durant des Aulnois (FR). ‘The collaboration with FINAT has helped to create a pathway for improved political weight in Europe (the release liner result is a good example), and has really brought us together with our sister associations in Europe.’
Locally, the national associations are busy. UNFEA, for example, is promoting the expertise of its members with its own label competition, technical guides to various aspects of labelling, and an annual congress attracting more than 150 participants. It is actively recruiting new members, and has introduced a ‘seal of quality’ for label converter member companies; a working party on food contact labelling; and a broader base for its statistics.
NAB member Kaj Flick (SE), Secretary General of GFF, highlights the Swedish label association’s local initiative to develop an industry benchmarking and indexing analysis to monitor costs for self-adhesive materials. ‘We have also,’ he says, ‘developed delivery terms for the label industry, a guide for customers on the industry's business, and plans for training for professional qualification for label printers.’
Every NAB agenda item must therefore take into account not only the local and regional modus operandi and preferences, but also any macro legislation and recommendations at a European, and sometimes global level. Because FINAT membership spans the entire supply chain, the scope of that agenda is particularly wide-reaching. While the language differences across Europe make it important that interaction begins at a local level, FINAT publications – particularly the Technical Handbook and the Test Methods – are the European industry standards, and required reading at all levels. Europe’s label converters and suppliers can in many cases now access this invaluable information in their own languages as well as in English.
The environment, health and safety
Recycling remains a topic right at the top of the agenda, for everyone working in the industry. Currently, the national associations and FINAT are working to find a reliable method of creating a central bank of information through input and updates from local associations, coupled with regular, harmonised reporting to the members on activity across Europe’s regions.
Everyone, is aware of the importance and intrinsic value of recycling – but business and economic considerations get in the way, particularly for release liner collection from retailers and brand owners. This is an area where label converters and supplier members need to work at a local level, in view of the existing base of local regulations – but local actions and experience, shared with other regions, could help create a cohesive pan-European plan. The NAB is very keen to drive progress, and to develop initiatives that can be replicated across Europe’s label industry.
The newest legislation of concern because of its possible implications for paper-based products is the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR), which obliges companies to undertake due diligence if they are bringing timber-based products into Europe. It is an example of how to put FINAT’s pan-European focus to good use.
Also of current concern across Europe are the new requirements for food labelling, which span a number of issues, including cross-contamination and food-safe inks. This is another area where FINAT has canvassed all the national associations for their views on the legislation and any adverse effects it may have on their business, particularly in terms of their own region. National associations have been asked whether they believe this is an arena where FINAT should take action in Brussels.
The value of a central information resource that’s both expert and up-to-the-minute cannot be overstated. We realise that it’s difficult for individual companies to devote the necessary time and effort to establishing a practical action agenda in this arena. This is an illustration of the way in which the national associations are working with FINAT to define harmonised regional working plans that comply with pan-European legislation like the European Packaging Directive and REACH.’
Looking to the future, the NAB today has a long list of ‘wants’ that can be achieved through an ever-strengthening European network. These include for example the development of an environmental certification scheme; setting up an industry educational programme for universities; increasing the profile of FINAT and the national label associations at end-user level. I see these and many other agenda items as part of a larger strategic vision of the future relationship between the national associations and FINAT. As a board, we are examining, and debating on, some significant options for tomorrow. We are now establishing the joined-up infrastructure that’s best suited to promoting and developing our industry and its special technology.