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A drupa Tour with Brand Packaging Designer Uwe Melichar, EPDA

At drupa, PW tagged along as Uwe Melichar, European Brand and Packaging Design Association president, led a select group of brand owners on a personally curated booth tour. Here's what we found out.

Uwe Melichar (second from right) of the European Brand and Packaging Design Association, curated the private brand owner tour of drupa for Touchpoint Packaging, a pavilion and topical packaging hub of the show.
Uwe Melichar (second from right) of the European Brand and Packaging Design Association, curated the private brand owner tour of drupa for Touchpoint Packaging, a pavilion and topical packaging hub of the show.

Today at drupa, I was fortunate to be a fly on the wall and tag along with a select group of brand owners, including Diageo among others, on a private packaging innovation tour. Part of Messe Dusseldorf's Touchpoint Packaging program, the tour stopped at half dozen cutting-edge and packaging-heavy booths chosen and curated by Uwe Melichar, a VP and past president of the European Brand and Packaging Design Association. 

After the tour, I sat down with Melichar to find out why he took the packaging pros at CPGs to those booths, get his impressions and takeaways of drupa, and learn what's exciting to him in the world of packaging design. Uwe didn't disappoint. 

Packaging World: Tell a little bit about who you are, and your current roles.

Uwe Melichar: I’ve been in the packaging business for more than 28 years now, in different world agency combinations, always responsible, as a partner or something. I’ve always worked internationally. I’ve never had a particular focus on Germany even though I come from Germany, I’m located in Hamburg. My actual status is part of a company [based in the U.K.] called Touch, a structural packaging design company with a strong focus on sustainability. That's exactly what I did before, so when I joined them, it was a perfect match. Now I'm their partner for Europe—Brexit will make things a little bit difficult, but that's what we're doing. We have clients in the U.S., such as Procter and Gamble and PepsiCo. But we also were looking into smaller sized brands around the globe, and in Germany for sure, there are some interesting companies. We make sure that their packaging is getting more sustainable. But also, we're looking into streamlining processes. That's why we are working with Esko or Dalim Software, for example.

How did you get into packaging?

When I decided to study, I was not sure whether it should be graphic design or product design. I decided to go for graphic design. I learned all about communication, communication design, branding. I started my first job in a branding agency. I “took them over” as a partner after three and a half years, or at least became part of [leadership]. But the first time I was confronted with was packaging, I said, ‘Hey, that's it. That's exactly the link between 3D and 2D.’ I was absolutely excited, and I always stick to that. Because it's so exciting to have the three dimensions and, also, the different requirements. It's more than just communication. It's really protecting the product. It's about convenience for customers. It's really close to people. And I love people, I love to talk to people. That's what brought me into packaging, now with Touch.

You have another role outside of Touch, yes?  

Yes, with the EPDA, the European Brand and Packaging Design Association. It’s existed for more than 30 years, so those are some big [shoes to fill]. I had been the president for four years, now I'm the vice president. We are members from across Europe, their packaging agencies or branding agencies. We do two conferences a year that are about inspiration. It's about information. It's also to give us as an industry design voice. And we want to like have discussions all along the value chain from the substrate supplier, be it our friends from Stora Enso or ink suppliers, like Hubergroup, all these people, all the way to the brands. The brand owners, if they want to get inspiration find innovation, go directly to the supplier. And that's wrong. Their suppliers don't lie to them, but they may tell them just the part of the truth, or just a little bit of the scope of what is there. And we as designers, we have a broader view. And maybe we are a little crazy anyway, because our brains work differently. But I can translate something that works well in the tool industry, to the toy industry—or the other way around. I think that’s one of the big chances brands have, if they talk to designers or to design associations. We in these conferences, we have speakers like [Argentinian package design expert Hernán Braberman] that you've seen today, giving us a new perspective. He's a member of EPDA all the way from Argentina. Argentinian package design expert Hernán Braberman gave seven strategies to design packaging and brands to appeal to Gen Z.Argentinian package design expert Hernán Braberman gave seven strategies to design packaging and brands to appeal to Gen Z.

You’ve been at drupa for 10 days now. What’s your biggest takeaway?

The thing that really excites me is what’s happening with digital printing—how it has evolved, the speed, the machines are so much faster. The results, the quality is so much better. The vertical integration, they can print on nearly every surface without priming, it. So really exciting to watch what happens there. Let's see what the economic side says, of course. And then, [large traditional printing] companies like Koenig & Bauer or Heidelberg have digital solutions, and there is so much that’s possible. But then again, I'm not the one investing into machines. I’m just looking at it from a brand owner’s perspective.

I'm always trying to look through the eyes of the brand owners and what they are interested in. They don't want to know how the sheet feed is constructed. They don't want to know how many colors, and this and that. They want to see a result that matches their expectations and want to have a good solution that’s affordable and sustainable. That's their interest. That's how I tried to design the tour today that we went on.

Put a pin in the tour, we’ll get to it shortly. Is there any kind or story arc between drupa 2016 and 2024? A lot has happened in the intervening years.

Well, the world has changed. Looking at 2016, sustainability didn't play a major role in those days. And now you see that technology is evolving even more quickly, with digitalization, with AI components. Technology in this space is becoming the so-called hockey stick. It’s not a linear development, it's really moving fast.

At the same time, there are new demands. For example, let’s take sustainability, or connectivity, whatever it is. The things we are talking about here at Touchpoint Packaging come from the consumers’ mind. Consumers now think paper is the best solution for everything. It's not true. We have look at all these things. The world has changed from 2016. To today. And that is clearly visible here.

I don’t have the final numbers yet, but it's also true that there are fewer visitors than in 2016, because people are lazy. During COVID people learned that they can discover everything online. And that's just my very personal statement, but it's really, it's a problem. I believe in people meeting people. I believe in bringing people to the booths, like we did today on the tour, I believe in really personal contact, and that’s why we did a tour like we did.Melichar (left) and Gerardo Gonzalez (right) describe the REA JET late-stage customization solution.Melichar (left) and Gerardo Gonzalez (right) describe the REA JET late-stage customization solution.

Speaking of the tour, you selected our destinations for a reason. You know, this space really well, and knew this tour was designed for brand owners. Why you bring those folks (and me) where you did?

We first went to REA JET because it’s just an interesting example of a digital solution in an analog world. In our design universe, or also in the brand owners’ universe, there is a need to connect packaging to the digital world. It’s reflected here at Touchpoint Packaging. There are there are many content solutions like Snoop It! that we've seen [at the REA JET booth and] here. They found a wonderful way of like doing AR (augmented reality) solutions on the packaging by connecting QR codes via a phone, on a traditionally printed package. They have linked to brands, created a whole unique, custom experience in AR, and there are many, many ideas out there on how you can employ this tech.

And REA JET is a technology that is able to do last-moment personalization [late-stage customization]. But not necessarily in a digital surrounding, but also for all the conventional printers. Imagine you're running a big, big print run for a brand like Procter and Gamble, doing hundreds of thousands of packages, on a conventional printer. But you want to have this digital connection, and you want to have a serialized code to protect the brand. Because there are so many brands that need protection, like baby milk powders. It's a very simple product, but not super-efficient to add serialization. But you can use the REA JET or others to [add late-stage customization] inline when the package is already completely printed and filled. So, you just put this QR code on at the end. And there are so many other applications you can use that for.

We stopped by Gmund, a high-quality and alternative material paper supplier. Why?Melichar (left) and Andrea Wecke, Gmund, discuss paper alternatives from sources like grass and hemp.Melichar (left) and Andrea Wecke, Gmund, discuss paper alternatives from sources like grass and hemp.

There's a personal story behind it, that was my first client when I started my business in 1995. I did all work for Gmund and they're still there, and they they've grown, and they offer a material which is really specific. It's a family-owned business and they're doing such a great product that it finds its way too packages for Veuve Clicquot for example for the champagne brand and others, like the Leica camera brand. But they also help small brands that are in regular drugstores, maybe not so fancy. But where these brand owners or startups decided to use it as a brand element to really stand out. 

Keeping with the paper theme, we stopped by Kohler Paper. Why?

Paper and paperization is a big topic. It's a buzzword, and consumers are asking for paper. At least in Europe, they think paper is the most sustainable material in the world, which is not true depending on the application. I don’t do plastic bashing. 

But brands have to follow consumer sentiment. They must follow, even though I think they know that it's not the full story. But they want to meet the consumer’s demand. They want to use paper, but it needs a barrier to be proper packaging for chocolate, for pizza, for whatever it is.Italian brand Pizza Mano adopted a paper packaging solution from Kohler Paper that runs on traditional flow-wrapping equipment, and requires no plastic.Italian brand Pizza Mano adopted a paper packaging solution from Kohler Paper that runs on traditional flow-wrapping equipment, and requires no plastic.

And as we have this super, in-market pizza project from Koehler here on Touchpoint Packaging. I thought it's a good idea also to see that because it's the Holy Grail. Everybody’s looking for this specific material to have paper flow per packaging. It's not the only one out there. That could also be Mitsubishi paper or others.

Speaking of, I'm a little bit disappointed because, from the from the material supplier side, there aren't so many partners here at drupa. There could be there could be more. Maybe it's an open invitation for all of the materials suppliers, paper and plastic, to come. There is space for you. And there are brand owners looking for you. And it's really good to have them.

How about X-Rite, the color measurement company? Why did you bring us there?

It's not all about sustainability, it's the whole universe of packaging. It's also about brand colors. And well to get a color right is important and great. It ties in with Hubergroup using X-Rite technology or others. Color is an issue. And I wanted to show to our brand owner friends that they have to take care of it. And that this is the leading technology of making sure that your brand, throughout the different materials and substrates, that they can get a proper color result. It was a simple as that.

The last two booths you brought us to where the first two appointments I made when I booked to come over here. First, tell me about Landa.

For me, that is the most exciting booth here at drupa. I had the chance to meet Benny Landa in person yesterday. It was meeting a rockstar. It was like somebody says to you, ‘hey, you can meet Bruce Springsteen.’ I was really excited. [Landa put on a half-hour show, Nano. A Love Story, five times a day at the booth, and] the show is great, but it's not only about that. It’s convincing people that they can print on all the different substrates in a super high-end quality, and that they can also speed up their machines such that it becomes economically interesting.Landa founder Benny Landa put on a half-hour ticked show, Nano: A Love Story, five times a day, at the Landa booth.Landa founder Benny Landa put on a half-hour ticked show, Nano: A Love Story, five times a day, at the Landa booth.

I can’t judge [the economics of Landa’s patented nanographic printing technology]. It depends a lot on what you want to do you do with these machines. They're into packaging now, so there are many good reasons to go there.

They're getting into flexible packaging now, but the machine is not quite ready for primetime yet.

No machine yet, but I fully believe them, and they will release it, and it will be another success. Landa is a must for drupa, I would say.

We finished off at HP, and Indigo, which like the 800-lb gorilla of digital printing, and it basically it had a hall of its own. Why did you bring the brands there?

It's amazing. HP is again, a game changer. Looking at the past there was Heidelberg like really doing being the number one at drupa. And they are catching up, they have their own digital solutions. They are great also in conventional printing—they are still the leading brand and leading company.

But HP, like I said, offers vertical integration. That's it. They can print on nearly everything. They can make sure that the whole package is well-prepared and well-produced. And that was a good reason to see them, to learn from them on how they did it and what’s next.

Given your recent experience last 10 days here at drupa, what do brands and CPGs need to know about what's going on in this space?

As I said, it's not the technology behind these companies, it's the solutions they can get. And it's better than ever. They can really make their dreams come true. Because the technology's there. It needs someone. And that's an advertisement for for my own design association EPDA, but you need somebody to translate it; to translate it into projects. And that's a typical design thing. I can just ask brands to talk to designers, not only to your suppliers. Be open for new solutions and try to find someone neutral. Also, they should read your magazine Packaging World, and your web posts carefully, because you are neutral. Then we together can find solutions. Working all along the value chain, this is my major interests. PW

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