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45th Annual PRIMA Conference
18-20 May 2014 I Hamburg I Germany

"We build too many walls and not enough bridges."

The theme of the 2014 PRIMA conference, held in Hamburg in May, was building bridges. How can the industry bridge the gap with the digital world to create durable, lasting monuments and overcome its obstacles? How can brand managers use packaging to bridge the gaps in changing lifestyles and reach out to the consumer? How can innovation and story-telling bridge the gap in perception so that consumers fully understand the inherent environmental advantage of paper? These were just some of the questions in a lively two days of debate and analysis.

There is no denying times are challenging. European producers face high wood and energy costs and the graphic paper market is in long-term decline. Delegates were reminded both of the importance of Asia and that its consumption potential could be overstated. Yet despite the recognition that the ride is not easy, there was an unmistakably upbeat feel to this year´s event. Perhaps this reflects a change in economic mood, but also a recognition that as the dust created by disruptive technology settles, the industry is emerging fighting. Focus has moved from the impact of gadgets and technology to communicating and interacting with the consumer. It´s all about how paper can build bridges in a rapidly-evolving world.
Specialities, tissue and packaging in particular look exciting for those willing to differentiate, and many are doing just that: Papermakers are looking at ways to make P&B the number one choice in many applications. Packaging producers are working on everything from ethylene absorbers and functional printing to intuitive packs and mechano-active solutions which respond to the environment - a smart pack that turns into a bowl when filled with liquid, for example. Packaging is also feeling the positive impact of the e-tailer: All those products ordered on line need packaging to reach the consumer.

The graphic paper market may be smaller in the future, but it is far from dead. Advances in digital printing and partnerships with new retailer-publishers and e-tailers are emerging and presenting opportunities. Print may never return to the prime role it once enjoyed, but high-value opportunities are increasing and print is still a massive driver of on-line sales. Interestingly, purely on-line retailers are now moving into certain areas of print.

Jukka Kiiskinen, MD & Co-founder of Shortcut Media, explained that an integrated approach between print and digital can generate a strong bond with consumers, which is why his company is "making print clickable".

Walter Trezek, Managing Director of the Document Exchange Network, said email and direct mail are very much perceived as the prime channel of communication when it comes to purchasing goods. Interestingly, direct mail has a leading edge across all age groups and the letterbox is the leading channel for customised communication leading to the highest percentage of sales. Mobile printing is another interesting development, as consumers move from digital to print and back again.

Pulp producers too were in buoyant mood. Magnus Björkman, President of Södra Cell International, said one of Södra´s main reasons for optimism when it comes to pulp is the prediction that in 15 years´ time we will need 150 million tonnes more paper in the world, despite the invasion of digital media. That means 36 new world class pulp mills, some 200 million m3 of pulpwood (equivalent to Europe´s total consumption of pulpwood today) and 120 million tonnes more recycled paper.

Increased buying power from two billion new citizens in India and China moving into the middle class will result in higher paper demand, even if they leapfrog western graphic paper consumption patterns to come extent. They will also drive demand for more textiles, another long-term opportunity for cellulose.

In short, the future is about performance and capturing the consumer´s attention, and the industry is well placed to do this. But there is still work to be done on communicating the inherent sustainable credentials of paper and board to the consumer. After all, as Linus Larsson of SEB Enskilda put it: "The good news is that there is a need for what the paper industry provides. It makes products that society wants and it does indeed build a lot of bridges in the world in which we live. No other value chain can claim a sunny day as its starting point."

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