However, since the last quarter of 2015, the ink industry has seen no fewer than 16 acquisitions, ranging in size from small bolt-on purchases to Flint Group’s acquisition of American Inks & Coatings (AIC), the eighth-largest ink manufacturer in the US, according to Ink World’s 2016 North American Top 20 Report.
It is hard to say whether this flurry of activity is just an aberration, or whether it is a market correction. Ink industry executives agree that the changes are impacting the industry.
Flint Group has been the most active company in the M&A frenzy. In the last 12 months, the company has acquired Xeikon, the second-largest digital press manufacture in the narrow web segment; AIC, Advanced Color Systems and Printec Industries, all of which are North American packaging ink specialists; Siegwerk’s web offset and news ink business; and Druckfarben, a UK-based sheetfed ink supplier. Flint Group also sold its European publication gravure ink division to Sun Chemical.
The Siegwerk web offset and news ink acquisition shows Flint Group’s continued emphasis on those markets.
“Flint Group demonstrated our dedication to web offset printers by purchasing Siegwerk’s web offset business,” said Bill Miller, president Print Media and Pigments, Chips & Resins.
“This commitment guarantees a long term supply position for our heatset and news ink customers,” Flint Group CEO Antoine Fady added.
Doug Aldred, president Packaging & Narrow Web at Flint Group, said that 2016 was an exciting year for Flint Group’s packaging ink business after making three very strategic acquisitions in the North American Paper & Board business segment, and Druckfarben for the sheetfed segment in the UK.
“With our recent acquisitions in North America, Flint Group is focusing on supporting customers with the very best products, services and staff of experts,” Aldred said. “Flint Group’s goal is to provide best in class products and services to the packaging customers around the world – supplying the highest quality inks, coatings and technical expertise. These strategic acquisitions confirm our commitment to our customers and this growing segment. The management and employees of all three acquisitions have remained in the business and will continue to support Flint Group to improve our value, service and proposition to our expanding customer base.”
In addition to selling its web offset and news ink operation to Flint Group, Siegwerk acquired ACTEGA Colorchemie, a European water-based packaging ink specialist from ALTANA. This fits in with the company’s emphasis on packaging.
“As our packaging printing market share grows, the role which print media plays for Siegwerk will further diminish,” said Siegwerk CEO Herbert Forker. “One key business transaction finalized in 2016 was the sale of our web offset business. This sale was counter-balanced by our acquisition and integration of ACTEGA Colorchemie, expanding Siegwerk’s footprint, portfolio and service capabilities for water-based inks in Europe.”
The addition of Flint Group’s European publication gravure ink unit was a significant move for Sun Chemical.
“Sun Chemical continued to strengthen its position in the publication printing market despite the ongoing industry decline, with the acquisition of Flint Group’s European publication gravure ink business,” said Felipe Mellado, chief marketing officer, Sun Chemical.
Toyo Ink Group picked up DYO Printing Inks, the largest ink manufacturer in Turkey. Tadashi Nakano, manager, Global Innovation Division at Toyo Ink Co., Ltd., said that consolidation is picking up in the ink industry.
“Recently we are observing a consolidation trend in the ink industry, both in terms of companies’ size as bigger groups are absorbing smaller companies, and also in terms of specialization, as some companies are focusing in some types of products while selling the business parts which they are not interested in,” Nakano said. “Toyo Ink Group is also taking part in this consolidation with the acquisitions of Arets in Belgium and DYO in Turkey.”
“While the market size of printing inks is still growing, the number of printers and converters might be reduced, making the competition stronger, and that can lead to a product-mix price reduction,” added Nakano.
While Wikoff Color has not participated in this year’s M&A moves, Geoff Peters, president and CEO of Wikoff Color, said that acquisition remains very much on the table.
“Acquisition is part of Wikoff’s strategic plan, which will allow us to continue to match our customers in size and scope,” said Peters. “We also find opportunity in our competitors’ consolidation where relationships and product mix might change.”
“We really haven’t seen much impact from the consolidation so far within the ink industry itself,” Rick Clendenning, president and CEO of INX International Ink Co., noted. “Honestly, we all could benefit from even more consolidation of ink companies within North America.”
Apart from consolidation, the past year also saw ink manufacturers adding new facilities in key markets. For example, Flint Group completed a significant investment in its solvent-based manufacturing facility in Lebanon, OH, and Flint Group Europe has recently finished a fully automated ink manufacturing investment at its water-based mother plant in Winschoten, Netherlands serving the Paper & Board business in EMEA. INX International completed the expansion of its Charlotte, NC manufacturing facility, and is beginning work on its energy curable inks and coatings manufacturing facility in Edwardsville, KS. Toyo Ink Group expanded its production facilities in growth regions such as India and Southeast Asia, and founded a local subsidiary in Mexico.
Consolidation within the Printing Industry and Supply Chain
These consolidations have not taken place in a vacuum; the printing industry and key suppliers have been actively undergoing their own M&A changes.
“The consolidation within the printing industry and our customer base has had positive effects on INX so far,” Clendenning said. “We have been fortunate to be involved with all the companies consolidating and are supporting them in the transitions where we have been asked to. As far as the consolidations in our supply chain, we have seen little effect other than some upward movement in costs with certain materials handled within the consolidating companies.”
“We believe Wikoff will benefit from some of the significant consolidation initiatives in 2016,” said Ken Klug, Wikoff Color’s director of purchasing. “Consolidation within the printing industry and supply chain affords Wikoff opportunities for growth within existing supplier and customer relationships.”
“At Siegwerk, our supply chain is traditionally consolidated and we expect it to remain as such,” Forker said. “As it relates to the printing industry, we see a slight but stable trend connected to the overall consolidation. Siegwerk will work to make the best of it and grow with the winners.”
“With the movements of the group in Europe and Turkey, we are aiming to expand our footprint in a variety of markets, from the already developed European market to the new markets which we can explore from Turkey, such as Middle East and North Africa,” Nakano said. “Also, we are putting efforts in expanding our businesses in China or South East Asia as well as the Americas where the competition might be tighter.”
Heiner Klokkers, management, Europe and South America for hubergroup, said that hubergroup’s strong backwards integration into raw materials is helping the company manage a safe supply chain for key raw materials, thus creating a safe supply situation for the printing industry.
“The consolidation of our customer base partly reduces our complexity in our customer portfolio, but it changes the way business is negotiated,” added Klokkers. “Generally speaking, things just keep changing and that is what we’re dealing with on a daily basis.”
2016 and the Ink Industry
Ink industry executives said that 2016 has been a solid year for the industry and their companies. For example, Mellado said that 2016 has been a good year for Sun Chemical in all markets, and has continued to make important strides forward. Clendenning also said that 2016 has been a good year for INX.
“Not great, but another good, solid year,” Clendenning added. “Our business is growing - not quite as much as we anticipated - but with strong sales in the last quarter, we could meet or exceed our expectations.”
Forker said that 2016 has been a challenging, yet highly active, year for Siegwerk.
“We continue to focus our efforts on expanding our core business of inks for packaging printing,” Forker added. “Our business units with the strongest growth potential remain Flexible Packaging and Narrow Web. Growth here will come primarily from emerging markets, mostly in Asia. With a combination of best-in-class ink performance, optimum product safety and continuous guidance and technical support, Siegwerk is making every effort to assist customers around the world in addressing upcoming trends and meeting their individual needs with innovative solutions.”
Peters said that Wikoff Color saw sustained growth in 2016, both in North America and internationally.
“A large part of this can be contributed to the increases seen in the label, flexible packaging and digital market segments,” Peters added.
Even though the web offset and news markets are declining, Miller reported that Flint Group did well in those segments in 2016.
“The web offset printing segment continued to shrink last year – news more than heatset, but both felt the pinch,” Miller said. “Flint Group certainly felt the effects as well, but we planned for this, stuck to our plans, and, as a result, performed well in 2016. Region by region, results varied. Business in Latin America and Asia was not as strong as we would have liked, in part due to the economic and political volatility. And consolidation of our customer base was a big factor in North America and Europe – as well as other regions – creating both challenges and opportunities. All told, Flint Group’s web offset businesses fared well, and we look forward to 2017.”
hubergroup USA CEO Derek McFarland said that for the most part, hubergroup experienced stability in the North American market as the economy continued to recover slowly from the recession lows.
“Challenged segments of the market like commercial print were balanced by growing segment like packaging,” McFarland observed. “For the challenged segments, service and technical support were important differentiating factors as conventional printers placed higher emphasis on productivity. The North American hubergroup team structured ourselves to respond to the needs of both the mature and growing segments. This model, combined with our high-performing global product basket, helped North America achieve modest growth in 2016.”
“Overall, 2016 was a good year for the hubergroup,” Klokkers noted. “The results of our restructuring efforts are paying off and in combination with the launch of new products, we improved our top line growth, especially in the packaging markets.”
Nakano said that Toyo Ink America’s offset sheeted inks sales remained steady, supported by consumer spending in the US.
“In particular, sales of UV inks remained strong, in part due to a growing market of low energy-curing systems in the US and Europe,” Nakano added. “In Japan, in addition to the continuous decline in the domestic sales of gravure inks for publications, demand for gravure inks for construction materials also decreased. On the other hand, sales in Japan of our mainstay gravure inks for packaging were strong, mainly for beverage and private brand applications, and as a result, profitability improved.
“In offset inks, the export profit from Japan was squeezed by the strong yen, in addition to the continuous decrease in demand due to the structural depression where the information-related print market shrank associated with the progress of digitalization within the country,” Nakano added. “However, sales of UV ink expanded not only in Japan but also on a global scale, particularly in Europe. Sales were weak in China and Southeast Asia, reflecting the slowdown of economic activity. In India and Brazil, sales expanded and profitability also improved. The Toyo Ink Group also boosted its development capability in the Asian region with the opening of technical center for offset inks in Thailand and another for liquid inks in China.”
Patrick Carlisle, president of Joules Angstrom UV Printing Inks, who is currently serving as president of the National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers, said that 2016 was a respectable year for Joules Angstrom. “Stronger than average but below expectations,” Carlisle added.
Expectations for the Ink Industry
The ink industry leaders we spoke with are optimistic about the direction of the industry heading into 2017.
“I believe 2017 will be different than the last couple of years,” Clendenning said. “We will see more competitive threats and raw material cost increases, which is a dangerous combination for our industry. The INX management team will have to watch this activity closely and act responsibly, not only to help our own company but the industry as well.
“We expect 2017 to be solid,” said Carlisle. “Our commitment to the specialty markets remains constant. The unknown of the political climate and its effect on industry is the continuing variable we all wish we could overcome. A crystal ball would be a nice addition.”
Peters said that Wikoff Color expects an increase in its revenue stream in the coming year.
“We are forecasting continued growth in the packaging segment as well as in our label and digital markets,” Peters added. “Our expertise and capabilities in energy-cure technology will certainly contribute to this growth.”
Forker said that Siegwerk anticipates seeing a continued slowdown of growth in many developing countries, especially in Latin America, as a result of current economic challenges there.
“In mature markets, we see a pressure on margins,” added Forker. “Siegwerk will continue to work closely with customers in order to develop optimal solutions that fit their individual needs and support them with guidance and technical know-how for the best-in-class printing results they desire.
“We expect packaging printing will gain further momentum in 2017,” Forker continued. “One of the recent trends is the growing short-run demand that is driven by brand owners desiring regionalization and personalization as well as effect varnishes and special finishing of their product packaging. These opportunities will further drive growth of digital printing technologies in packaging, allowing packaging manufacturers to react more quickly to specific customer requirements. In addition, the speed of flexible packaging printing presses continues to increase, requiring new formulation demands on traditional ink technology.”
Forker said that Siegwerk expects a gradual volume switch from conventional UV to low migration UV inks in the printing market.
“LED UV curing will continue to be one of the growth drivers in the UV ink and printing industry,” added Forker. “Further expansion of LED UV ink applications will enable printers to use these inks for the full range of products. The growing focus of printers and brand owners on sustainable and innovative packaging printing will result in new innovations in all ink technologies. Siegwerk will continue to develop eco-friendly inks for sustainable packaging solutions and will continually work on assessing ways to further improve the ecological footprint of our inks with no loss of performance. By producing high quality products and providing exceptional guidance and support in terms of ink room management, color matching, and product safety, Siegwerk remains confident in 2017, and beyond.”
“We expect further consolidation of the ink market,” Klokkers said. “Customer service, innovation and operational excellence are key elements of maintaining the strong position of the hubergroup in this industry. With this strategy we expect to continue growing.”
Aldred said 2016 was a very exciting year for Flint Group’s Packaging & Narrow Web businesses. “We are laying the groundwork for future growth and investing in our future with the people and processes needed to support our customers today and well into the future,” Aldred added. “We are totally committed to the packaging industry and this is clear to our customers and the wider industry.”
“We don’t expect the news, magazine and related print segments to grow in North America, in spite of data that consistently shows a greater impact and return on investment of printed communications channels,” Miller said. “These print segments will likely continue to shrink in 2017, though less for heatset than coldset. We can’t predict what the geopolitical situation will look like next year, but we do not expect that international business conditions will favor the already-difficult print industry. That said, we feel very confident that print still has a very strong role to play in 2017, and far beyond.”
Nakano said that the demand for environmentally friendly gravure inks and flexographic inks for flexible packaging continues to grow in global markets.
“We are working to further improve the performance of our environmentally friendly gravure inks and flexographic inks for flexible packaging, which are marketed globally,” said Nakano. “In addition, we will enhance our technical services capability in China, Southeast Asia and Europe in an effort to provide products that will meet local needs. Additionally, the Group will leverage our expanded production facilities in India, Brazil, and Sichuan Province in China and the printing ink manufacturer acquired in Turkey to promote local sales and subsequently develop the market in the surrounding areas.
“We expect to see demand in the global market for UV inks to remain strong, Nakano added. “As such, we will initiate the early, stable operation of a factory whose production will be unified with the pigment production of the Fuji Factory and a factory in Belgium specializing in food-related printing in order to expand the Group’s global supply system for UV inks.
“In sheetfed printing, offset rotary printing and newspaper ink business, the Group will continue to implement the integration of models and the development of sales systems in Japan and China, where demand is gradually decreasing, to achieve both quality improvement and cost reduction. We will also promote sales in India and Brazil and developing business into Turkey, the Middle East and Africa,” Nakano concluded.