Kraft commits to injection molded IML, but industry still lags in North America

Each year at the annual IMLCON (Inmold Labeling Conference), which now collaborates with its "companion" trade group the In-Mold Decorating Assn. in IMDCON, the report on IML in North America remains the same: it's still a niche market with only about 2% of label demand being IML. Each year, attendees also hear of the tremendous opportunities for growth in IML.

Global demand for all labels was 43.5 billion square meters in 2010, according to William Llewellyn, senior consultant and VP for AWA Alexander Watson Associates, who presented the data in his global IML/IMD market review. Asia saw the greatest demand with 33%, Europe represented 31% of that demand, followed by the United States with 24%. South America saw only 9% of the global demand. "We're seeing a significant softening in demand in 2011," commented Llewllyn.

Pressure-sensitive labels represent the largest percentage (41%) of all labels in demand primarily because of their flexibility in usage, followed by glue-applied (40%). Shrink sleeving held a 12% portion of the demand, followed by IML.

World demand for in-mold labels is forecast to expand 6.0% annually through 2015 to 870 million square meters according to The Freedonia Group's latest market study. Advances will be driven by the strong potential for growth in the use of injection molded IML technologies, as well as the expanding range of applications, said the Freedonia Group.

Llewllyn noted that the injection molding market is a "stable"market, but is slow to change, and he's seeing a "dramatic decline" in extrusion blow demand in North America, with only about an 8% growth rate in 2010. Llewellyn's study shows that in 2010, the U.S. IML market represented about 220 million square meters.

"In-mold labels saw global growth of 10.5% as demand grew for IML in all regions in 2010 except North America," said Llewllyn. "Food packaging is the largest market for IML, primarily because no matter how bad things get, you still have to eat."

Continued price increases in all raw materials for labels had many buying in anticipation of further price increases as some companies removed manufacturing capacity, which led to material shortages particularly in polyester film.          

Durable drives IMD

For in-mold decorating (IMD), durable goods have increasing applications, with the automotive market being the largest in North America. In Asia, IMD's largest applications are in consumer electronics. With an 8.5% growth rate in 2010, Llewllyn noted that IMD is showing "good recovery."

Jon Knight, director, packaging, Label and Technology Business for Treofan Americas LLC, noted that while IML demand in North America remains low, the opportunities are huge. Treofan has invested heavily in its North American manufacturing. In 2007, the company spent $110 million in a plant in Mexico, and recently completed the installation of a new 5-layer OPP line for labels, completing phase two at that facility. Today, 30% of Treofan's label capacity is in North America.

Kraft commits to injection IML

That said, Knight noted that 60% of injection IML (I-IML) labels still come from Europe. So, what will be the "tipping point" for I-IML in North America? The big excitement at the IMLCOM was the fact that the first global brand owner has committed to I-IML. Kraft Foods is producing cream cheese containers with I-IML, which is a huge leap forward for IML in North America.  With more label capacity coming online in North America, Knight's outlook for the future is bright (so bright he actually put on sun-glasses to make his point): "More major brand owners will adopt IML and select private label brands will move to IML as well."

Commenting on the Kraft decision, Peter Paelinck, business development manager for Belgium-based printing company Verstraete, a supplier of creative labels for the IML market, said that "Kraft was a top-down decision. The CEO saw what we were doing with cream cheese in Europe and said 'why aren't we doing this here?'"

If the 2011 IMLCON proved one thing it was that while everyone agreed that the opportunities in North America for IML, in injection molding and thermoforming, are huge, but there continue to "hurdles" to maximizing demand for the technology. Cost was often cited as the most limiting factor in brand owners adopting IML for their products.

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