Wrapped up and hot

Jo Francis
Friday, October 22, 2021

There’s a part of the UK printing industry that has been the subject of many millions of pounds worth of investment in recent years, resulting in a massive increase in the available capacity.

That market is paper wrapping. It’s gone from being the preserve of direct mail specialists – who have long ‘wrapped’ mailings in bespoke envelope-style containers – to something that’s become a key agenda item for publishers and brands, creating a whole new category in the process. 

The well-document backlash against single-use plastics resulted in unhappy customers complaining about products such as magazines arriving in polywrap. Despite being lightweight, strong and excellent at protecting the contents against inclement conditions, polywrap is among the soft plastics that are difficult, and sometimes impossible, for consumers to recycle in the UK thanks to the absence of a joined up, standardised recycling system. 

Paper, on the other hand is a known known and every household knows how to recycle it. 

Back in early 2019 the Royal Horticultural Society became the first major publisher to move to paper wrapping, with some 450,000 subscribers to its The Garden magazine receiving their March copies in paper instead of poly. 

At the time, production services manager Diana Levy said: “This is a major commitment to sustainability and a lot of thought has gone into it. I am convinced more magazines will look at paper wrapping, and I would love it if in a few months’ time we are seen as having led the way. As far as I know we’re the first major magazine to do this at this scale.”

Her words proved prescient. Since then, numerous publishers – including large groups with multiple big circulation titles – have followed that lead. Both Immediate Media and Hearst subsequently committed to sending all their subscriber copies in paper rather than plastic, and over the summer Immediate Media also completed the mammoth task of migrating the subs copies of Radio Times – some 275,417 copies a week – to paper wrap at Walstead and Westcolour. 

On a smaller scale Printweek owner Mark Allen Group also made the move, with Printweek now arriving in paper rather than plastic. 

Ballooning volumes

James Ward, managing director at Westcolour, which has sites at Roche in Cornwall and Bicester in the Midlands, says the firm has gone from a standing start to a huge monthly volume running into millions. 

“We mainly have concentrated on the UK magazine subscription market and over the last three years we have gone from a concept to wrapping about 10 million magazines a month across our two sites.

“I have a fantastically talented team that have vast knowledge in not only the mailing industry but other associated industries that have helped us develop and deliver not only plain but printed wrap for mailing packs and also complex newstrade promotional packs as well.”

Key clients include Walstead Group (hence the locations), and numerous publishers. 

Away from subscriber copies as Ward mentions some publishers have also stirred up their creative juices with newsstand copies in well- designed paper wrapped packs that, done well, sell the contents just as well as plastic or cello bagged versions. Supermarkets such as Waitrose and Sainsbury’s have also used paper wrapping for their customer magazines. Those involved in paper wrap production report that catalogues and brochures are another key area, with Lakeland among the brands to use the wrap as an opportunity to extend the canvas for bold promotional messages onto the outer. 

“From what I can see the subscription market has almost completely moved over and are mostly using plain paper with mono inkjet of logos, etc, which is the cheapest option but this is understandable as their sales are also done by that point,” says Adam Qazi, director of strategic and commercial planning at Abstrakt Services.

“But DM and magazine newstrade work very much use the outer wrap as much as they can. I’ve not come across anyone using the inside [of the wrap] as of yet. You would assume as time goes on catalogues might use it to allow for additional third party activity or vouchers,” he adds.

Big spenders

Hence, then, the substantial investments being made to meet this burgeoning demand. There’s also two distinct camps: firms that offer mailing and paper wrapping as a service to trade and direct clients, and companies that have added paper wrapping to an existing suite of services, such as magazine printers Buxton Press and Stephens & George, and commercial printer Micropress. 

Mailing & Marketing Solutions (MAMS), with sites in Leeds and Wolverhampton, is in the first camp. It has expanded to take its capacity to an astonishing 1bn items per year – or up to 2.7m per day. 

“During the pandemic, we worked hard to improve our ability to scale up and then scale down quickly, including automating many aspects of the business,” explains director Anthony Krajniewski. “As a result we now have the option of running both of our sites 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

“Our customers are able to use our services for any size of run, and we often go from specific, bespoke and personalised runs of just a couple of thousand to millions.”

Central Mailing Services in Birmingham also used the pandemic to re-equip, and recently signed an order for its third CMC One paper wrapping line, set to be installed at the end of the year. 

“In addition to the environmental benefits clients love the look and the wow factor a paper wrap pack creates especially with the edge to edge full colour pack. We have also added a peelable glue option to create a wallet,” says managing director Mitesh Chouhan. 

He says most of the company’s work involves printed wraps, where the wrap is used for promotions or branding, with Domino inkjet overprinting installed on the wrapping lines. 

“Most of our runs are large runs typically over 100,000; at this level the cost difference between full colour and plain wrap is negligible hence why a lot of our work is printed wrap. Our smaller runs of typically under 20,000 are plain wrap.

“Most people use the space commercially for advertising or a seasonal promotion.”

Across the market the printing of the paper wrap varies from using pre-printed reels, which have become a new category for specialist suppliers such as Integrity Print and Mail Solutions, to digital printing on-demand. MAMS, for example, invested in the UK’s first Ricoh Pro VC70000 high-speed inkjet web in order to be able to print the wrap in-house. 

And personalisation is becoming increasingly sophisticated, as MAMS points out: “As well as choosing a paper wrap to suit your brand, you can even personalise the wrap, inside and out for each and every customer you’re mailing to, giving them a paper wrap based on their interests, purchase history, or where they live.”

Go Inspire also reports that the personalisation aspect is helping to drive response. 

“We have the ability to match a personalised outer wrap to a personalised letter or inner piece. This enables us to turn the outer into a highly bespoke and dynamic part of the mailing pack, which has proven to increase open rates,” explains sales and commercial director Ben Snutch. 

“It also enables us to merge multiple workstreams (across hundreds of clients and brands) with both varying envelope and letter creatives – into a single production run, optimising postal discounts for our customers. Paper wrap is at its most effective when combined with insights driven by customer data, that drive personalised content and maximise response.”

As well as its two CMC lines, the Leicester-headquartered group also has the ability to produce wrapped products off the back of its inline web presses and reel-fed digital presses.

“This capability has enabled us to deal with emergency comms, where large volumes are required to be fulfilled in a very short space of time,” Snutch adds. 

The right choice of paper stock is a crucial element if the contents are to arrive in good condition, while bearing in mind the famously rainy nature of the good old British weather. All the paper wrapping specialists highlight the importance of thorough planning, to ensure the best possible results. 

Paper is obviously heavier than polywrap, and it’s important to consider the pack size and weight in relation to upcoming changes to Royal Mail Environmental Guidance from 4 January 2022. Royal Mail is withdrawing the Responsible Mail option and has drafted new guidance that encourages the use of materials that can be recycled by consumers via kerbside collections. 

Joe Ghadami, managing director at GB Mail in Aylesbury, notes: “Come January 2022, when the sustainability discounts are discontinued by Royal Mail, we expect to see some resurgence in polywrap as postage costs will be the same for both poly and paper. Most importantly, get your mailing house involved from the brief of any mailing campaign, which would be our advice for any campaign. 

“Paper substrates for paper wrap are often overlooked. There are various specialist stocks available that provide additional protection for the contents of the pack, however we do not see these being used widely enough,” he adds. 

GB Mail, which recently joined Two Sides as a partner member, has gone so far as to produce a video showing the comparative resilience to water and rubbing of its preferred ‘house stock’ compared with standard uncoated paper.

In short, there’s a lot for buyers to consider when planning a paper wrapped project, or indeed a wholesale switch, be that seam positions, substrate or finished size. 

“A lot of this transition has been driven by the postage cost saving by being able to gain the Sustainable Mail discounts and also to enable people to use the Mailmark postage format. As postage is by far the most expensive cost for a mailing pack this often drives the overall decision-making for formats and sizes, most clients are really switched on to this but quite a few still don’t realise the benefits of a few tweaks here and there and the huge cost savings that these can bring,” notes John Ellis, managing director at The Mailshop in Hucknall. 

“When the new postage rates for 2022 are announced it will be very interesting to see the price positions for the formats and what potential benefits this will lead to for clients,” he adds, and advises: “Do your research and choose your supplier well based upon a variety of reasons and look for pack variability as some machines are more suitable for certain pack formats.”

Stuart Speechley, managing director at KJS Print To Mail, which installed its first paper wrapping line over the summer, concurs. “Our top tip would be to make the switch sooner rather than later! Paper wrap is a great way for a firm to enhance their CSR and show the members, subscribers or audience the proactive change they’re making.”

Alternative takes

At Liverpool-based gravure and web printer Prinovis, a different take on paper wrapping has been implemented. This involves special paper banding modules fitted to three Sitma polywrapping lines, and it’s used for the supplements pack inside News UK’s weekend newspapers, specifically the Saturday and Sunday Times. 

“When the project was originally conceived to remove single-use plastics from the periodical market, the original band was going to be a marketing and promotional banding for News UK only. However, when the product was taken to the commercial advertising marketplace, it proved very successful for News UK with some clients already on their third or fourth campaigns,” explains Prinovis managing director Richard Gray. 

The band can also be personalised or coded, using the plant’s Kodak Prosper inkjet heads on its Goss M600 16pp web. 

Gray believes that while uptake of banding is still in its infancy, the option has considerable potential. “We feel that the paper banding product could be used in several areas including retail, catalogue, and one-off promotions. As paper becomes more expensive, banding is a cost-effective alternative to full paper wrapping and we are looking to expand into other market areas were this would be a cost-effective method of distributing product with a relevant commercial message to the end customer.”

Elsewhere, Abstrakt Services in Birmingham has installed a Sitma line that can handle poly or paper, and can also produce a ‘half wrap’ option. 

Qazi said the idea with the half wrap was to replace hand banding on newstrade work. “It’s hard to move people across but we did it from hand bagging to machine wrapping with side seal a while back, so I’m sure we’ll make grounds as we begin to push it.”

And at Nottingham Trade Finishers, managing director Richard Anstock has come up with a way to offer shorter-run paper wrapping using B2 or B1 litho printed sheets, provided by the print client. “The difference with this option is the printer gets to keep the paper wrap as an extra revenue stream,” he says. 

Paper wrapping overall is a hot and happening area and it’s safe to say that the existing players are not done yet – never mind the potential for fresh entrants. Ward says that Westcolour has plans for the next six to 12 months “which will see completely new machinery and technology introduced into the UK market” and has also recently started inserting additional promo goodies – such as biscuits – into packs; KJS is looking at adding another line and additional inkjet tech; First Mailing has a second machine planned with camera matching system and inline colour printing “to avoid the need for pre-printed reels but also offering instant print”; CMS has ordered its previously-mentioned third line; GB Mail is considering converting an additional three lines; Go Inspire is planning new finishing capability to service new contract wins and key renewals; and MAMS is mooting a further four lines. 

Phew! One could even say the whole paper wrapping sector is accelerating at, well, warp speed. 


WRAP STARS: the big players

Company

Number
of lines

Hours 

Daily/Weekly (w)/
Monthly (m) capacity

Abstrakt Services

2

24/5 + option to flex

250,000

Buxton Press

1

24/7

150,000

Central Mailing Services

2

24/5 + option to flex

500,000

First Mailing

1

6am-5pm + option to flex

220,000-286,000

GB Mail

2

24/5 + option to flex

440,000

KJS Print2Mail

1

6am-6pm

120,000-150,000 (A5)

Mailing & Marketing Solutions

9

24/7

2.7m

Go Inspire

2

24/6

700,000

Metromail

2

Flexible

200,000

Micropress

1

5 days + option to flex

250,000

PCP

1

24/7

200,000

Prinovis 

3

24/7

1.2m-1.5m (w)

Paragon Group

1

24/5 + option to flex

up to 100,000

Stephens & George

1

24/7

220,000 (m)

The Mailshop

2

16/5 + option to flex

500,000

Westcolour

5

24/7

10m-plus (m)

YM Group

2

n/a

n/a

Notes: CMS will install a third line in December.
Stephens & George capacity figure reflects current output

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© MA Business Limited 2021. Published by MA Business Limited, St Jude's Church, Dulwich Road, London, SE24 0PB, a company registered in England and Wales no. 06779864. MA Business is part of the Mark Allen Group .