Harry Mottram reports

Despite driving snow and freezing temperatures across the UK the Packaging Innovation show went ahead as planned at the NEC this week.

The show is of interest to those in the printing industry due to the cross-over of technologies and businesses with many printers engaged in packaging work. Much of what the show is about concerns the food and beverage markets, which are in effect worlds of their own due to the heavy regulation that is necessary to cope with health and hygiene. Because of this a jobbing printer can’t simply move into the sector major investment in kit and education. However there are numerous aspects of the packaging industry which affect almost all printers such as label printing, packaging print safely and securely, transportation and storage and the recycling of paper and card.

One of the hot topics is that of recycling with the issue crystallised in the debate over the single use coffee cup. It appears solutions may be available soon according to the speakers on the event’s EcoPack stage with Dr John Williams of Aquapak Polymers extolling the virtues of Hydropol, a “revolutionary biodegradable and recyclable plastic that answers the call for a cost-neutral sustainable packaging polymer.”

The charge that the food packaging industry produces large amounts of plastic which ends up in landfills prompted a succession of speakers to explain what the industry is trying to do about the situation. Although well meant the evidence that more needs to be done is found along the side of the M42 leading to the NEC where plastic trash litters the roadside.

David Harding-Brown of the Packaging Collective told Print Monthly that the industry had been guilty in the past but efforts were being made to change that. He says: “Plastics do have a part to play in packaging. The mineral based plastics that have been used traditionally have been vilified in the press with a certain amount of justification, but the industry has woken up to the fact that alternatives must be found.”

The Big Print Debate as it was billed at the show was all about printing labels – a subject close to many printers’ hearts as it is one revenue stream that doesn’t seem to dry up. Which is why some at the show were drawn to the debate that has as its title: “Is the label near to its best-by date – or is there more to it than meets the eye?”

With Mike Fairley in the chair there was a lively debate about the growth rather than the contraction of the label market with the panellists drawn from marketing, retail and printing. The audience heard that the market of labels has grown globally at nearly five percent a year and is soon to be worth £45bn worldwide prompting the question why was the debate implying its demise? It wasn’t. Neutral observers will tell you that there is nothing like a provocative title to bring in the punters – which of course is what happened in this case. The label business is big business – a fact emphasised by the amount of print machine manufacturers at the show.

Rodney Steel of the British Contract Manufacturers and Packers Association (BCMPA) explained why the BCMPA can help printers, designers and marketing firms by leading them to companies who can be subcontracted in the packaging chain. He says that by using their website a printer who has an enquiry about packaging a liquid for instance can quickly find a firm that can do the job by completing an easy to follow enquiry form online. The point being that when printers are asked about packaging – especially beauty and beverage products – there is no need for them to turn away the work. Instead the BCMPA members are all accredited outfits who can be subcontracted to complete the job.

One aspect of the show was the emphasis on training and education. The Packaging Society’s stand was all about how important it was for workers to be trained in the specialist disciplines of packaging in particular the complexities of the food, beverage and medical fields where a multitude of rules and regulations are in force. Their point was that some larger printing firms that are looking to diversify into packaging would do well to send members of staff on one of their courses with a view to eventually attracting new business with informed knowledge of the industry.

The weather did take a hit on numbers with the show closing early on day two as snow began falling across the country but with packaging proving to be the big winner in the print industry, there is no reason why the exhibition will continue to grow. This year’s show was the biggest yet. Readers may be interested in a second Packaging Innovation show taking in London at Olympia on September 12-13, with this exhibition concentrating on the luxury market. The printing industry would do well to study packaging as one area of industry that continues to grow year on year.

More stories on the print industry at Print Monthly at www.printmonthly.co.uk and freelance reports from Harry at www.harrymottram.co.uk