Comment by Olaf Lorenz, Senior General Manager, Digital Transformation Division, Konica Minolta Business Solutions Europe
The year ahead offers label and packaging companies / converters many new opportunities in digital printing as the world rethinks and heads to a period of stability after recovering from the rigours of a pandemic.
Gone are the days when packaging and labels were designed merely to be useful or practical as a way to identify or protect goods and products. Especially with the rise of digital production, labels and packaging is now an integral part of the branding and entire purchase experience. Using variable data and customized, bespoke solutions paves the way for providers to increase profit margins.
Driving a valuable marketing vehicle with digital production
Continuing innovations in technology will continue to enable packaging to expand a traditional functional role of transporting something in a container or a label identifying ‘what’s inside’ into a valuable marketing vehicle. Trends for 2022 will include enhanced finishing such as embellishment, increased automation, online print purchasing and webshops, plus, of course, the unstoppable analogue to digital transition.
Demands will continue to increase for complete start-to-finish manufacturing process with more all-in-one solutions, as well as a need for production devices that need fewer and less-skilled operators.
Vital tools to convey information and enhance branding
We know that labels and packaging will continue to form the supply chains of basic necessities and provide vital tools to convey information and enhance branding. Healthcare, pharmaceutical and food and drink sectors are among the sectors that will continue to be growth areas for digital label and package printing in the future.
Brands will also use digital to provide more engagement and greater interest in their products – all in a more sustainable environment. Responding quickly with highly automated systems producing small quantities is a way of succeeding, helping brands to satisfy the rapidly changing demands of their own customers.
Simplifying production to meet rapid response demands
Aligning strategies and tactics with the forces influencing competition and customer expectations are essential, while at the same time simplifying production to meet rapid response demands from an ever-more discerning client base. Software is also a crucial component in the desire for increased profitability.
Rethink possibilities with engaging label and packaging solutions
We see at close quarters how brand owners are looking for innovative and engaging print solutions for commercial and industrial applications. With dedicated global support delivered locally across the world, we work closely with our customers and brands in a partnership approach and continue to help them rethink print possibilities.
The growth of e-commerce is definitely a defining trend of the continued growth of digital packaging and label production for the future, and this will have a major impact for converters. In particular they need to be able to react fast, and develop e-commerce-specific packaging designs that solve the inherent challenges of postal distribution, rather than those of retail. Versioning and personalisation are also on the rise.
As a global technology provider with a local service structure, we still see significant opportunities in the years ahead for digital printing in both label and packaging production.
Making products stand out in an increasingly crowded market
This also seems to be the view or research analyststs. The Smithers Future of Packaging Long-term Strategic Forecasts to 2030  makes the point that technological improvements are opening doors to increasing numbers of packaging applications. “More and more brands are looking for their packaging to tell a story to the consumer in the hope that it makes their product stand out in an increasingly crowded market,” says the report. “Personalisation allows brands to develop a personal connection with the consumer with the hope that a positive interaction will mean more sales in the future.”
In 2019, Smithers valued the digital print for packaging market at $18.9 billion with a total of 2.54 million tonnes produced. The growth estimated to be at 10.9% compound annual growth to 2024, and then at the same rate afterwards. 
Pandemic is an accelerant for digital production
The “inevitable march” towards digital production in labels and packaging is accelerating, according to a market perspective from IDC on “Growth Opportunities in Digital Label and Packaging” (doc # EUR146199521, August 2021). “The pandemic has served as a disruptor and an accelerant,” says the report. “Automation is another digital boon. Ease of operation and automated workflows enabled by digital drives business growth. Integrating further processes such as digital coating, digital embossing and die cutting will help the process chain grow significantly.”
The definitive conclusion: “It appears that the scales are weighing heavily in favour of digital technology.”
Digital label and packaging production continues to make strong inroads
One partner announcement example that marks a significant technological step forward is AlphaJET, the world’s first single-pass digital factory 4.0 B1+ press from MGI Digital Technology that takes printing through to direct inline finishing all in one step with water-based UV ink technology. The opportunities for packaging are endless.
Our market-leading AccurioLabel 230 production press using toner technology continues to break new ground, and we are understandably proud that we now have more than 850 installations around the world. According to IDC’s market forecast Western Europe Digital Label and Packaging Printer Forecast, 2021-2025 , our marketshare has now risen to 19.9% for digital label and packaging printer in shipments and value in 2020. And this growth will continue. Labels is a market we entered barely five years ago, yet already we’ve captured a fifth of the printer shipments in value in the digital label market for label and packaging.
In 2020, digital label and packaging (L&P) production printer shipments in Western Europe came in at 186 units at a value of $97.6 million, according to IDC . The Western European digital L&P production printer market is expected to increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.1% between 2020 and 2025. Shipments of toner-based printers still have the larger share of L&P printers. Label and packaging printer shipments are expected to increase from 186 units in 2020 to 344 units in 2025.
We all recognise that the ongoing Covid-19 situation has created unprecedented challenges, but face-to-face meetings are resuming and a sense of normality is returning. Meeting up in person will be even more important at events such as the global Labelexpo in Brussels, Belgium, from April 26-29 in 2022 where in Hall 8 (stands C12 / C19) we will have a significant presence once again and will be looking forward to meeting customers and prospects.
In addition to live events we will continue to build our online presence as we help shape ideas for our customers in a partnership approach – no matter the ‘communication channel’.
Our commitment remains to deliver the best possible service to all our clients.