In recent years, there has been a growing inclination among brands to exert greater control over the design and production of their product packaging. Evolving consumer trends and preferences are key drivers of this shift, and manufacturers are seeking increased autonomy and flexibility in response to market challenges, such as persistent disruptions in the supply chain.

As a consequence, manufacturers are exploring methods to enhance in-house packaging customization, turning to digital printing technology to realize this goal – a process referred to as ‘late-stage customisation.’

The adoption of late-stage customisation involves the customization of product packaging either on- or near-line using digital printing. This approach offers new possibilities for brands, including the ability to create limited-edition packaging for special events, engage consumers through on-pack marketing campaigns, and introduce personalisation to enhance the unboxing experience. Moreover, increased in-house customisation enables manufacturers to optimize upstream productivity and alleviate issues related to supply chain delays.

This blog will delve into the benefits of late-stage customisation through digital printing.

What exactly is late-stage customisation, and what factors are fueling its rise in popularity? Late-stage customisation encompasses any form of packaging printing or customization conducted by the manufacturer rather than relying on a packaging provider or converter. Traditionally, this primarily involved printing information such as batch and product codes, and best before dates. However, advancements in in-line printing technology now empower brands to procure more generic packaging and introduce additional customization within the manufacturing facility, all while ensuring efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

James Orford, Product Manager at Domino’s Digital Printing Solutions, explains, “In late-stage customisation, brand owners and converters can incorporate or modify variable information just before it is applied to the product. For instance, one of our clients needed their product’s ingredient summary to be translated into multiple languages. Instead of having to procure and store a large quantity of stock for each language variant, they utilized a single generic label. The variable data, comprising multiple languages and SKUs, was added in the final stages of the production process.”

Orford highlights the advantages of late-stage customisation, stating, “Late-stage customisation offers numerous benefits for brands, enhancing factory efficiency, reducing stock and waste in their supply chains, and expediting product delivery to meet evolving consumer demands. Brand owners are increasingly recognizing that exerting more control over their product packaging through digital printing and late-stage customisation is essential for maintaining competitiveness, productivity, and adaptability to change.”

Benefits of late-stage customisation graphic

Cost Reduction: Late-stage customisation diminishes brands’ dependence on external packaging providers, offering the opportunity to experiment with new packaging designs and variations without being bound by minimum order requirements or incurring additional expenses for short-run prints.

Enhanced Flexibility: Late-stage customisation provides brands with greater adaptability to swiftly respond to market changes. For instance, if a brand wishes to test a new flavor based on consumer feedback or needs to adjust a product’s ingredient list due to a material shortage, late-stage customisation enables the implementation of necessary packaging changes within the manufacturing facility rather than ordering new packaging stock. This results in increased production uptime, reduced lead times, and minimized downtime associated with product changeovers.

Inventory Reduction: Late-stage customisation reduces the necessity for maintaining multiple packaging inventories, allowing brands to acquire generic packaging and incorporate customisation in-house. In the case of creating seasonal packaging, brands can plan, print, and modify it using digital printing technology on-site. Consequently, less material needs to be printed in advance and stored in the warehouse, leading to significant cost savings. Packaging typically has longer lead times compared to other material stocks, making it the largest inventory item with low turnover, particularly in comparison to product ingredients.

Waste Reduction: Purchasing large quantities of media for short runs to meet minimum order quantities can be highly wasteful, as not all the stock is often utilized. Late-stage customisation with digital printing addresses this issue, enabling brands to produce their own short-run packaging in-house. This capability allows for flexible production without over-ordering, contributing to reduced waste.

Enhanced consumer experience: Brand owners understand the difficulty in standing out from the fierce competition on the supermarket shelf and are always looking for ways to interact with consumers. With late-stage customisation, brands can adjust packaging designs to enable greater consumer interaction. For example, in recent years, there has been significant interest in including variable 2D codes on product packaging, allowing brands to link to additional information, collect feedback, and further engage with consumers in store and at home.

Considerations for Late-Stage Customisation

Late-stage customisation offers brand owners enhanced control over their packaging content and expedites the process of experimenting with new packaging designs. There are various scenarios where late-stage customisation can prove advantageous for brands, including:

  1. New or Experimental Product Launches: Launching a new product range that requires multiple SKUs for different languages and formats is a time-consuming process. Creating artwork in advance and finalizing packaging design can take up to twelve months. Utilizing digital printing and late-stage customisation significantly reduces the time it takes for the product to reach the market.
  2. Seasonal Products: Staying attuned to market trends is crucial for making products stand out on supermarket shelves and compete effectively. Late-stage customisation empowers brands to dynamically create attractive variations of product packaging, such as packs adorned with vibrant colors for summer, special editions for occasions like Valentine’s Day and Christmas, or featuring imagery of a champion team for a sporting event. This flexibility is achieved without relying on external packaging providers.
  3. Security Features: In the late-stage customisation process, brands can print variable data on labels or packaging, enabling track and trace capabilities using unique codes. For instance, premium consumer goods can be safeguarded against counterfeiting by incorporating variable data into 2D codes, such as QR codes. This allows consumers and supply chain partners to verify the authenticity of the product, enhancing security measures.
  4. Regional Language Versions: Brand owners recognize the importance of engaging with their audience in their native language to establish a stronger emotional and cultural connection with end-users. Late-stage customisation enables the creation of different language versions for each region, eliminating the need to print multiple languages on a single label. This approach not only maximizes on-pack space for branding and creative design but also facilitates the modification of packaging to produce special editions in regional languages.
  5. Personalised Packaging: The surge in ecommerce has heightened the demand for more personal and unique engagement with end-users to stand out from the competition. Digital printing and late-stage customisation open up new opportunities for incorporating personalised unboxing experiences. For instance, brands can create packaging that resonates with consumers on an individual level, featuring personalised elements such as consumer names, individual messages, or variable QR codes for collecting feedback.

James Orford, Product Manager at Domino’s Digital Printing Solutions, emphasizes, “One of the main advantages of digital printing and late-stage customisation is the ability to create multiple packaging varieties, colours, and SKUs in record time and with minimal waste. Late-stage customisation provides flexibility, enabling brand owners to respond swiftly to market demands without compromising their environmental footprint. For example, by tracking QR code scans, brand owners can identify the most successful packaging and adjust production accordingly. It also facilitates market expansion into additional regions using local languages without compromising creativity or minimalism in packaging design. Last but not least, it enhances security, brand protection, and delivers a more personalised packaging experience for consumers.”

Can Late-Stage Customisation Benefit Your Business?

The critical factor in addressing this question lies in analyzing your production lines. If your print runs involve more than one product variety with distinct packaging colours, multiple SKUs, and variable data requirements, the answer is likely yes. For businesses handling multiple short-run product lines, the adoption of digital printing for late-stage customisation can lead to substantial cost reduction, time savings, and waste minimization.

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