The supply of paper and cardboard is under severe pressure. In Finland, for example, paper factories have been on strike since January, and some French factories have also stopped production this week. The European label makers' association has issued a warning and expects a complete standstill of the industry within a few weeks, because there is no more paper available.
"Panic is the first word that comes to mind," says one of the largest label printers in the fresh produce sector. "In Finland there have been strikes since 3 January and 80% of the glassine paper used for labels for the European market comes from Finland. We aren't getting any paper and so we can't make labels. The strike has in any case been confirmed until 2 April, and no one knows what will happen after that. We are now getting paper from everywhere we can to supply our customers."
"The prices are much higher. The choice at the moment is: you either get labels or you don't. And if you want labels, you will have to pay one and a half times as much as usual. I used to give prices for three months, now we only give prices for a week. With the soft fruit season approaching, this is also a dire situation for many fresh produce companies. If you take a good look at the supermarkets, you see that the shelves are already empty. And supplying without a label is a difficult."
Scenarios come to mind with simpler labels, where, for example, only the type of tomato and the price is listed instead of all the logos and extra information. Understandably, the news is currently all about other things, and this news seems to have been completely overshadowed, even though it will have a great impact on many. Stocks will dry up eventually. In England, printing presses have been standing still for weeks because they simply cannot get any paper. Moreover, we are bound by purchasing quotas", says the printer.
Alternatives are hardly available, he says. "Some customers are switching to plastic backing paper. But not everyone can process PET automatically without adjustments. Especially the sensors for automatic labelling lines do not recognise PET. The only alternative is exotic materials from Asia, South America and the Middle East, but that is not the quality we are used to. Large e-commerce parties are now looking at the possibilities of printing the label directly on the box, without a label. But even then the boxes have to be available."
Nino Venezia of Dutch Graphic Group from Venlo also recognises the panic in label land. "The prices of label materials have risen by 40% in one year. The big global manufacturers can apparently suffer the loss caused by the strike in Europe, they make so much money that there are no serious negotiations with the strikers in Finland."
Nino and Gino Venezia
"The situation is really bizarre. I used to buy truck loads at the same time and the delivery was reasonably quick, but now an order time of ten, twelve weeks is no longer an exception. What's more, the price has tripled in the meantime. Label printers are already at a standstill. Fortunately, I saw the situation coming in June of last year and bought up an extra truck load here and there, with as a result that we are still able to operate at full speed in Venlo. For us, the supply of Polypropylene-PP is the biggest challenge at the moment. We are working day and night to get that supply.
The situation has led Dutch Graphic Group to announce a customer stop. "We are inundated with new requests, but we want to be there for our existing customers in the first place. They deserve our support. We are really protecting our customers at the moment who have always had confidence in us. A man is a man, his word is his word. But under the new tenders I put that they are valid for three days and also depend on what material is in stock at the time. Recently I was able to grab a world tender with a good price, but I don't issue set prices anymore, the situation is too volatile for that at the moment."