Labelexpo Asia 2017 showed the Chinese label market moving to a new level of maturity 12 years after the first show in Shanghai. All exhibitors noted an increased level of professionalism and interest in new technologies – particularly digital, flexography and hybrid printing.
The Chinese machine manufacturing sector has responded to this shift. They are buying in top-level components such as Rexroth and Bosch servo drives and control software and responding to requirements for greater mechanical reliability, combination processing and automation.
This trend is driven by the Chinese government’s decision to emphasize consumer spending over export-led growth as the main driver of economic development.
Allied to greater disposable income for the fast-growing middle class, this has led to a retail boom spreading from the coastal cities to the second and third tier cities in the west and north. Unlike in India, this boom has been spearheaded by global retailers such as Walmart and Carrefour, and they bring their global supply chain of multinational brands – all of whom are seeking local sources of supply for top-level label technologies.
And Chinese brands have in turn been forced to respond, increasing their decoration levels and responding to demands for shorter runs of more heavily differentiated products. In many cases quality requirements of local brands are higher than those of the global brands.
Chinese brands as well as global brands are now auditing converter plants and ensuring their label suppliers are using state-of-the-art equipment and process control. Cheap copies of old western flexo presses are unlikely to pass such an audit.
The Chinese government is also impacting the choice of presses. The latest five-year plan aims to promote flexography and eliminate global warming emissions from solvents. There certainly were still letterpress machines at the show, but most Chinese letterpress and intermittent offset manufacturers are now bringing out their first flexo presses.
The Chinese label market has changed for good and it will be interesting to see if western press manufacturers are better able to play in this fast-growing sector.