The printing landscape has changed during the pandemic - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

The print market has changed, and so have customer expectations and demands. Can digital print bridge the operational gaps between the brands and the print service providers?

The Sunday Column picks the brains of Yoav Lotan, labels business manager, APJ – HP Indigo Graphics Solutions Business

07 Feb 2021 | By Noel D'Cunha

Your show and tell the other day was fab. One of the questions we received from an attendee is: top-quality packaging is WOW. But does it always have to be expensive?
This question is indeed top of mind for the brands and print service providers (PSPs) alike. The short answer would be no! An innovative packaging application that is of outstanding quality and will impact consumer preferences does not have to be expensive. The bigger picture extends beyond the cost of ink on paper towards more operational and value-added considerations.

Like, there is a great deal of savings possible by going digital and eliminating many traditional back-office processes through plate making, waste, archiving, ink mixing and many more. All of these indirect costs add up.

What are the benefits of digital apart from the operational ones that you just mentioned?
Digital print can support higher margins through value-added packaging features such as VDP, security, hyper customisation and personalisation, web to print, and more. Further, many of these features add important benefits such as security and track and trace authentication, benefits which are functional and not purely aesthetic.

Do you see a resurgence of print?
In a way, Covid-19 has acted more as an accelerant versus it being a change agent for trends. Print as an industry was badly impacted and yet, on deeper scrutiny, it revealed the positive impact. For labels and packaging, the pandemic in many cases acted as a boost to the volumes for traditional and digital demand alike.

So, will we continue to see ongoing advances in digital print?
Absolutely. Supported by the capabilities of HP Indigo and Digital Print, PSPs were able to respond to the new and evolving supply chain needs of the brands by providing agility and faster time to market among other benefits. The growth of labels as an example typically follows the GDP of the countries historically. In 2020, the labels disengaged from the GDP to accelerate at its own increased growth trajectory.


Digital printing did make a difference during the pandemic…
In commercial print, we have seen more impact on PSPs with the lack of digital transformation. The long-term success in this sector must come from more high-value offerings and print products that connect with current trends such as online and eCommerce.

Today, in the current situation of the new normal PSPs have to be able to realise the WOW, the real economics that makes it worthy…

In light of the fact that shorter print runs and quicker turnaround times are becoming the norm, many traditional PSPs are already moving such jobs to HP Indigo Digital Presses to keep up with this growing demand. PSPs can fulfil jobs faster, reduce plates, labour and handling costs, allow their offset presses to do the long run jobs they were meant to do, and be part of the circular economy.

To what extent has Covid-19 and the pandemic taken a toll on the HP demo centre? Any memorable highlights during these tough times that brought a smile on your face…
This year has been transformational to our business and to the way we communicate. In the midst of crisis, lies great opportunity. We invented new methods to effectively connect with our customers. We operated a full-scale virtual demo platform, providing high quality visual that allowed interaction and a tailor-made experience of the full solutions from pre-press to print to converting and more from the HP demo centre.

The past year was all about being creative with content…
There was plenty of pre-event practise sessions and getting feedback on what is important for our customers to know. One thing we enjoyed was our December 2020 HP Indigo Brand Protection masterclass presented together with our solution partners. In one of the events, we took our acting careers to the next level by appearing in character as a grocery shop owner and a concerned client who is eager to learn more about the benefits of track and trace platforms for him as a user.   

Describe the in-house development team at HP and what sort of experiments do you conduct with new products and samples.
We are a highly customer-centric organisation all the way up to our R&D. HP devotes significant resources toward customers’ forums and segment-specific users advisory council, which provide us with feedback on product and solutions innovation, content and priorities.

It seems to be a vital part of your development process…
Our development teams are these days experimenting with the next level of technology that will define our future digital print platforms, such as the HP Indigo V12 Digital Press and working with many partners in the industry.

HP partners with innumerable material science companies. What sort of developments are we seeing in substrates? Which substrates will cause ripples in 2021? For example, can one produce an advanced metal deco digital proofing solution for two-piece beverage cans?
We have a very close relationship with media, materials and coating solution partners. In 2021, we predict more growth in sectors related to security and brand protection as well as RFID technology. With the key focus on sustainability, HP Indigo’s digital print can support comprehensive recyclability requirements of labels and packaging applications as well; from print processes to packaging processes by offering biodegradable compostable films.

Can you provide us with an instance of a digital brand that benefitted through smart print-packaging?
In the area of smart print packaging, we have seen increased interest during 2020 due to the surge in online shopping and the need for more supply chain transparency. In segments such as cosmetics, automotive and high-end food, we see a growing need for track-and-trace solutions and serialisation at the product level. Basically, QR codes that allow consumers and brands alike to verify authenticity, trace packaging, enable security alerts and obtain reports on market and supply chain activities.

Consumers are worried about plastic and films. Is there a need to re-think packaging – and reconfigure the packaging system for a circular future? 
A dramatic change is underway in the global industry and it is starting to gain traction in the print and packaging industries, too. We are seeing more companies take a ‘circular economy’ approach to the way they produce packaging and paper products, which is significantly more sustainable than the current norm.

A circular economy will require taking a new approach to print…
More materials than ever are designed to be reused and recycled – and traditional forms of packaging that are not easily reused are being displaced. A circular economy involves taking a new approach to print – by using materials that can be easily recycled, packaging that can be composted, and by using printers and machinery with low or no carbon footprint.

 While this development is exciting, the obstacles remain…
Absolutely! The rate of recycling and reuse is still relatively low in most parts of the world. In the European Union, for instance, only 56% of waste is recycled. More education and awareness is needed. HP Indigo is working with brands to achieve industry sustainable goals. We develop presses and inks that enable printers and converters to comply with regulations that meet industry standards and environmental credentials.

One mantra you would like to share with new-age designers?
Unique designs for exceptional high-value digital print.

The eCommerce business is growing across all markets. What's happening is changing the way consumers are experiencing retail...
We have seen many of our labels and packaging customers moving to sell directly to the consumer via online platforms; from stickers to labels, packaging solutions for small land medium-sized enterprises, face masks and much more. With the rise we have seen in eCommerce and global product mobility, we trust that many of these trends will never pull back fully and are here to stay as future consumers’ behaviour.

Do you have an out-of-the-box packaging idea for eCommerce?
With the massive jump we see in delivery of everything to the home, packaging can play a key role in the end-to-end customer journey in which the delivery experience and unboxing even can now be fully personalised. Think about the amount of data brands and platforms can unleash to dramatically improve the unboxing experience and create better brand loyalty and emotional reaction, all enabled by digital printing technology. 

One tip about digital packaging you know, which no one else knows. For example, a technological improvement which has been underutilised…
Companies, which are prioritising design as a part of the core strategy, capture great rewards from the market. With packaging acting as the sixth “p” in the marketing mix designers and brand owners can aim to accomplish much more via packaging product design. One thing that typically receives a high positive reaction in markets is seasonality and with digital, it is easy to achieve that.

And finally: Your favourite Indian packaging products - something simple but effective.
On a personal note, I am a huge fan of The Himalaya Drug Co. The packaging design caught my eye initially, and the product does not disappoint a long established and trusted Indian brand since 1930.

It truly was a great campaign…
One of the most exciting and challenging projects our team was a part of in India was the 2018 Share a Coke campaign with over 130-million labels shared. The content data matrix and creativity and complexity of this project to roll out with over 12 different languages across different states were highly motivating. Working as one team with Coca Cola and Huhtamaki in Mumbai was outstanding.

Another dimension we see as very relevant in India is the festive design and seasonal branding and one of the best example, we have seen is the application and design of the Piramal Healthcare shrink sleeve. For Piramal, packaging is a key factor in ensuring the trust of consumers in their product. In a very short time of commercialising a product in less than a week, they took the polycrol brand sleeve and changed it to meet the festival occasion with 20 customised mosaic designs across nine states printing 1.1-lakh labels and in return harvesting great engagement from the consumers.