Jeff Jacobson: Leading the digital revolution for packaging businesses

EFI CEO Jeff Jacobson in conversation with PrintWeek

07 Feb 2022 | By PrintWeek Team

Jeff Jacobson

PrintWeek (PW): Tough 18 months. Your learnings from 2021...
Jeff Jacobson (JJ):
No one expected the pandemic to be here for this long. Last year showed us that businesses are fighting their way through a pandemic. The way to go about it is with innovation and creativity to overcome such difficult situations. Many companies, for example, shifted production to create Divisional Graphics (Covid-19 pandemic quickly spawned new forms of signage and display: what EFI calls and has trademarked – Divisional Graphics)and social distancing graphics, while others invested in automation solutions to optimise their production once normality sets in.

PW: How has your company and factory sites responded to the challenges of the Covid era?
Our goal during the pandemic was to keep exceeding the expectations of our customers despite the travel restrictions. We have therefore further developed our remote training and support capabilities with the use of augmented reality, to deliver faster resolutions for issues and reduce machine downtime. New remote solutions also include innovative data and intelligence offerings centered around the EFI IQ cloud platform integrated in several of our printers.

PW: Anything on the ideas front? Any new research or innovation?
We made significant inroads in helping our partners be better trained and more effective in their knowledge of digital production with our Fiery products. As a result, the number of certified Fiery professionals among the partners responsible for selling and installing Fiery systems at print businesses increased significantly during Covid-19. We know this effort was successful because we saw important improvements in net promoter score (NPS) and other survey data from Fiery customers with regards to the service and capabilities they have with their Fiery digital front ends.

PW: The pandemic has impacted India’s prospects to become a USD 5-trillion economy by FY25. However, has the last quarter numbers reposed faith in the Indian market?
Most economies and countries are slowly returning to “normal” as industries that were put on pause, such as travel, entertainment, trade shows and hospitality are now gaining full operations once again. The opening of these industries in India will have a direct impact on the printing industry there, allowing businesses once again to print imaging for concerts, events and festivals.

The continued growth of the Indian economy will be tied to its ability to move past the pandemic. Many of the initiatives taking place in India today, such as vaccinations for those from 15-18 years and the administration of booster shots, will help. We have seen increasing sequential and year-on-year growth in our business, and we would expect our business in 2022 to be back at or above 2019 levels.

PW: Which do you think are the specific sectors that India should focus on?
There are some faster-growing markets where India has a strong presence and will potentially see more rapid expansion. Packaging, a market that was already strong with the popularity of subscription box services, surged during the pandemic. Customers worldwide, including packaging companies in India, are working to stay ahead of demand with highly automated management software solutions.

PW: India also has a large textile industry…
Absolutely. It is a sector that is driving growth with advanced digital printing solutions. We serve a number of industrial textile producers in India that are taking advantage of growth opportunities with EFI Reggiani digital printers. Customers such as Sahiba – a textile manufacturer Printweek profiled some time ago – show the advantages customers gain with a focus on digital efficiency.

PW: Brands (FMCG and non-FMCG) are seeking more and more from print and packaging…
Digital inkjet technology is redefining how packaging companies automate and drive efficiency, especially for high-graphic displays, shelf-ready packaging and eCommerce subscription boxes.

PW: As a global manufacturing brand, how can our industry cater to the new normal of - gaining speed; more flexibility; profit-centric approach; and lower carbon footprint?
In many cases, packaging producers worldwide are using our EFI Nozomi C18000 Plus single-pass solution to reduce inventory and waste. And, we had an industry analyst organisation, IT Strategies, survey Nozomi users, and could clearly see that the Nozomi allowed them to replace a large portion of their analogue litho lamination work to digital.

The advantage of printing digitally direct to board is the key driving factor. It has a greater profit potential and efficiency for high-graphic work when compared with litho lamination. Of course, corrugated is a sustainable solution with high recovery and recycling rates around the world. EFI has ensured our inks for Nozomi are fully recyclable to ensure that the introduction of digital print does not disrupt the important recycling workflow in the corrugated.

PW: How should print adopt marketing strategies that promote the print brand beyond the function of product or service?
Now more than ever, customers need trusted partners that listen, understand and anticipate their needs and serve as an extension of their team, rather than a simply transactional relationship. EFI customers have benefitted from a much stronger focus on enhanced remote training and support, which has yielded reduced downtime and better overall outcomes for our customers.

PW: One school of thought is: the key is to do more than just meet consumers’ immediate needs. What is your view?
We enable our customers with digital business development tools to increase their revenue opportunities.

PW:  77% of Indian consumers are actively engaging with sustainability. These consumers will invest time and money in companies that try to do good. Three sustainable actions you have undertaken in the past year that you can share with us?
EFI has always been committed to sustainability; whether that is greener, more sustainable technologies or partaking in green initiatives. For example, in the textile printing market, sustainability is perhaps the biggest and most important trend, given the enormous amount of water consumption and pollution attributed to the textile industry. Our EFI Reggiani Terra line of solution represents a significant sustainability improvement for the textile space, as it uses a pigment and binder solution that replaces water-intensive steaming and washing processes.

Most of our single-pass inkjet solutions are manufactured in Spain, and EFI has directly contributed to our customers’ carbon offset concerns joining a reforestation initiative there where EFI plants 17 trees – a number that accounts for approximately three tonnes of carbon dioxide – for every Cretaprint, Nozomi and Cubik printer we sell. EFI has already implemented this tree-planting initiative for Indian customers of our Cretaprint ceramic printer line, which is one of the most popular ceramic tile decoration solutions in India.

PW: Is there a Green Gap between what our industry talks about; and the rest of society? For example, the industry uses terms like “biodegradable” and “circular economy”. How can we bridge the knowledge gap?
Consumers are more astute than ever about the realities of global environmental challenges, and are, fortunately, holding organisations to account in terms of their green agendas. There is no doubt that the ongoing education is essential, and it’s our responsibility to provide straightforward, coherent information on sustainability as well as partner with organisations that do the same.

Our commitment to transparency around our sustainable initiatives is evidenced by our FOGRA, UL Greenguard, and ACIMIT green label certifications. We are proud to be a gold patron of the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP), a leading certification body for sustainable printing.

PW: Any lessons you can share from a customer (two to three examples will be wonderful) that have been resilient or innovative (and flourished) during the past 18 months?
During the pandemic, our customer in Poland, Kreativia, went from producing POS displays, decorative signage, and exhibit graphics, to creating protective products – separation walls and barriers, face shields, and masks. The EFI Vutek3r+ allowed Kreativia to offer these newly needed items as well as meet growing demand. The company was able to retool, diversify and reimagine its product offerings very quickly. This opened the door to a new and steady flow of business, instead of idle equipment.

PW: Your plans for 2022?
To lay a strong emphasis on driving the analogue to digital transformation in printing as a way to help our customers become stronger, better, and more versatile. Our company was founded on the idea of analogue to digital transformation and above 30 years later we continue to help customers reach new heights across several important commercial print, display graphics and industrial market applications.

PW: One outrageous prediction for the year to come ...
There will be a welcome and perhaps faster-than-expected return in event graphics related work in the display graphics space. Sporting event and trade shows returning could foster a rapid recovery in digital inkjet display graphics, especially in textile and soft signage.

Quick fire questions

  • How do you unwind?
    I actually truly enjoy working, as it keeps my competitive juices flowing, while interacting with so many great people in our industry. However, when I am not working, I enjoy spending my free time with my wife and family as well as playing golf.
  • One piece of music you love?
    While I am one of the worst dancers you can imagine, I actually enjoy many forms of music, especially oldies from Motown Records and pop music.
  • Favourite film?
    One of my favorite movies is the American President,which starred Michael Douglas, Annette Bening, Michael J Fox, Martin Sheen and Richard Dreyfuss.  Of course, a classic for me is The Godfather, with Marlon Brando, James Caan and Al Pacino.  A third movie would be Remember the Titans as it is not only about sports, which I love, but it is about bringing people from different cultures together, and truly becoming stronger as one.
  • Three books by your bedside?
    The P & L; The Balance Sheet; The Sales Pipeline (laughs) LOL. I don’t have a lot of patience, so I like to read books that keep me engrossed. My favorite author is probably John Grisham.
  • One thing about print you love to utter in a public forum?
    I love print because you “see” it everywhere.  You can smell it and touch it. I also love the interaction with the great people in our industry.
  • Recent packaging innovation that impressed you?
    Single-pass technology with the Nozomi. Actually, we are working on some great packaging innovation, but I would prefer to announce it only when it is commercialised.
  • One tech-guru (past or present) you want to meet - and why?
    I am not sure it has to be a tech guru.  I gravitate towards great leaders. Especially in this day and age whether it is about business or even more importantly about worldwide events. I often wonder about the one person who can bring everyone to come together as one. It is the key ingredient to a successful business, and it will also solve many of the issues, which exist in the world today.