By now, the print label industry is quite familiar with emergence of digital printing, and acknowledges the need for converters to wholeheartedly embrace digital alongside the pillars of their flexographic and analog presses. While the rise of digital label printing is well known, many printers are yet to be convinced that they themselves should adopt this technology — especially when business is still good.

But the change is coming, whether printers want it to or not. This inevitability is driven by a force that is beyond anyone — let alone any industry’s — to control. So what’s behind the wheel driving this change? Millennials. Just now starting to enter the workforce en masse, their influence on business, industry, and everything else, only grows as millennials begin replacing the retiring older generations and that means changes are soon to follow. Indeed, we’ve already seen a few of these significant changes, arriving in the form of social media, smartphones and the Internet of Things. This is only the beginning.

The largest generation this country has seen by far (over 80 million in the U.S. alone1), the millennials have become a marketing demographic with major influence — and disruptive potential. Following in the wake of these tech-savvy consumers, brands are scrambling to discover and then meet their demands. In fact, this generation is truly different from those that have come before it. This can be summed up with just one word: Technology.

Technology today is vastly different from just 10 years ago. Technology — and access to all the information in the world — is as intimately connected to millennials as one of their own limbs. Technology also means that millennials have more autonomy, more immediate, relevant information when they want it, and the ability to disrupt an entire industry within moments. As much as technology drives and enables them, they also drive the evolution of technology. If they want something, they either find it, or they build it themselves.

The printing industry will of course, live on, but… it will change. While there will always be a need for traditional flexo/analog press runs, digital is growing in relevance and need as the shift of power comes fully to this new generations hands.

Understanding and meeting the needs of this generation is up to brands, marketing agencies and the like; those needs then translate to industry and business, and this is where it affects label converters.

Brands evolve for millennials

When it comes to marketing, the golden rule is: know your target market. By understanding the demographics, interests, and desires of the people a brand is targeting, they can better anticipate the future direction of this market, which allows a savvy brand to be in the right place with the right products at the right time.

This method is — and should be — embraced by B2B companies and industries that work with B2C companies. By anticipating and preparing for the needs of a client, a company can confidently offer solutions, attract new business and ultimately grow profit margins. This is occurring already in the print label industry, and yet many printers remain aloof — at best — towards really embracing digital technology.

The food and beverage industry is a perfect example. There has been a major shift toward healthy food consciousness over the last decade, resulting in the reemergence of small and local food source solutions. Millennials in particular are very concerned with green efforts, locally-sourced natural food, and they are demanding that their food be healthy in order to fuel their lifestyles.

They pay more for these food options, and brands everywhere have emerged trying to meet this demand. Not only are the older, well established giants offering all sorts of new “health conscious” offerings, but some are beginning to alter their long-standing recipes from genetically modified ingredients to more natural solutions. The FDA is even on board with the trend for better food, having just enacted a new rule requiring all processed food manufacturers to eliminate trans fats from their products.2

Custom labels, food, & niche markets

As new markets and products are developed and launched, the companies behind them are faced with an even greater challenge in forecasting demand — a critical aspect of supply chain efficiency. Companies today are embracing a demand-sensing strategy which makes use of near real-time market information in comparison to traditional forecasting which relies heavily on historical sales data. Data mining has shaped an environment where brand owners are demanding more flexibility and responsiveness from their suppliers, which forces a shift of the burden upstream to their suppliers.

Label converters must now look for the same flexibility and responsiveness from their printing equipment, the advantages that digital printing has over conventional printing methods offer exactly the type of flexibility food and beverage manufacturers are searching for. The ability to manage artwork electronically in real-time through the elimination of the printed plate, significant reductions in set-up time and waste results all in faster turnaround times, and most importantly, a more economical short run offering to the end customer. A label converter now has the ability to proof on the press in real-time, and can also provide the customer the flexibility to change designs and order quantities to help manage the rising market volatility lead by the change in consumer behavior.

The needs of a brand are ultimately the needs of their target market(s). By understanding the consumer base better, the label printing industry can — if they so choose — prepare for and begin the transition now, before the market grows beyond traditional printing capabilities, allowing disruptors an opportunity to establish themselves.


Fromm, Jeff, Celest Lindell, and Lainie Decker. “American Millennials: Deciphering the Enigma Generation.” American Millennials: Deciphering the Enigma Generation (2011): 1-90. Barkley, 2011. Web.

“Minimally Processed Foods.” Food Engineering Series (2015): 1-2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. U.S Department of Health and Human Services, June 2015. Web.