Coronavirus and the label industry – insights from Konica Minolta

While the continuously-evolving Covid-19 situation has presented new and unprecedented challenges, labels will continue to play a significant role in the whole global manufacturing, supply and usage chain.

Labels are part of the supply chains of basic necessities and provide a vital tool to convey information. Anything from everyday consumer items such as food, drink and household products, as well as providing essential health information. Size or weight, ingredients, traceability or general instructions – the label is crucial.

Governments across Europe have been taking measures to limit the human and economic impact of the pandemic and, in many cases, have released lists of critical professions and sectors that need exemption or relaxations in the laws from the crisis measures in the context of Covid-19. A policy tracker from the International Monetary Fund summaries the key responses. Although not always explicitly mentioned, it is clear that the labels and packaging sectors are an essential part of the supply chain of two of the most critical sectors: healthcare and the food supply chains.

Keeping the logistical and supply chains moving during the pandemic is an issue for all manufacturing and wider business. Labels is definitely one sector that is playing a critical role in ensuring the safe supplies of food and pharmaceuticals and more that are vital for Europe.

However, Mike Fairley, founder of The Label Academy and Labels and Labeling Magazine, maintains in an article on suggested guidelines on coronavirus that the wider label industry has been largely overlooked in its key role of supporting and supplying all those necessary label products and components in so many different areas. The essential role of labels, and the materials, technology and print solutions to produce them, needs to be fully recognised as essential supplies and / or suppliers if feeding, treating and supporting frontline medical, care and health employees.

Partnerships and sharing collective knowledge within the label industry on what measures businesses are taking to help stop the spread of coronavirus and keeping workers safe is a theme close to the heart of FINAT, the European association for the self-adhesive label industry. It has also highlighted the role of self-adhesive labels and narrow-web packaging as an essential component of the critical infrastructure for the food and medical sectors.

As FINAT stresses in the Covid-19 Shared Best Practices and Experiences, some members are taking more far-reaching measures than those recommended or enforced by local governments and public health institutes.

Suppliers and converters are working hard to ensure that the supply of their products and services to customers remain constant and secure while they manage through the global Covid-19 coronavirus situation. Transport is one important consideration.

The European Commission works closely with other inter-country organisations such as the European Parliament and business organisations in areas such as border management, in order to keep freight moving across the EU during the current pandemic. The EC has provided practical guidance to ensure the continuous flow of goods across Europe via green lanes, which includes an overview of national measures taken by individual countries.

Stakeholders on all communication platforms are also using these unprecedented times to provide knowledge on the impact of coronavirus for the label sector. An example can be found in Labels & Labeling where companies provide updates on the supply of their products and services to customers through the global coronavirus. One source for regularly updated pandemic figures is in the Financial Times as well as the vastly quoted Johns Hopkins University data.

AIFEC, the Iberian Association of Continuous Label Manufacturers, says the sector will bounce back stronger from the coronavirus pandemic. Its president

José Ramón Benitothis argues that the crisis can serve to strengthen labels as essential products as they bring value to brands, give information to consumers and allow traceability of products.

Here, at Konica Minolta, we have introduced our own information to control the impact of coronavirus and are constantly monitoring the situation. In these troubled times we remain focused on two priorities. First, we want to make sure that our colleagues, customers and their families stay safe and healthy. Second, we will continue to provide our products and services to our customers.

We provide practical support as we continue to help shape ideas around the world, around the clock with our dedicated approach to customers in a collaborative, partnership approach. Despite all the bad news in the market over coronavirus, we’ve seen some positives from our label customer base of more than 500 AccurioPress installations worldwide, of which 200 are based in Europe. Some customers have registered an increase in demand across Europe – including Italy, Norway, Ukraine and the UK – as well as further afield.

Our own research has shown that in terms of linear metres printed on the Konica Minolta AccurioLabel presses across Europe, page volumes jumped by 150% in March 2020 – at the peak of the lockdown – compared to the previous month.

The sudden increase, to some degree, was no doubt attributable to consumers stocking up on products, causing a surge in demand. However, digital is the only technology capable of delivering short to medium runs, with a quick turnaround time – with customers reporting a surge in digital production. And with many companies reducing their on-site workforce during the lockdown, the AccurioLabel presses were machines of choice thanks to their ease of use.

One of our customers that became an early adopter of our toner technology is Soabar in the UK, which has two AcurioLabel presses and has tripled digital production on these machines since the start of this year. The business has concentrated production predominantly within the pharmaceutical, hygiene and food sectors since the Covid-19 outbreak. More details can be found here.

Benefits of digital production are well documented and have made seismic changes in the label industry. Shorter runs, just-in-time production and customisation where label printers and converters need the highest quality and super-fast turnarounds will become ever-more important in the years to come.

And our commitment to deliver the best possible service to all our clients, even against the odds, will never waver, with health and safety always our number one priority.