The North American market for gravure package printing has been declining for 50-plus years, but expanded color gamut combined with new technologies and new ways of doing business is helping stem the outgoing tide.
Three speakers at last week’s GAA Gravure Global Summit in Clearwater Beach, FL, offered their insights for reversing the decline.
Here are the Curmudgeon bullet “points of interest:”
Dawn Connell, graphic development mgr., Snyder’s-Lance, Inc.:
- The wide-ranging snack maker’s brands include Snyder’s of Hanover, Lance, Kettle, Cape Cod, Emerald and Pop-Secret.
- Brand owners and their packaging printer/converters need to have the same brand-equity expectations that follow through from design/marketing to actual print production.
- The competitive visual landscape of a typical supermarket is a real challenge, with an average of 38,900 different items for sale. Eighty-five percent of consumers say that color is the determining factor when purchasing a particular product.
- Snyder’s-Lance maintains its brand integrity through 100s of master proofs, charts and logos yielding the benefits of consistency. Consumers take only 2-4 secs to decide if they'll buy the product, almost only by how the packaging looks.
- Early engagement of new gravure printing technology, new graphic designs is important for converters to communicate that to brand owners; prove level-set expectations that you know what you're doing.
- Expanded color gamut (CMYKOGB) did not turn out well at first because the company worked with only one printer; the solution was accurate profiling for predictable proofing.
- If there is inconsistency over time, the responsibility belongs only to the gravure packaging printer; the solution is Web-based printing process control tools for real-time data to review accuracy to please brand owners.
- Gravure packaging printers need to admit their faults and become the brand owner's partner, not just a vendor. The moral of the story: consistency, predictability, repeatability.
Prof. Robert Eller, School of Media Sciences, Rochester Institute of Technology:
- Eller provided an update on this presentation at the 2017 program; here’s a link to my review of that talk: www.convertingquarterly.com/the-converting-curmudgeon/how-the-north-american-gravure-printing-industry-can-reverse-its-50-year-decline
- Game-changing breakthrough new technology is possible; the cost of gravure-cylinder prepress can be cut from $0.45/sq inch to only $0.19/sq inch. A new set of cylinders can be produced in less than a day through resizable and chromeless cylinder technology.
- With in-plant engraving, the gravure printer owns the facility, sets the priorities, and transportation time is non-existent. A complete set of cylinders can be ready at press in 16 hours.
- New high-risk technologies are 1) engravable Nickel on a resizable polymer base, and 2) engravable polymer protected by diamond-like carbon, which became commercial this year.
- Because an expensive development effort will be required to speed up adoption, reduce risk and share the cost, does the potential reward justify the cost of such a program?
- Printers were enrolled in the research project: Investigating wide-web flexible-packaging printing on 60-in.-wide flexo and gravure presses. Results: Conventional gravure does not begin to beat flexo until 100,000+ linear feet. Wide-web printing with new-tech gravure offers the following cost advantages: 5% at 50,000 ft; 8.5% at 300,000 ft; and 9.5% at 1 million linear ft.
- Cost and service are both obstacles to reigniting the growth of gravure, but there is a strong trend toward shorter leadtimes; Typical span today in 4 weeks, and 20% of all jobs are promised in 2-3 weeks.
- Expanded-gamut (EG) color printing shows that gravure is inherently an advantage over flexo due to its stability and more saturated colors. With 7 colors, gravure EG is substantially larger than flexo.
George Battrick, technical coordinator, European Rotogravure Assn. (ERA):
- Asia remains the hottest market for gravure flexible-packaging printing with 80% share vs. 20% flexo. Europe continues to be divided about 50/50, and North America is the reverse of Asia with 80% flexo and 20% gravure.
- About 600,000 gravure cylinders are produced annually in Europe.
- Using a 100 Index Figure to represent the cost per cylinder in Europe, Asia is at the 50 mark while North America is at the 200 mark.
- For packaging gravure, Germany leads with 52 plants and 143 presses; Turkey is second with 44 plants and 114 presses. In Europe overall, there were 350 plants and 886 presses in 2017.
- On the bright side, press makers have sold record-high numbers of press in the past few years. Examples of the latest high-tech, shorter-run presses are Uteco NXS 300 and W&H Dynastar.
- Findings of the 2014 GfK Study detailed brand owners’ demands for the printing of their packaging:
1) Gravure guarantees quality; 2) gravure is ideal for high-volume print runs; 3) volume print run is decisive criteria for which process to choose; 4) Overall, there’s a tendency toward shorter runs; 5) Entire value chain is dealing with frequent graphic design changes and shorter lead times.
My Thoughts: Rebuilding the gravure market for package printing in North America is no easy task. Despite its best efforts, the value chain of suppliers and printer/converters are only slowing the decline for this clearly high-quality printing & coating method. As one of the program's speakers recalled, he asked one of his brand-owner customers his opinion of their new flexo-printed packaging. "It's okay," the buyer said. Just okay? THAT never would have been acceptable for any gravure-printed materials. So, the key -- to not just stemming the outgoing gravure tide but turning it around -- may be getting flexo buyers to understand that "okay" really isn't "okay."