Blog | 07/09/2020 06:40:23 | 4 min Read time

Labels matter in the post-COVID world

Harri Janhunen

Vice President, Strategy & Commercial Development, UPM Raflatac

This spring, all our daily routines altered completely. We needed to stay at home, cook for ourselves, and buy more home care products to keep our homes clean and virus-free. Many of us also developed a new level of familiarity with online shopping. Categories that have been migrating to the web received a further boost, and new categories, such as food, established themselves firmly in the digital domain. 

For a few weeks, we saw the demand for packaging and labeling grow exponentially. Our role was vital in the supply chain making it possible for the communities around the world to be supplied with food and other essential products. UPM Raflatac teams, as well as those of our suppliers and customers, succeeded in keeping operations running throughout. This is an inspiring example showing that our value chain is structurally sound and prepared to meet the changes we are facing, both in the short and long term. 


Bumpy road ahead

Now economies are taking careful steps to reopen and demand for labels has normalized, but what lies ahead? The pandemic has changed consumer behavior, but for how long? The global economy is expected to contract significantly this year. How will this affect us and the whole industry? These are the kinds of questions we have to contend with right now. 
In strategy work, we normally look far to the horizon, what we want to be in five years. Now, even megatrends, the bedrock of all strategies, are shifting. We are not skiing down a clear slope but have moguls ahead that can take our skis in unexpected directions. We need to flex our legs constantly to sense the shifts and adapt to them. 

Hygienic, local, sustainable 

Some things seem clear though. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of hygiene, and this is likely to reinforce the trend towards packaged food products. As part of this, people will also want information about the products they buy, and this can be provided through labels. It is likely we will continue buying food online, and this might bring forward new opportunities where labels can provide added value. One example are new anti-tamper labels applied to food deliveries, guaranteeing that products have been handled hygienically through the whole delivery chain. 

I also believe that “regionalization” of the world economy will continue, and local products and brands will feature largely in consumers' lives. Labels play an important role in building brands and helping them differentiate. Our printers and the whole industry are in a unique position to serve brands in a responsive and locally relevant way in all markets, supporting this trend. 
Lastly, there has been some discussion about the relevance of sustainability given the global economic crisis caused by the pandemic. However, what we are seeing is that sustainability continues to take center stage in our industry. 
All this means that the need for sustainable packaging solutions, labels included, will continue to grow and the value labels can provide also keeps going up. Now, we have an excellent opportunity to do our part in the green recovery the European Union is calling for by continuing to innovate and provide sustainable labeling solutions for brands and businesses.  

Bringing global and local insights together 

Going forward, we need to bring together the strengths of our global value chain. Our clients know exactly what is happening in their markets and what took place last Monday. We need to listen closely to all the links in our value chain to assimilate information from them, combine it with our own insights, and turn it into knowledge that will benefit us all, from raw material producers to consumers. 
Armed with this knowledge, we can provide solutions to existing and emerging needs together in an efficient, flexible, and sustainable manner. Together we are stronger and more prepared to meet the challenges of a post-COVID world. 
Sustainability speeds us on the way to recovery



Harri Janhunen

Harri Janhunen

Vice President, Strategy & Commercial Development, UPM Raflatac | ”Failing with enthusiasm is a key step towards success.”