How to Make the Right Paper Choices
Last year, Print+Promo gave a major update on the paper industry, sharing the challenges around the growing cost of materials to make pulp, mill closures and other hiccups. This year is no different, except with the additional struggles surrounding the current global pandemic.
Many businesses have taken a massive hit due to current circumstances. The paper and packaging industry is no different. More papermakers, like Verso Corporation, have reportedly idled mills due to paper demands shrinking, but other companies have stayed resilient in their fight against it all.
While it’s never good news when businesses, or in this case, paper mills, have to shut down, the Paper and Packaging Board (P+PB) has some positive information.
“Research data shows 64 percent of surveyed consumers agree that they think more highly of companies that package their products in paper-based packaging, and 79 percent agree that even as technology becomes more advanced, paper continues to play an important role in daily life,” according to a P+PB press release.
In the paper, packaging and print industries, technology advancements are always a threat, but this data just proves that end-users still believe paper products are a necessity. Thinking back to before the pandemic, plastic menus were huge sellers. Now, as states continue to go through reopening phases, restaurants are having to recreate single-use or digital menus to reduce the spread of COVID-19, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The digital menu option isn’t helpful if a customer didn’t bring a mobile device or isn’t tech savvy, but the abundance of paper menus distributed and then disposed of after guests leave presents new sales opportunities.
Furthermore, the pandemic and a disruption in plastics recycling have continued the trend of sustainable products. With the safer-at-home orders still in place in certain areas, people have been motivated to do home-improvement projects, which may include some specialty paper products, such as wallpaper made from renewable-fiber substrates.
Print+Promo recently chatted with Lisa Berghaus, director of marketing communications for Monadnock Paper Mills Inc., Bennington, N.H., to get a better look into what paper products are currently in demand, what the paper market is looking like from a mill’s perspective, choosing the right paper choice for a project and more.
What are the top paper products you specialize in?
Lisa Berghaus: Monadnock Paper Mills specializes in fine printing and packaging papers, garment tags and price tickets, paper gift cards and environmental graphics/signage. We also manufacture a broad range of technical specialty papers for medical packaging, wallcovering, graphics tape and chart recording. Some of our papers are used in a process and some are converted to high-performance, value-added products.
Have any of these products changed or have you seen an increase in demand for different specialty paper products over the last six to 12 months?
LB: Due to consumer demand, Monadnock Paper Mills launched a full line of 100-percent post-consumer waste (PCW) recycled, coated, two side fine printing papers. The universal coating achieved 3-star certification from RIT for HP Indigo presses. And just [last] month, we launched a line of uncoated and coated 100-percent PCW performance board for packaging—again, addressing consumer demand.
We’re seeing a lot of interest in fashionable wallpaper and pressure-sensitive custom wall murals. Consumer demand for these finishes are probably due to the pandemic and people being forced to stay inside and rethink or update current decor.
What does the paper market currently look like? Is it growing or declining?
LB: Over the past six to nine months, Monadnock Paper Mills has released several new product lines. Most of them are made with third-party certified, 100-percent PCW fiber. We are also launching renewable paper alternatives to styrene for rigid signage. So, the landscape is shifting. I think that the COVID-19 crisis and a significant disruption in plastics recycling have refocused the world on sustainability. We’re doing our part helping brands to build a better world.
Have you noticed any recent supply changes? If so, when did you begin noticing these changes?
LB: The market uncertainty has impacted the cost of fiber. There have also been supply chain disruptions, as well as transportation disruptions. When there’s no one in the office, there’s no office paper waste going to the recycle bins. That’s where a lot of the premium white PCW recycled fiber comes from.
What is the process of choosing the right paper for certain projects? Do you have any specific advice?
LB: Design, form and function are all critical factors when specifying paper for a project. We recommend that marketers and designers work with their printers and paper suppliers early and often during the creative process.
Designing for print is a distinct discipline. The key fundamentals when designing for print include:
- Rely on a strong team of partners
- Start with exceptional artwork
- Manage color carefully
- Understand the impact of paper characteristics
- Maximize resources for sustainability
- Consider print an investment, not an expense
Weight, thickness, texture and shade all need to work with the design concept and the intended application. For packaging, of course, it gets more complicated. [In this case,] dummies are your friend. Have your printer make mock-ups of your project. Make sure you factor in the user experience. It has to be beautiful and functional.
All of our products are manufactured for their intended use. We take time to understand the performance requirements from the converter, to the printer, all the way to the final user. Every paper is different. For example, a beverage label has to make it through print, post-press treatments, adhesives, bottling, boxing, transportation, refrigeration, shelving and often, ultimately, into a wet ice bucket. Talk about torture. The label is a tiny little billboard that tells a story about how much you care about your brand. If it bubbles up, becomes discolored or just plain falls off, you’ve probably lost a sale.
Another important aspect of paper choice is environmental impact. Many brands have strict guidelines on recycled content, recyclability and the specific impacts from the paper manufacturing process. Some of these include clean air, water conservation, waste reduction, renewable energy and emissions reductions. Many brands are looking to replace their plastics (vinyl, PVC and styrene) with renewable and/or recyclable high-performance papers.
Are there certain tools and resources your company offers on paper choices?
LB: Monadnock Paper Mills provides specification tools—including swatchbooks, paper and printed samples—to the design, print and packaging community.
We also just updated our environmental calculator to generate certificates demonstrating savings when a brand specifies recycled papers. You can find our environmental calculator [online].
What are some of the main challenges you’ve been faced with in the paper industry?
LB: Despite a wave of commentary and cost-reduction campaigns disguised as environmental initiatives, paper does not kill trees. In fact, having third-party certified, responsible sources of wood fiber ensures that forests remain healthy and plentiful for future generations to come. If landholders couldn’t make a living off of their forests, they’d probably put up condos or grow something else.
There has [also] been a lot of consolidation in our industry. So many mills have closed or shifted their focus to other products. Fortunately for us, we are a privately held, very diversified and nimble specialty mill that can change with the times and market needs. Brands, marketers and engineers bring us opportunities to develop new and better products.