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FINAT's European Label Forum 2019: It's all about connecting ideas

FINAT’s fifth European Label Forum, held last week in Copenhagen, was an outstanding success. 250 business leaders from the Label industry came together to network, interact with peers, engage with top-level industry partners, to learn and be inspired by a panel of experts on a variety of topics relevant to the future of the European label industry. After 60 years, the FINAT community remains vibrant and eager to explore new ideas.

Introducing a new feature

The 48-hour marathon of business learning kicked off on Wednesday afternoon with a new feature in the programme: the Converter-only Roundtables, designed to create a platform for label company owners and managers where they can discuss topics that keep them up at night. Based on an online survey among label company leaders, a shortlist of 4 topics was drafted which were debated in small breakout groups during two 45-minute rounds: sustainability & recycling, technology investment, marketing and Nextgen workforce. Of these 4 topics, the last one was postponed pending the outcomes of a separate brainstorm later at the event (see below). Some 25 business leaders took part in this pre-event and the outcomes of the discussions were written down on the priority boards to be presented to the main FINAT Board.

Shaping the Future of the Label Industry

For the first time, the FINAT Young Managers Club combined their annual convention with FINAT’s main annual gathering. On this occasion, YMC Board members Mikaela Harding (Pulse Roll Label, UK) and Matthias Vollherbst (Vollherbst Druck, Germany) presented the outcome of a survey done among the future leaders of this industry on the occasion of its 10th anniversary, and presented its new brand and brand name: the Young Professionals Network – its tagline ‘Shaping the future of the label industry’ clearly expressing its ambition to actively contribute to the main FINAT programme and injecting the association with new talent. Later during the event, the YPN would engage in a ‘night dive’ brainstorm about their priorities for the coming years.

Learning from other industries

After the opening night’s celebration of the winners of FINAT’s annual label competition and the recycling and sustainability award, the conference kicked off with a welcome by the Presidents Chris Ellison of FINAT and Frederik Krause of the local Danish Label Association with whom FINAT had reconnected after FINAT’s last event in Denmark in 2004. Keynote speaker Hamish Taylor set the tone with an inspiring talk based on his own experience as (chief) executive and brand manager at British Airways, Eurostar and Sainsbury’s Bank, at all of which he had successfully implemented innovations by ‘stealing’ ideas from other industries and listening to those people in the workforce who are in daily contact with the customer.

A significant indicator of a slowdown

The next session, brought together a series of market reports kicking off with local market reports about the Danish, Swedish and Norwegian label markets by Lars Ole Nauta (DK) and Leif Persson (SE), followed by the annual European label statistics report by FINAT MD Jules Lejeune (NL), who reported a slowdown in European labelstock volume demand and label sales. Last year’s labelstock volume demand in Europe finished just under 7.5 billion m2, 1.4% above the level of 2017, a reflection of increasing uncertainty in international markets in the face of Brexit, the US-China trade dispute and political uncertainties inside the Eurozone. Corey Reardon of AWA (NL) further broadened the scope by covering the label industry development not only from a global perspective but also from a wider ‘product decoration’ context. If self-adhesive’s USP of VIP-labels is deducted from the overall market volume, there is still territory to be gained in comparison with wet-glue and sleeves.

A holistic approach to innovation

The market overview session then concluded with an interview by session moderator Andy Thomas of Labels & Labeling with Guido Schmitz, adjunct professor at Rutgers University in New York, where he brings in his broad knowledge and experience as the Head of Packaging and Technology Innovation at Bayer HealthCare (Consumer Division). Guido, who is also a Board member of the Active and Intelligent Packaging Industries Association (AIPIA), expressed his strong belief in a holistic design approach to product packaging innovation. He shared some interesting insights and gave a demonstration of samples of ‘future packaging’ projects that his students had engaged in.

Breaking out

The afternoon of the first day of the conference took place in the form of three parallel business learning streams, one dedicated to smart labelling technology, one to circularity and one to employer and personal branding. In the first stream, Tim Paridaens (Deloitte, B) summarised the findings from market research into applications, business models and success factors. Matthias Vollherbst (already mentioned) gave a live(ly) demonstration of the Labelinmotion app that he had developed for the wine market, underlining how companies can reposition them from being a ‘label printer’ to a ‘wine marketing solutions provider’. The second stream featured Achim Grefenstein (Constantia Flexibles, D) and Casper van den Dungen (Plastics Recycling Europe, NL) each covering different aspects of ‘design for recycling’. The third and final stream focused on the ‘personal development’ aspect of the business and introduced Koos Wurzer, Global Employer Branding and Candidate Experience Manager at Danone who outlined what small and medium enterprises can learn from one of their global customers in handling the war for talent. Alastair Banks from Optix Solutions (UK), finally, provided a hands-on introduction to how business leaders can brand their companies and themselves by effectively using Linked-in.

Retail and e-tail converging

After a relaxing boat tour and dinner at the world’s oldest stock exchange building (Børsen), the final morning of the event brought on stage Wijnand Jongen (NL) founder of the Dutch e-commerce platform and quality mark Thuiswinkel.org (in 2014 winner of the Mans Lejeune Award that was instituted for innovative associations on the occasion of Lejeune’s 50th anniversary). Wijnand later also founded the European counterpart of this organization, e-commerce Europe and wrote the international bestseller ‘The end of online retail’. This title was also the main topic of his presentation supported by own video footage demonstrating how ‘brick and mortar’ retail is now converging with online. With labels being a crucial enabler of the logistic chain, this opens up huge opportunities for the label industry.

Connecting the dots

After the FINAT General Assembly and a short break, the final part of the session focused on the question: “What are the takeaways from this conference and how can we convert them into actionable ideas for our business?” Co-moderated by Bert van Loon (NL) and Corey Reardon (already mentioned), the FINAT industry debate brought together the main learning points from the previous presentations through the eyes of an audience panel on stage, and the remaining expert speakers in the room, based on three themes: ‘smart technology’; ‘sustainability’ and ‘future workforce’. After a lively 1-hour debate, closing keynote speaker and ‘creativity explorer’ Fredrik Härén (SE) offered delegates in the room his Idea Book, and gave some entertaining examples on his definition of an IDEA: P(K+I). An idea equals that a Person takes his/her Knowledge and combines it with Information. Challenged by the audience, he argued that nothing is totally new, everything is a combination of previously known things in a new way. There are infinite new ideas waiting to be revealed by combining the knowledge and the information we have access to. His book, a combination of text and empty pages, demonstrates how a ‘management book’ can untap the much larger market of ‘office stationary’ by combining these new features.

With such a richness in content presented at the European Label Forum 2019, indeed a lot of creativity is needed to connect the dots and make them work for your company. By learning and interacting on issues like this we can continue growing the label industry together. On behalf of the Board and FINAT’s ELF Programme Committee, we thank our speakers, sponsors, volunteers and of course the participants for making this a successful experience!

Next year’s European Label Forum will be held in Rome, from 3-5 June 2020. Make sure to mark your calendars!

See the full 2019 ELF report in the right menu under Downloads