The Hague, The Netherlands – The second European Label Forum, convened by the international label association FINAT, focused strongly on two topics that can create differentiation in this age of multiple product decoration, packaging and presentation techniques: value creation and innovation. The event, held for the second year in Amsterdam, attracted industry business leaders from all aspects of the value chain to brainstorm, network and gain inspiration from a programme designed to put the label industry on a fast track to a successful future.
Proceedings began with welcome cocktails around the extensive supplier tabletop exhibition, followed by the presentations to the winning companies in this year’s FINAT Label Competition and Recycling Awards, accompanied by a programme of spectacular wheel gymnastics performed by the Wheel Sensation duo – themselves gold medallists in their sport. The evening continued in social mode with a walking buffet and plenty of opportunities for delegates to get to know each other.
The future – today
Next morning, FINAT President Thomas Hagmaier welcomed delegates to two very full days of industry-relevant presentations and participatory sessions, kick-started by a keynote presentation from international futurologist and trendspotter Magnus Lindqvist, who sketched out an inspirational future pathway for the label industry that was both relevant and down-to-earth. He encouraged delegates to develop new ways of looking at their businesses, emphasising that change in that area is an essential factor today, although most companies’ philosophy embodies Nancy Sinatra’s words ‘You keep saming when you ought to be changing!’
In past centuries, he reminded the audience, if you had power you could simply pass it on to your children. Today if you have power, someone wants to take it from you. There are, he said, generally three ways to do business – lie and cheat, be honest, or rely on luck – but it really is time to change that state of affairs. ‘Incremental improvement delivers excremental results’. The solution is ‘to avoid trends – and look for secrets…’ In other words, focus on the engineer, not on the salesperson. Experiment. Do something dangerous… and be patient. And, of course, he underlined that adventurous customers are the key factor in such an innovation agenda.
Delegates were brought back from the future to the present day, and an evaluation of trends and developments identified in FINAT’s quarterly European labelstock statistics analysis and in-depth research for the six-monthly FINAT RADAR newsletter. FINAT Managing Director Jules Lejeune identified continuing buoyant growth in the industry since 2012, annually in excess of 5% on average, and well above GDP. In 2015, demand for labelstocks reached 6.77 billion sqm, with the top ten EU label markets accounting for 75% of the total – a strong indication that there is still huge growth potential in those countries which are below the European average. Print run lengths are reducing – a reflection of the requirement for just-in-time delivery; and research shows that a significant percentage of label printers are now active in, or seriously looking at, technologies other than traditional label print, including sleeving, flexible packaging and in-mould labels. In terms of end-use markets, pharmaceuticals, health and beauty, and food were the strongest performers in 2015. Lejeune concluded by reiterating FINAT’s commitment to its key role – maintaining an up-to-the-minute knowledge base on critical technical, legislative, and end-use market topics, and encouraging ongoing interaction and collaboration across the value chain.
The Buzzmaster Debate
Next, it was time for the ELF 2016 Buzzmaster Debate – an innovative approach to interactive communication across the floor using new media. Chaired by Rens de Jong, popular radio talk show host and voted Moderator of the Year in The Netherlands, the debate brought together a panel of experts from different aspects of the supply chain to answer questions from the entire European Label Forum delegate base – via the app. This was a lively session, with delegate questions posted on screen, and answered by a panel of experts, which included end users Tesco and Nutricia, as well as leading designers and industry research and business consultants. Topics such as on-pack promotions, adding value, and sustainability, raised thought-provoking responses from panelists; and Rens de Jong’s initial questioning of delegates established an interesting portfolio of viewpoints on the label industry’s profile today and expectations for tomorrow.
The Forum’s agenda continued with two parallel business learning sessions: a workshop on creating and capturing more value from a current business platform led by Phil Allen, CEO of Customer Value Management GmbH. He explored customer needs and value drivers, and routes to achieving business benefits and value, and workshop participants engaged in round-table discussions on related major topics.
Innovating for future profitable business growth was the subject of the second workshop. Gordon Crichton, Director of the Institut du Management de l’Achat International, making a welcome return to a FINAT event, led a ‘team brainstorm’ that took delegates through the process of identifying various steps in successfully designing, organising and promoting innovation.
Cruise and blues
After a busy and thought-provoking afternoon, delegates enjoyed a relaxed evening cruise around Amsterdam on the Ocean Diva, with a delightful dinner, great live music from the Blues Brothers and a ‘casino’ with chocolate chips and playing cards, to make the event particularly special.
The Label Masters Challenge
Next morning delegates were challenged again – this time on their in-depth knowledge of the technology within their industry. The ‘Label Masters Challenge’, led by industry guru Mike Fairley, Director, Labels & Labeling Consultancy, and quizmaster Niklas Olsson of Flint Group. Delegates, in teams of eight, were required to complete papers covering four rounds of 20 questions on specialist aspects of labeling, based on the content of existing modules in the new and developing Label Academy – a major online professional training scheme for label printers in which FINAT is a development partner.
Since the European Label Forum took place only days after drupa closed its doors, it was apposite that the programme should include an expert session on ‘highlights’ of interest in the context of label and packaging print. Herbert Knott, representing the German label association VskE, took on this particular challenge, describing his paper as ‘technology takeaways’ from the event. He gave a remarkably comprehensive, expert assessment of advances in every aspect of printing, from analogue, hybrid, and digital printing presses to web cleaning, printing plates, doctor blades, LED and UV drying, software, inks, and print substrates. Commenting on the amazing variety of digital technologies on show, he predicted: ‘Liquid toner, dry toner, and inkjet systems will determine the future. The printing industry is changing to a “colour sprayer” industry!
Taking the chequered flag
The European Label Forum’s closing keynote featured lessons from the world of Formula One racing – but, said speaker Mark Gallagher, ‘my storytelling is not going to be about F1 racing.’ It’s about growth through innovation in an incredibly competitive environment.’ With many years in the F1 arena, in a variety of senior executive positions in such teams as Jordan and Red Bull, Mark Gallagher was, indeed, well-placed to provide enlightening insights into what it takes to build winning teams, compete at a world level and keep ahead of the competition in terms of innovation.
The changing face of the F1 scene – where the main revenue source and business model has been moved from team sponsorship by tobacco companies, to global sports event organisation and management – demonstrates significant parallels with the label industry today. The two sectors share the same priorities: safety, quality, compliance, and innovation; and, like the label supply chain, said Mr Gallagher, ‘we don’t do everything in-house’; and, in Formula One, he said, ‘one thing we don’t want with suppliers is a transactional relationship. We want our suppliers to say “we can help you innovate!”’ He showed impressive examples of how such collaboration and partnership have contributed to key F1 improvements.
Following this very focused keynote, FINAT President Thomas Hagmaier formally closed the conference, thanking delegates, sponsors and the secretariat for the part they had played.
Echoing delegates’ enthusiastic response to the event, FINAT MD Jules Lejeune reflected that the event had, indeed, met its goal of delivering ‘an interactive, engaging and business-oriented meeting forum. The challenge for the ELF Programme Committee and the programme director will be to continue the agenda of change, and raise the bar even further for the next edition.’ The 2017 FINAT European Label Forum will be held in Berlin, 15-17 June.