Hannah Oakman is deputy managing editor magazines at FoodBev Media. This is a personal blog and views expressed are her own.

5 Mar 2013

Retailers welcome the digital age

If something is capable of being digitised, it will be, and it will open up a whole new world.

This was the premise for a session at the recent Packaging Innovations conference, looking at digital printing on pack versus labelling.

As someone working in the publishing business, this is a statement that I definitely agree with.

The advance of digital is something that no industry should ignore and the advent of digital labelling for the food and beverage industry certainly showed growing momentum at this year’s Packaging Innovations trade show at the NEC Birmingham, UK.

The panel discussion was chaired by Andrew Streeter, packaging innovation director at Datamonitor, and he questioned whether digital labelling could meet the logistical pressures of a global launch, as well as whether anti-counterfeit and brand protection could be included in on-pack printing.

“The bar on print quality is set high and likely to grow," he said. "Innovation in pack labelling and texture is making the pack more tactile and interesting for the consumer."

The session included three points of view from industry experts Karen Graley (packaging and reprographics manager at Waitrose), Paul Young (director and head of packaging services for DHL) and Kevin Vyse (director of the Institute of Packaging Professionals).

Karen Graley explained that Waitrose was halfway there to moving its products over to digital labelling. One of the four pillars of the brand is to ‘tread lightly’ and she believed that digital printing could be a part of that commitment to the environment, as well as showing an awareness of new technology, innovation, adaptability and personalisation for customers.

“Overall, the potential of digital print is very exciting for us,” she said. “Our myWaitrose loyalty scheme is all about personalisation and making offers relevant to individuals. Digital print can really boost this.”

Kevin Vyse, whose background is in structural packaging, made a valid point about computer hacking and counterfeiting being a stumbling block for digital labelling in the future: “This is the one big issue for digital, and rights protection, which needs to be addressed sharply.”

Paul Young from DHL also expressed concerns over issues of quality control when trained reproduction staff are replaced by machines in the future.

Overall the message was that of a steady move towards on-pack digital printing.

I believe retailers and producers will need to be brave with digital print and embrace the opportunities it will offer for greater personalisation and innovation, which is exactly what today’s consumer is looking for.