What next for digital printed packaging?

Canon EXPO 2015

Packaging is so much more powerful and valuable than a mere receptacle. It is the key to helping brands keep their existing customers and attract new ones. But the proliferation of media channels, changing demographics and multichannel shopping has made it harder than ever to grab people’s attention and predict their purchasing behaviour. A well-designed or innovative packaging solution is an increasingly important differentiator and one which can have a disproportionately positive effect in driving sales. Against this backdrop, there is an enormous opportunity for Print Service Providers (PSPs) and digital printing.

How can PSPs tap into this opportunity? It is true that there are seemingly endless possibilities in the production process such as truly customised print and frequent design changes without huge time or monetary losses. But with the role of packaging so multi-faceted and today’s multi-channel consumers so fickle and hard to please, trends such as SKU proliferation and sustainability can create as many pitfalls as possibilities if service providers fail to prepare properly.

‘SKUs’ refers to the total number of product variants a brand brings to market. While this can be a great thing for driving impulse purchases, pop-up shops and one-off events, SKUs can also clog the supply chain with too many items that are nearly the same; force smaller orders for a greater variety of products and can complicate product life-cycle management. Despite the fact that SKU proliferation is being driven by customers demanding more choice, it can also be confusing in-store when faced with a series of products that may all look the same but have different functions, ingredients or benefits.

Sustainability is another trend both driven and held back by consumer demand. For example, size and material are two of the biggest factors for recyclability. While consumers and businesses may think that sleek, recyclable containers are sustainable, single-serving packages such as yogurt and coffee cups are harder to recycle due to their small size. However, there is a growing generation of single-person households, which are already the most common household profile in Western Europe and North America. Euromonitor predicts that this trend will equate to more demand for smaller household products and services aimed at the solo consumer. Invariably, this will include single-serving goods in small packaging, which can offset sustainability demands.

The good news is that digital printing and digital production systems are perfectly placed to meet these demands. The speed, ability to produce short print runs economically and variable data capability make it a solid investment for the future. In fact, labels cartons and other items can literally be printed on demand with minimal wastage – print runs can be as short as 50, 20 or even two or three packages. Manufacturers can then respond quickly to changing markets or customer demands and implement mass-customisation or personalisation with very few time or cost restraints.

For PSPs, knowledge is the key. Packaging is a technically demanding, knowledge-hungry application but the rewards for those that invest the time in preparation can be exceptional. PSPs should start by looking at which of their current services could be utilised in the packaging sector and what new areas or concepts they’re able to deliver within the capabilities of their business. Next, they should look to utilise existing skills they have in-house in order to implement short term changes to begin preparing for the future of packaging with digital print. Finally, the key is to start small and see what offers you can make to existing customers – by using them as a sounding board, PSPs can better understand both the demands of their own customer base and the wider end-users they will ultimately serve.

To learn more about current and future trends for packaging and about how you can fully optimise the opportunities of digital print to generate new business, download a copy of THINK Packaging - Canon’s guide to trends and innovations in the packaging sector. 


• Smithers Pira, The Future of Global Printing 2018; December 2013

• Packaging World Magazine and Cal Poly, Emerging Technologies for Packaging Innovation, 2014

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