Printers are bracing themselves for another wave of paper price rises, the fourth this year, which are set to come into effect next week.
The main drivers have been well documented. While the Brexit decision was largely responsible for increases in 2016, it is the continuing rise in raw material costs – in particular the soaring price of pulp – that has sent paper prices skywards of late and contributed to three German paper mills filing for insolvency.
Merchants have had little choice but to continually react and pass the costs down the line to increasingly worried printers – 62% of respondents to the BPIF’s latest Printing Outlook, published in August, selected paper and board pricing as a major business concern, significantly above the 32% that selected it in the study published in May 2017.
While some printers are passing the extra costs down to their own clients, others have absorbed at least some of them to avoid potentially losing a job to a competitor who is willing to take the hit to secure the work.
In a bid to try and mitigate the effect of price increases, paper merchants say they are continually working alongside their customers to help them to maximise their efficiencies and add value in other ways.
Denmaur Paper Media offers a Paper Health Check analysis, which looks at whether its customers are buying the best paper for their jobs, and whether there are opportunities to reduce costs by switching to alternative paper grades.
“We analyse their current paper usage and from that we can offer viable alternatives, so something that is similar but cheaper, perhaps due to a slight difference in whiteness or in the finish or furnish of the paper,” says Denmaur Paper Media director of marketing and sustainability Danny Doogan.
“People are also starting to be open to more radical changes – for example they can drop down in paper weights or go onto a completely different paper type that will save money yet retain some semblance of what they currently produce.
“We’ve also started to stock variations to the traditional SRA1, B1 and B2, where you can instantly start saving 4%-6%, and we also hold lighter paper weights with a mechanical pulp furnish for commercial printing on 70 and 80gsm gloss or silk.”
He adds: “The health check also covers off the sustainability angle. We make sure people have the option to buy as FSC or a PEFC certified as well as the option to Carbon Balance their paper – quite an inexpensive way of making a powerful environmental statement.”
While merchants stress that the availability of lighter, cheaper stocks is not currently an issue, supply could inevitably become more scarce in the future if buyers continue to move their jobs across, particularly as some mills are moving their production in the opposite direction and converting to more lucrative growth areas such as packaging.
Elliott Baxter (EBB) sales and marketing director Chris Sandwell sounds a note of caution, pointing out that lighter stocks do not always produce a job saving.
“Quite often, lower weight material and lower quality can lead to lower press performance and lower pressroom productivity.”
He adds EBB stocks “a huge range of sizes and weights” to allow its customers to choose the most economical choice on all jobs.
“We are constantly working with customers to choose the most effective size. For example, 630x880mm instead of 640x900mm, and reduce wastage. Consistent paper policy in a print workshop also means improved pressroom output.”
Antalis channel director for print James Jarvis says he has also seen some signs of people using paper sizes that reduce trim waste.
“That’s why we stock specialist sizes and large ranges. We have also recently launched Print Speed 75gsm, which is going very well. It’s a good quality high bulk 75gsm which can replace other 80gsm sheets.”
He adds Antalis also invests in a technical team to support printers “not only when they are having problems, but when they are looking to run new substrates or maximise their production performance.”
While paper prices look unlikely to stop rising any time soon, working more closely with suppliers can help to uncover other ways to cut costs.
“The most important thing that people need to do in times like this is talk with us – we’re here to sell but we’re also here to advise and explain the range of goods and services that we have, and explore the opportunities to assist our customers,” Doogan concludes.