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04-03-21 - Lejeune, Jules

2021 – Another Year of Staying Connected

Today, 4 March 2021, it is exactly one year ago that we did not meet in Barcelona. After long deliberations late in February, the Board and organizing programme committee decided to pull the plug and postpone the Technical Seminar. Even though it would still take another week for the World Health Organisation WHO to declare the Pandemic on 11 March and lay the groundwork for drastic national and international health measures, including lockdowns, travel restrictions and social distancing commandments.

The start of a promising new decade turned into a standstill and subsequently the most severe relapse of the global economy in modern history. Even Brexit disappeared into the sidelines of the newspapers, as Covid-19 dominated the headlines wave after wave. Virologists and intensivists became TV stars, while conspiracy thinkers and desktop philosophers in lockdown claimed their share of virtual reality. Today, one year down the road, the battle against the Pandemic continues and hopes of a return to normalcy, at least in Europe, are fueled by the initial success of vaccination campaigns.

Against this negative backdrop of 2020, the labels and packaging industry has held up exceptionally well. If one thing has become clear during the Pandemic, it is that the world cannot do without labels, especially in times of crisis! With an exceptional peak of almost 9% year on year coinciding with the first wave of lockdowns in Q2, the year 2020 finished in an overall increase of self-adhesive labelstock consumption of 4.3% on 2019, against a drop in EU GDP of 6.8% in 2020.

Turning Crisis into an Opportunity

As the famous cliché goes, it shows that there is an opportunity in every crisis. Already last summer, after the first wave, we concluded that our industry had more than passed the stress test imposed upon itself by the opposite forces of excessive essential and crisis demand for labels, the obstruction of international supply chains and restricted availability of our workforce. But the crisis has also revealed that there is more to your FINAT membership than networking and information gathering.

The past 12 months have demonstrated that the online setting of association work creates tremendous opportunity to reach out to members on multiple subjects, multiply attendance at events, and facilitate collaboration without physical travel and time consuming planning exercises. Our series of webinars and FINAT briefings have enjoyed an increasing attendance, while our online Technical Seminar at the beginning of December enjoyed no less than 360 registrations (spread out over three afternoons). Our online FINAT Label Awards Ceremony of last November has meanwhile been viewed by over 800 visitors of our YouTube channel. To give you another example: last year alone, the CELAB-Europe project hosted by FINAT (which by the way kicked off exactly a year ago this week) organized no less than 30 workstream meetings, a frequency that would never have been possible in a live setting.

A tsunami of regulations

Another development directly connected to the Pandemic is the acceleration of EU legislation connecting economic recovery (via the ‘Green Deal’) to the transition into the circular economy for Europe (the Circular Economy Action Plan). Our new Regulatory Affairs Manager Pablo Englebienne joined the FINAT Team on the first day of the Dutch lockdown and, with the support of our Technical Advisor Noel Mitchell, has made his way through the increasingly complex landscape of regulations, guidelines, legislators, stakeholder organisations and alliances that already were and are being formed to advocate our industry’s interests on issues like packaging and packaging waste, essential requirements, extended producer responsibility, recyclability, the definition of plastics, food safety etc. etc. The online environment has created a ‘level playing field’ where also associations with limited own lobbying resources like FINAT can now make a true impact.

Like the European Commission, also the FINAT Board is taking the opportunity of low density travel throughout most of 2021 to take stock of our 6 Star Strategy that ran through 2020, to assess our current role and value together with members and other stakeholders, and to accelerate our wonderful association into the future beyond the Pandemic. More on this later this month.

Labelexpo Europe

For the time being, however, the most crucial benefit of FINAT membership, the ability to meet, network and collaborate with other members of the international label community, with shared values and common goals, remains on hold. As you can read in today’s LNO, we just learned about the postponement of Labelexpo Europe 2021 till 26-29 April 2022. It is sad that the world’s largest trade show for our industry cannot take place this year, and we share the hardship and disappointment that our longstanding partner of Tarsus must have faced in taking this difficult but courageous decision. Let’s embrace the 2022 edition as opportunity to embrace again as a global community!

About ELFF: the European Label Forum and Festival – Reconnecting the European Label Community!

We already announced that our European Label Forum this year will be turned into an online European Label Forum and Festival, adding a special F to our familiar brand ELF, so please mark 3-5 hrs. PM CET throughout the week of Monday 31 May – Friday 4 June in your calendars! Each of the five sessions will have a special feature, focusing on topics like business planning, market information, sustainability and recycling, workforce development and cultural diversity.

And with Covid-19 permitting, the online ELFF may be the only opportunity this year to (re)connect with your European peers on location as well as online next June.

We expect to launch the programme within the next two weeks, so watch this space!