Navigating the paper supply crisis

The issues currently affecting paper supplies are well-documented. Seismic changes in European capacity involving machine closures and mill conversions over the past four years have now taken effect.

This new capacity landscape has then combined with a unique set of circumstances: recovery from a global pandemic and the resulting growth in demand for some paper- and fibre-based products, global logistics issues, the energy price crisis, spiralling raw materials costs, and the fastest rate of paper price increases in at least 20 years. And to cap it all a large-scale strike at UPM’s Finnish operations has halted production at six of the group’s paper and label paper mills. 

It really has turned into the ultimate paper supply crunch. So what can printers do to navigate such turbulent conditions? Printweek canvassed opinion from a range of paper experts to come up with 10 top tips. We hope they help. 

  1. Don’t overlook obvious things that a printer can control such as production efficiencies and reducing wastage. Look at impositions and job nesting in order to maximise the available material. Could a slight tweak to page size yield a better output per sheet?
  2. PAPER – Planning Ahead Produces Excellent Results! Plan ahead when you can. Give your paper suppliers as much forward notice as possible of anything you know you will require. That way they can build regular repeating requirements into their ordering. It’s also important for printers to tell their customers what the situation is (send them the articles from Printweek) and explain it is a global issue and it won’t be resolved quickly. 
  3. Be flexible. With short notice or ad hoc requirements be as flexible as you can on brand, size, grammage, finish and the latest required delivery date – this is particularly relevant with reels at the moment. 
  4. Look at up-spec-ing the job if possible. There tends to be greater availability of premium stock than commodity papers.
  5. Stock. Consider holding some stock of what you know you will definitely need month in and month out, and place a repeating order with your merchant.
  6. Prioritise availability over price. It might be better to hold a bit of extra stock to beat a price increase than wait until you need it. You may also need to consider substitute/alternative materials from a different range of suppliers.
  7. Be wary of making ongoing commitments with your end-customer until you have secured paper supply.
  8. Maintain an honest dialogue with your paper supplier. Use their expertise, such as technical services. 
  9. Relationships count. Loyalty to a supplier will leave you in a better position than constantly playing one off against another. All paper merchants will be working hard to keep their long-standing and loyal customers supplied and the most successful of these will be the paper merchants who, in turn, have invested in developing strong and collaborative relationships with their own suppliers. 
  10. Pay to terms. Suppliers will always respond better to those who pay on time. 

With thanks to Denmaur Paper Media, EBB, Fenner Paper, Ovenden Papers, and Premier.

Cuts to capacity – going, going gone – how nearly 6m tonnes per annum of paper production disappeared

Feb 19: Germany’s Scheufelen files for insolvency for the second time in two years. It had produced 140,000 tonnes of premium coated paper per year

Mar 19: Arjowiggins’ largest mill, Bessé-sur-Braye with capacity of 320,000tpa of recycled coated and uncoated papers goes into liquidation after parent Sequana went into administration

Mar 19: Lecta shuts down coated woodfree production on PM 8 (200,000tpa) at its Condat mill, with the intention of converting it to label and packaging papers

May 19: Stora Enso confirms exit from coated woodfree paper market, removing more than a million tonnes of capacity as a result. The 1.08m/tpa Oulu mill in Finland will be converted to packaging board

Feb 20: Sappi Europe says it will close 240,000tpa coated woodfree PM2 at its Stockstadt mill

July 20: UPM closes its Chapelle newsprint mill in France, which produced 240,000 tonnes of newsprint per year

Aug 20: UPM announces it will shut its Kaipola mill in Finland by the end of the year and decommission its three paper machines, an annual reduction of 450,000 tonnes of newsprint and 270,000 tonnes of graphic grades. It also puts a ‘for sale’ sign up at UK newsprint mill UPM Shotton 

Aug 20: SCA says it will exit the publication papers market

Feb 21: SCA makes its last reel of publication paper at its Ortviken paper mill (756,000tpa) where three paper machines were shuttered and the site switched to the production of chemically pre-treated thermo-mechanical pulp (CTMP)

April 21: Stora Enso plans to close its Veitsiluoto (790,000tpa woodfree uncoated paper) and Kvarnsveden (565,000tpa SC magazine paper) mills in Sweden, slashing annual capacity by 35% to 2.6m tonnes

May 21: Zanders Paper goes into liquidation. It had two paper machines and capacity to make 325,000tpa of high gloss, cast coated paper, label papers, and board

Jun 21: Stora Enso sells its 310,000tpa Sachsen newsprint mill in Germany. The new owners will convert it to make containerboard

Sep 21: Newsprint production ceases at 250,000tpa capacity UPM Shotton. The new owner is converting the mill to produce cardboard