Gerry Sherwood, event director for the Easyfairs’ Packaging Portfolio, is an ambitious man.
At a time when cost pressures and market fragmentation makes business development tricky, he believes that not only is a change in market tack possible, but that by attending this year’s Packaging Innovations show at the NEC in Birmingham, you can change the entire way you do business. And that’s true whether you are already in the print packaging sector or not, he adds.
“If the visitor is already in the packaging print sector, the show will be about meeting suppliers and customers and finding networks and ways to grow their business,” he explains. “But there will be a lot of people looking at packaging for the first time. They will be businesses currently in another area of print looking to grow, and packaging will be an area they wish to consider. We hope we can help them transform their business. We think the show will help them realise the opportunity in what I believe is the most significant growing area of the print industry.”
The packaging industry is, indeed, thriving, with growth in global value for the sector expected to be 3.5% in the next three years, according to Smithers Pira. And Sherwood hopes that at February’s event printers will get everything they need to be part of that success story.
Certainly, the suppliers of print kit tailored to the packaging industry are keen to showcase what can be achieved.
“We were delighted to have had Agfa sign up just before Christmas, and they join the likes of Konica Minolta, Epson, and HP – we have some really great brands there,” says Sherwood.
These manufacturers, he explains, recognise that in an industry where some sectors are struggling, the opportunity lies in packaging.
“I think if you look across the whole of printing – direct mail, magazines, newspapers, etc – they are under pressure, whereas packaging in general is a big growth area and obviously print on packaging is a very important part of that piece. So I think we are getting the suppliers wishing to exhibit because they recognise this.”
Visitors seem to be just as keen. Sherwood explains that the event set ambitious pre-show weekly registration targets and each is being met, if not exceeded.
“If they convert to people actually attending we will have well over 6,000 visitors to the show,” he says.
Of course, a show like this is no longer a form of speed dating for printers and suppliers so kit can be viewed and bought. As Sherwood himself admits, if the show did offer only that, it would struggle to attract either party.
What brings in both sets of visitors in reality is down to two key areas.
The first is professional development. With margins low, extra cash to fund professional learning for printers is hard to come by. While you can get away with that for a while, eventually a lack of development stifles companies and prevents innovation and growth. Shows like Packaging Innovations have adapted, therefore, in order to become very easy places to find learning opportunities.
At a basic level, that is about knowing what is hot or not in packaging. Sherwood says there are a few trends that will be highlighted.
“Our big print debate is ‘Inkjet: Has it finally arrived?’. Inkjet on packaging is becoming more cost-effective,” he explains. “Personalisation continues to be the key trend for packaging and I think we are seeing more and more of that on the shelves.
“In more general packaging terms, inclusivity is the important word this year. This is about making packaging accessible for everyone. So openability, for example: a tamper-proof jar or bottle that can also be easy to open for someone with arthritis. It is also about making things easy and legible to read so print has a really important part in this.”
The show has teamed up with Cambridge University to enable visitors to step into the shoes of some of the people that can struggle with packaging and test their own packaging, too.
“They will be able to wear special gloves that will show them what it is like trying to open a jar with arthritis,” reveals Sherwood. “And there will be special goggles so you can try to read packaging as if you were someone with sight issues.”
He adds: “I know a lot of the people who come to the show see it as professional development – a chance to learn – and I know also that this is something a lot of the suppliers are tailoring their presence towards: HP, for example, want to educate people to try and get the best out of their equipment. All our sessions are CPD accredited now and, to be honest, it is not enough to run a show and expect people to just turn up to see the exhibitors, you need to give them more reasons to leave the office. So learning is a key part of it for us.”
The second key area for customers coming through the door is to meet the people higher up in the supply chain. The show will boast buyers and key figures from retail and major brands and printers and suppliers both attend to try and network with these people, as well as learn what they are seeking.
“It is quite an odd situation as they are not just coming to meet their immediate customers but more often than not it is their customer’s customer. They are using the show to demonstrate high up the supply chain just what print can do – to brands and retailers,” says Sherwood.
He explains that the professional learning at the show will be key to getting printers up to speed so they can offer clients more and be part of the conversation.
One aspect that will again be a major part of those conversations will be the environment.
“The EcoPack section is important as we want to promote environmental best practice. From the feedback I have had, this is an area that is once again coming to the fore. For some years where people have been more cost conscious the focus has been less on environmental and it has been seen as a nice to have. But as the market picks up again people are prioritising it again.”
While environmental issues may be familiar, what definitely won’t be is a key new feature of the show. The Ideas Factory is all about leading experts from non-packaging-based companies forming a “cross-sector information sharing portal”. This will enable cutting-edge techniques and knowledge from other industries to be applied to the packaging sector. However, as confident and ambitious as Sherwood is, he will admit this particular section of the show may be a risk.
“We’ll see how it goes – will people find it interesting or will it be something to inspire them or will it be something they can go back and use themselves? We don’t know how it will turn out.”
But then the confidence returns. Not only does Sherwood think this year’s show will be a hit, he already has half an eye on next year.
“If the Ideas Factory does not work, we will just try something else next year,” he says, with the chuckle only a man whose pre-registrations are above expectations can muster.
NEED TO KNOW
Where Halls 9 & 10 NEC, Birmingham
When 1-2 March, 2017
Wednesday 1 March, 10am to 5pm
Thursday 2 March, 10am to 4pm
Ecopack and Contract Pack