The resurrection of a label printer

By 29 Oct 2014

A deal went kaput, but that did not deter this company to stop its experimentation with labels. The story of how the Annuciation family ensured a turnaround in its fortunes. Now, it’s going strong.

From left to right: The Annunciation family - Janus, Joe and Denver Annunciation
Six years ago, Thane-based label specialist in Maharashtra, Janus International, invested in HP Indigo WS4500, a web-based digital industrial press, with the aim to target the alcoholic beverage industry. It met with early success catering to more than 80% of that industry. Things changed soon after. “The company we catered to was functioning on a bubble and it went bankrupt. It was a big investment we had made and hence a setback for us,” says Denver Annunciation, the second generation member of the printing family.
 
This sudden turn of event, however, gave Janus an opportunity to understand the Indigo press. It kept the experiment on, mixing both flexo presses it operated with, and digital. Denver Annunciation says, “We did not say no to anything, printing everything that came our way – pharmaceuticals, shrink sleeves, tags, cosmetics, security, variable data, in-mould, aluminium foil, you name it and we have tried everything.”
 
Over a period of five years since the crisis, everything has added up and today, Janus International are a highly diversified company with a mix of customers in the label and packaging segments and a battery of equipment to back up its operation. “I can’t say a particular sector is our single largest contributor,” says Denver Annunciation.

The Janus International team that ensures print production of the labels\
 
From corrugation to labels
Denver Annunciation’s father, Joe, started a corrugation business with his brothers. There were trials and tribulation operating the corrugation business then, and the income generated was insufficient to run the family. He decided to diversify into printing, thus establishing Janus Flexibles in 1996-97 but without investing in any printing machinery. “My father’s biggest skill was marketing, so he started the printing business as a freelancer,” says Denver Annunciation. 
 
Annunciation Senior acquired a 500sq/ft industrial gala. The  first machine Janus Flexibles invested in was a foiling kit. The first printing press came in five to six years after. It continued to provide services till Denver Annunciation, the older of the two sons, armed with an MBA degree, joined the business in 2001. He set up Janus International.
 
Denver says, “In 2003, we invested in our first flexo, a Gallus press. Mark Andy was the most popular name in labels. Heidelberg handled Mark Andy then, before it moved to handle Gallus. That’s when we decided to invest in the Gallus. Ours was among the first flexo presses to come at the time of initial boom in the flexo market. Today, we can see there are more than 70 Gallus installations in India.”
 
Denver considers 2003, as the tipping point. The company has since invested in four Gallus presses – two eight-colour EM280s, one two-colour EM280 and one 16-inch EM 410; besides the HP Indigo, catering to the alcohol beverage sector. In 2009- 2010 the firm brought in offset printing, investing in a one five-colour Solna, two two-colour Heidelberg’s and one single-colour Heidelberg.

The Heidelberg presses are used to print mono cartons
“I use the year as my reference point, where a series of decision-making changes turned significant enough to cause a larger, more important change. Whatever you see at present, we have done it in eleven years,” says Denver Annunciation.
 
The 500sq/ft site is today a 25,000sq/ft site Janus International, which has two divisions: labels and cartons. Both the divisions operate from the same premises. Interestingly, the company offers offset, flexography and digital printing solutions all under one roof. “We do not have advanced offset because we got into this segment of printing only recently. Right now it is in its primary stage and we will invest in it,” says Denver Annunciation.
 
Going digital
Janus International does a lot of proofing using the HP Indigo press, where it gives several options to its customers. “It’s like a marketing tool. There are customers that only need proofing, hence the initial volumes may be lower but then they immediately scale up.”
 
In the meantime, Denver’s younger brother Janus Annunciation, who completed his MBA degree, joined the business. He manages marketing and the fine art of customer development.
 
Janus Annunciation believes that there are certain sectors which will always have short runs and this is where, he says, the Indigo press comes in handy. “Because of digital technology, there are new products created which were not there in the print market earlier. Personalisation, variable data, security printing and photo-books are some of them. These products were not available previously and could not be produced using conventional processes.”
 
Janus also believes that the new ideas in product development will hold the label sector in good stead; help grow and make money. “I don’t see printers just merely shifting business from conventional to digital printing, as a viable model. They are working on the opportunity cost. The day the cost doesn’t make any sense to their profit margin they will shift back to conventional technology,” says Janus Annunciation, adding, “Businesses that are money spinning are businesses which are defined by digital. These are the kind of business that interests me as they will help the sector grow.”
 
Digital or conventional flexo
The label converting firm does not distinguish the job on the run lengths. It justifies the job on the merits of its quality and price.
 
Denver says, “We do not convince our customers. We just tell our customers ‘Tell us the quantity you want.’ Customers decide the quantity and then we decide internally where the job has to go, depending on our internal costs.”
 
Janus International makes its own plates, hence the cost of a job will be more competitive than those outsourcing the plates, giving it a handle to decide if the job should be printed using the conventional flexo or digital. He is however, aware of the competition that comes from print companies using Chinese machines or those who use side-runs, the 100mm or 80mm material which comes out as waste, churning out short-runs on a small machine.
 
Annunciation says, “As I said, it is all about opportunity which is why I am bit sceptical about running a digital business purely by shifting the jobs from conventional to digital. It should be some business which is created specifically for digital and should remain only on digital and that business would make the installation successful, otherwise one is running after the cost. Whenever we will feel the cost is not working for us, we shift the job back to conventional.”
 
In-house benefits
The firm has its own in-house pre-press. It houses conventional flexo plate-making system which till date uses positive films as it deals only with basic jobs.
 
Janus says, “Most of our customers walk in with print ready files because we are dealing with top customers. Some of them may require a little help, where design is concerned but we do not offer professional services. It is basically more of value-add, such as a little suggestion or a touch up here and there. However, very few customers need designing.”
 
In pre-press, Janus International has an Indian plate making system, because most of its labels are line jobs and do not need high-end plates. “With the existing system, we can easily convert our jobs in six hours and if it is urgent then we can produce the job in two hours,” says  Janus Annunciation.
 
Janus Internationals’ customers are spread all over India and overseas. “Exports have started. It comprises 10% to 15% of overall business in 12 months.” Hence, if there is a need for high-end plates in future, Annunciation says, he is not averse to investing in a high-end system like Esko or Dupont.
 
Future label trends
When we sat down with Denver Annunciation to get a feel of what he thinks about the future of labels, this is what he had to say, “The label consumption in India will grow because of internal consumption.”
 
He adds, “The label consumption will not grow because foreign multinationals are investing but because Indians will consume and that is something which can’t be stopped. We have demographics where 60% of population is between 15 to 35 years of age and this population needs to be educated, married and bear children. All these life events will drive consumption.”
And he is not even wary of any recession. “One has to still send children to school, buy clothes or books or buy essentials,” he says. 
 
Denver Annunciation explains by giving example of the West, and what’s happened there. “It’s just a matter of time. We could have a shorter learning curve. The West took 50 years, we will probably require 20-30 years.”
 
Two insights about labels
Denver Annunciation shares two insights about the future of labels. “One,” he says, “Printers will not be printers anymore as they have already graduated from being printers to convertors. Now  they will graduate from convertors to complete packaging solution providers.” The reason: Some of the world’s top convertors, who have come to India, have bought the top label companies in India, are mostly into flexibles. Huhtamaki bought Webtech, ITW bought Wintek, Positive took over SGRE and Skanem bought into Interlabels.
 
“So you see the flexible convertors have bought label companies. This means that the big groups are becoming complete packaging solution providers. In this scenario, if somebody walks in for complete packaging needs, we need to have complete solutions. If one wants cartons we can provide cartons; labels, then we can provide labels; wrappers, then we can provide wrappers; digital, then we can give you digital,” says Denver Annunciation.
 
The second, he says, are the new press platforms which are coming in from a conventional point of view. These are process independent. “One can print offset, screen, gravure, Digital etc. on the same press. So there are machines which can print all in one go, on any substrate, right from shrink sleeve to cartons, in any process you want.”
 
Denver concludes, “Looking ahead, the industry will resume solid growth as increases in consumer spending and manufacturing activity drive demand. Strong growth in household disposable income will lead to accelerated growth in consumer expenditures. I am sure India will be among the top label consumers in the world in a short time.”

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