In the post-COVID era, all of us are familiar with supply chain issues and what they can mean for everything from lettuce and soap to cat food and paper goods. The availability of a particular product may come and go without pattern or warning. Unfamiliar substitutes may be offered which fail to meet the standards of the original. We may be able to order the original, provided we are willing to wait months to receive it. Or, when/if the original finally returns to the shelf, it may be priced substantially higher than before.
The fact is, these and other supply chain disruptions have become so commonplace we now accept them with hardly an eyeroll, more or less. Still, we remain eternally optimistic this condition is only temporary and things will return to normal someday soon.
Printing Paper is No Exception
It should come as no surprise disruptions in the production and delivery of paper are affecting the printing and packaging industry. Printers around the country have been struggling to obtain the wide variety of papers they rely on to support clients. The same conditions having affected everything else—substitutions, long waits, higher prices—also impact printers’ paper supplies.
Several factors, both pre- and post-COVID, have contributed to these supply chain problems.
- In response to the growing popularity of electronic transmission of traditional printed pieces, such as brochures, catalogs, and magazines, in the past five years more than a dozen paper companies have made difficult decisions to close some of their processing plants.
- Since 2021, the number of available jobs in the U.S. outpaced the number of willing workers, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The labor shortage has affected logging, paper mills, trucking, printers and packagers, and many other businesses.
- More recently, the spike in fuel prices alone have substantially increased the costs of logging operations, running paper mills, and shipping heavy goods, including paper.
Experts project these factors will continue to impact the paper and printing industry for at least another 12 months, barring the rise of any additional influences. And while this means there is light at the end of the tunnel, it also means we must continue to manage in the meantime.
Actions Printers are Taking
Throughout the U.S., printers and packaging producers like SunDance have been taking steps to reduce the impact of these factors and bring new perspectives to the industry. Among those actions, we have been planning inventory levels to meet peak seasonal demand, rather than adhering to the standard just-in-time (JIT) ordering strategy. We are planning for longer delivery windows, and higher prices, when making new purchases to support printed materials and consumer goods packaging.
We are partnering with suppliers, old and new, who are establishing standards for being able to deliver as promised. And we have added a much greater degree of flexibility to our requirements for paper, including using different brands, weights, types, and sizes than we have traditionally relied on in the past. The current environment demands flexibility and creativity, not only from suppliers, printers, and packagers—but from our clients as well.
How Clients Can Adapt
There are several actions clients can take to adapt to the current pressures on printing and packaging production. Businesses who print paper materials—whether brochures, postcards and other mailers, magazines and catalogs, envelopes, calendars, or product packaging—can adapt by bringing greater flexibility to their requirements and schedules whenever possible.
Understanding you may not be able to acquire your first choice in paper, for example, can help you plan for and be ready to select from one or two other options in order to adhere to your marketing or sales schedule. Knowing production, labor, and fuel costs have increased across the board can help you budget more realistically for upcoming print runs. The more realistic options you are able to identify and select upfront, as Plans A, B, and C, means the faster we can find a solution for you and keep your campaign on track.
Together, as we all become more creative and flexible in the near term, we will be able to operate as closely to “business as usual” as possible. And, together, we’ll be well-positioned to return to normalcy in the hopefully not too distant future.
Questions to ask when forecasting your upcoming print projects:
- Is there an alternative stock or finish?
- Could this be redesigned to use less paper?
- Can you forecast 6-12 months out and purchase paper far in advance?
- Encourage “out of the box” thinking – fresh perspectives and creative ideas with print techniques may yield surprising benefits
We are Here to Help
SunDance enjoys a well-earned reputation for producing quality printed materials and packaging in a sustainable manner. We have also been aggressively purchasing paper since Q3 of 2021 and have invested over $1.3 million in our paper reserves along with securing 2 additional buildings for operations and storage. While we may not have every stock, we have more commonly demanded stocks available and will work with you to offer reasonable alternatives as conditions demand.