Jules Lejeune, managing director, FINAT—the European Association for the Self-Adhesive Label Industry—sees a lot of commonalities when addressing challenges, priorities and strategic directions documented by his membership, as well as FTA’s own printer contingent.
Today, world economies and the political climate impacting them are spelling cause for concern due to outside forces like Brexit, tariffs, taxes and stringent government regulations pertaining to environmental concerns.
Always a priority—No. 1 in the US—are increased efficiencies. The all-encompassing challenge, prominent on FINAT’s radar, entails tight standards, effective quality controls, adoption of automated workflows, determination to reduce waste, a commitment to customization of products output and the monitoring of competitive impact points like digital print and finishing.
Here, utilizing excerpts from FINAT RADAR studies and a recent interview with Spain’s Etiqueta News, Lejeune illustrates what’s happening, as well as what’s next. It’s presented in dialogue form. Measures outlined certainly ring familiar.
The strength of the European label industry has been the entrepreneurship and agility of the small- and medium-sized family companies involved. Even the big groups—some the result of mergers and acquisitions—active in our industry, combine global thinking with the art of acting locally.
A majority of FINAT’s converter membership is composed of medium-sized companies with a collective turnover of less than €15 million, which translates to less than $19.6 million.
European consumption of label stock amounted to 7.5 billion square meters in 2018, an increase of some 30 percent since 2010. Several years in the last decade saw growth greater than 5 percent. Since 2017, we have seen a slowdown, and it’s attributed to the fact that our industry has been a significant indicator of the increasing economic uncertainty that we are seeing in Europe with Brexit, the impact of US-China trade wars, turmoil on Europe’s eastern borders and political uncertainty in some countries.
In the first three quarters of 2019, growth compared to the same period in 2018 dropped to just above 1 percent, with the UK and Central Europe now in negative territory. Southern and Eastern Europe are still in the plus. In fact, the Spanish label market is now 40 percent larger than it was in 2010.
The advantage of our organization is that members have the opportunity to be in contact with their peers from other countries to exchange know-how and experience, and to learn from the industry’s best performers.
FINAT does not intend to duplicate what national associations (EFTA, EFIA, DFTA, ATIF, SweFlex, etc.) are doing. The role for national associations is to serve as the “first port of call” for label companies looking for contacts and references to perceived common goals. On that list: labor relations, education, facility footprints and protocols, local legislation and regulation, plus worker health and safety.
FINAT’s role is to supersede the national level and focus on high-level issues relevant to business strategy. Our charge is to stand as a source of knowledge and networks for companies operating in an international environment and/or with an international business mindset.
Our six-star strategy says it all:
- Leadership: Stay up to date with business challenges decision makers are facing—reflect it in event programs, report on internal states of affair and brand owner perspectives, focus on young professionals, actively contribute value
- Technology: Continuously upgrade know-how and competence. Document best practices and make them application specific
- Workforce: Recognize the need to replace an aging workforce over time; reach out to the 18-to25-year-old populace, now choosing the first step in their professional careers. Technology now demands new skills and competencies. As our president says: Attract, recruit and retain the “Geeky Georges,” “Creative Charlies” and “Sustainable Susans”
- Sustainability: Develop a collaborative platform built on social responsibility; address regulatory affairs and public concern
- Positioning: Extend presence on the internet, in social media, extend access to the FINAT portfolio of videos (some highlight award-winning work), stage European Label Forum (June 2020 in Rome, Italy) and Technical Seminar (March 2020 in Barcelona, Spain), develop community app
- Focus—member engagement: Encourage participation through access and appointment to committees, task forces and the like
Trends & Tribulations
Our RADAR surveys record that business owners and managers frequently indicate the ability to recruit and retain young talent is one of the top three challenges.
In today’s digital world, manufacturing industries have to compete with fancy touchscreen enterprises. In the case of the label industry, we are also struggling with the negative image associated with the demise of commercial printing. To reverse that perception, we have decided to reach out to students and young professionals.
The world of Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things (IoT) means everything is connected to everything, so the amount of digital interaction is bound to increase. That said, of course we have seen the emergence of e-tenders and even reverse auctions among some big brand owners for large scale products. A number of label printers have installed online ordering systems.
However, labels are not a commodity product, but a tailored solution that will always require specific expertise from the label company—particularly as far as multiple printing technologies and converting are concerned. As far as materials and technology are concerned, unlike any other industry in package print, the self-adhesive label industry has a sophisticated network of expert partners along the supply chain.
All of this points to one thing: It would be very difficult to catch the multiple parameters necessary to define your order in an online system that does not require the intervention of the label company as the customer’s brand custodian.
Recent public attention to issues like climate change and plastic soup has made us all aware that sustainability is no longer a nice-to-have, rather a “must,” as long as it does not cost more.
Sustainability and recycling were indicated as the top priority among our converter members when we did a survey last spring. As a result, you should soon see a more prominent presence from FINAT as the advocate of our industry’s interest and as a driving force for the development and promotion of industrial recycling solutions.
FINAT’s initiatives to help the industry in creating guidance on Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and our sustainability and recycling programs, such as our annual award, are intended to encourage and help our members to apply corporate sustainability practices.
Volunteers & Value
FINAT and its members are only a small part of the value chain. In order to increase our effectiveness, it is essential that we liaise with other stakeholder organizations and agree on common standards on, for example, design for recycling.
In 1969, my father’s association management firm acquired the young emerging association, FINAT, as one of its clients. Today, 50 years down the road, FINAT has grown from a small group of 30 licensees, into an international association of more than 600 member facilities in more than 50 countries.
An old saying goes, “Success has many fathers; failure is an orphan.” This is especially true in the world of associations. FINAT’s successes are the result of the commitment of many volunteers who contribute their knowledge, network and time to make future-focused ideas a reality. The entire industry owes them a big thank you.