Interview Series: What do UK companies think about printing for food packaging?

JFM has worked hard to standardise the prepress process and implement ­technology to meet evolving customer needs(Photo Credit: © shot to stun)

In order to address increasing concerns about plastic waste and food safety, several printers and suppliers in the UK and Ireland were asked for their thoughts on what many consider to be a growing crisis. The European Flexographic Industry Association approached its members about this topic and found that innovation is the dominant response to these concerns.

EFIA members speak out


The European Flexographic Industry Association (EFIA) represents more than 80% of the UK and Irish ­flexo printing community, working with its members and supporters to educate and lobby on a number of issues including training and education, legislation and comprehensive print standards.

For this article, several of its members responded to Flexo & Gravure Global with some of their most recent experiences in printing for food packaging. While of grave concern, it is clear that the environmental debate and the role of plastic can also be seen as an opportunity.

Steve Mulcahy, CEO, Contact ­Originators

Steve Mulcahy, CEO,
Contact Originators,
an innovation driven graphics management company

“Whether glass, metal, paper or plastic, the food packaging industry has come under significant pressure for change in recent months from a range of sources. From the media outpouring on ­marine litter and the use of plastic packaging, to the government ­implementation of the Swiss ­Ordinance in May 2017 or to the increasing challenges of developing the circular economy. The food packaging printing sector has had a fairly torrid time keeping up with the latest needs and requirements of its customers and key stakeholders. From a reprographics and graphics management perspective, this change can be good for business. We rely on new product launches to drive ­volume so new labelling, data or product design not only creates ­demand but also drives innovation.

A recent key breakthrough for our team, working collaboratively with a range of suppliers, was the successful delivery of extended gamut process printing on corrugate – a first for the UK.

Corrugated has traditionally been tricky to manage due to the inconsistency of the substrate and the technical demands on the flexo process, but Contact Originators took software designed for other applications, broke the rules and applied them successfully on line. A great result for everyone involved and a significant step forward for the industry.


Nick Smith, Managing Director, Parkside

Nick Smith,
Managing director,
Parkside Flexibles,
a leading UK independent flexible packaging manufacturer

Flexible packaging manufacturers are certainly deeply involved in the plastics debate. We produce lightweight, strong, high barrier, highly decorated pack solutions that, in the main, work well from a carbon and sustainability perspective. However, many flexible packaging solutions are challenged when it comes to recyclability.

Parkside recognised this as an opportunity and has worked with a number of start up and eco-brands to develop compostable flexible packaging solutions to complement their natural, organic brand positioning. Whilst still a very small part of the market, we believe we are going to see a whole new raft of packaging solutions coming to market to meet the challenges of a sustainable society.

A good example is Nobo – a plant-based “milk style” chocolate disc snack product. For this special application, Parkside designed a laminated triple-layer pack structure consisting of paper, Natureflex and a biopolymer sealant web and included bio-based materials such as wood pulp and corn starch, delivered under the Pack-2-Nature brand.


Rob Hawkins,
Sun Chemical,
a global ink and pigment manufacturer

Along with all other members of EFIA, I’m sure we’re all feeling a little overwhelmed with the media attention on the food packaging industry at the moment. But we certainly can’t bury our heads in the sand and hope it goes away.

At Sun Chemical, we fully expect to see some material switching – plastic to paper and carton – and pressure on manufacturers to develop more eco-friendly products. We’ve done a great job of meeting the requirements of the Swiss Ordinance but our job isn’t finished.

Sustainability can mean a lot of things. Sun Chemical Europe is currently working across its entire product range of food packaging inks and pigments to bring together a portfolio of products that meet the brand owner’s needs from a bio-content, recyclability and compostability perspective.

We hope that by developing a comprehensive portfolio, we give brands choice and the ability to drive their agenda whatever their environmental strategy. Whether meeting the needs of a regenerative circular economy, water or carbon footprinting or bio-content or compostability, Sun Chemical will have a solution.

Mark McKee,
JFM Plates,
a UK reprographic management company

In recent years JFM Plates has clearly ­become a business partner to its key customers instead of simply being a high-end reprographics and plate supplier. Through close contact and a focus on continuous improvement, our client relationships are built based on trust, ­honesty and hard work.

We see a number of trends in the food packaging printing market ­today where we are supporting our customers. For example, the market is showing that CMYK/CMYK+OGV designs, instead of the traditional CMYK+PMS, are now fully acceptable in the food industry. Additionally an emerging hybrid-printing environment is forcing standardised processes in digital and analogue technologies. Full HD Flexo and Esko Crystal technology have simplified and standardised flexo plate making and improved printing quality and stability for the industry, which is a good step forward. JFM Plates has also worked hard to standardise the prepress process and implement technology to meet evolving customer needs. The entire process is now well described, from the artwork and design through to standardisation and automation.

The last, and one of the most important improved processes, is visual and colour inspection applied on the press to guarantee that the repro is correctly prepared and maintained during production.

This full workflow is not only cutting the customer’s costs but dramatically reducing implementation time. Speed to market for brands is critical and the reprographics house has a huge role to play in influencing this.

Finally the brand owner is able to see the whole process online. Now with complete transparency, the process has been revolutionised and JFM Plates is one of the leaders in this implementation for customers across the UK and Europe.


Director of Skymark, Paul Neath

Paul Neath,
a leading flexible packaging manufacturer

Skymark has been working on a number of sustainability driven projects of late. Most notably we collaborated with EU partners to develop technology that enables printed films to be recycled by successfully removing contaminants and odours that often hinder the downstream process. This enables Skymark to offer closed loop options that takes advantage of recycling and adding value to printed film waste.

The company has also been working with major brands and retailers to lightweight their products, thus reducing virgin plastic consumption in line with consumer demand.

A recent example is the development of a range of packs with significantly reduced weight for use in Tesco’s range of own label baby wipes. Skymark developed a 35µm PE film, down from 50 µm, to be used in a laminate structure that is lighter and thinner than previous designs. The result was a saving of 57 tonnes of plastic from the waste stream in its first year of use.

The new pack structure brings a wealth of benefits to both manufacturing and the supply chain. The thinner film means there are more metres on any one roll, reducing the number of roll changes during pack production; as well as a reduction in the number of pallets being shipped, stored and moved. This all helps to further reduce the overall carbon footprint and environmental impact of the product.

Furthermore, the thinner film requires fewer precious raw materials, therefore minimising packaging waste both at the point of manufacture and when the consumer disposes of the pack at the end of its service life.

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