23 August 2019

Looking back over 40 years of Labelexpo and the industry

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We spoke to Ann Hirst-Smith, managing partner Ann Hirst-Smith Associates, and previously with Fasson, who tells us what it was like at the very first Labelexpo show back in 1980, and how the industry has changed since then…

You were at the very first Labelexpo back in 1980 with Fasson (which then went on to become part of Avery Dennison). Tell us about that first show…
Right in the centre of London, it was an indicator for me that the then self-adhesive label industry was on a roll.  Although there were only 44 exhibitors, including Fasson, at the time, this really captured an expanding niche sector. As one of Labels & Labelling magazine’s first advertisers when I was Marketing Services Manager of Fasson UK back in the 1970s, I was experiencing the excitement surrounding self-adhesive labels, as the industry itself was experiencing enormous growth, and enormous interest. The advent of Labelexpo as a dedicated labels show was proof – and it showed the packaging industry and the brand owners just what they could gain from this amazingly flexible labeling method.

What is it that kept Fasson/Avery Dennison coming back every time?
Stan Avery was the inventor of the self-adhesive label back in the 1930s, and Fasson was originally the brand name for his sticky stuff (ie ‘fasten on’). The company he set up, now Avery Dennison, was, and is, a market leader in labeling materials – particularly self-adhesive.  It is hardly surprising that such a company should year after year support an exhibition focusing on materials and machinery for this specific industry. After all, Labelexpo  represented – and still does – a fantastic opportunity to showcase the continuing innovation of Avery Dennison’s many labelstocks. And even in a company with business sites around the world, Labelexpo for sure represents the annual coming together of all the professionals, and their companies, in labeling and packaging. In other words, it is the established and excellent global customer and supplier meeting point.

How do you think Labelexpo – and indeed Labelexpo Europe - has changed over the last four decades, and what have been the highlights? What role has it played in the label and package printing industry?
Labelexpo has grown with the labeling industry, and has also played a major role in growing the industry itself. This is now a combination of innovation in imaging technologies, printing equipment,  labeling materials, and in ‘add-ons’ such as RFID labels, packaging personalization, and brand owners’ one-to-one relationships with customers via such devices as QR codes and other on-pack augmented reality devices.     

Only the Labelexpo exhibition in its different regional contexts today maintains the focus on identifying and decorating a product – unlike the many ‘pack’-prefixed shows around the world today.  It is a key location for brand owners to explore the endless options for enhancing the on-shelf look of their products, and also a wonderful opportunity for label converters to explore the opportunities presented by today’s label printing/imaging technologies to enhance their capabilities and expand their offering to their customers.

How has the industry changed in the last 40 years?
The label industry, while still centered on self-adhesive labeling, is now a much broader arena, embracing (as well as glue applied labels) the sleeve labeling technologies, flexible packaging, direct-to-container print, and other options – and the label converter has been able to expand his offering to brand owners thanks to this broadening arena. Multi-versioning of brand labels in different language editions; security labelling options (RFI); QR codes and other electronic contact points with the consumer have expanded the role of the label considerably.

Sustainability is, of course, a real issue today, and while there were initial questions about recycling spent release liner and label matrix waste, the industry now has a valuable and established pathway to successful and appropriate recycling of what, in the packaging world, is actually a very small – but, in the case of release liner base, high value for second-life use – ‘waste’ supply chain. And the major labelstock manufacturers are all today offering sustainable facestocks and environmentally-friendly adhesives.

What key trends are likely to have an impact on the region in 2019, and how do you think the industry will change in the next few years?
Regionally in Europe, 2019 may present some problems for label converters in pan-European business as a result of Brexit, but the label industry remains a key performer in the branding of products, identification of key product factors for consumers, and in response to legislation (such as food safety concerns and recyclability of packaging). None of these concerns are going to go away in the future, so the label industry’s future is absolutely safe.  

As FINAT are emphasizing, we are at a point where the ‘old guard’ who built up the self-adhesive label industry are now entering retirement, so there is a real issue surrounding recruitment of young people to the label printing industry, at a time when technology and the Internet of Things appear to be presenting so many attractive career alternatives. As a result, I personally believe that the industry needs to really focus on the fundamentals of design and typography in the face of the digital revolution. This presents a huge learning opportunity, and the industry needs to respond so as to futureproof itself, because digital is here to stay! Indeed, the imaging options for label production continue to grow exponentially, and the press manufacturers across all the disciplines are also creating extensive innovations.

What message do you have for visitors to the 40th anniversary edition of Labelexpo Europe 2019?
This edition of Labelexpo Europe will give visitors a real buzz and is not to be missed!  Combining the very best of all the many elements of the supply chain, it is an incomparable state-of-the-art picture of a core feature of today’s global packaging market. From substrate manufacturers to press and production ancillary manufacturers, MIS management information systems, advanced ink technologies, to leading specialist converters – they will all be there at Labelexpo’s 40th anniversary edition, presenting a full, in-depth, unmatched  picture of a key aspect of today’s global packaging market.