Price Increases in the Labeling Industry

For the first time in over twenty years, the labeling industry is seeing multiple price increases.

Almost everything that is used to create a label is seeing price increases, from paper to silicone to the freight.

Everyone is facing the same problem, and no one is used to these price increases, but here at Smith Corona, we are still doing everything we can to get you high-quality labels.

With new announcements from Avery, Raflatac, Green Bay, Mactac, and others, thermal labels prices will increase once again by 3-6% in October 2018.

But why are price increases happening, and why are they increasing every quarter? Unfortunately, there are several reasons.

Silicone and Adhesive Shortage

Silicon metal, the material used to make silicone, is mainly found in China. Unfortunately, supply cannot keep up with demand and new tariffs will make it even more costly for U.S. silicone producers to get their hands on the raw materials.

Due to tariffs, the price has almost doubled for silicone metal, and this hurts the market because 60 percent of the global supply of silicone comes from China.

In May, Sun Chemical’s prices were raised by 30 percent on all their silicone based products. Sun Chemicals is the largest producer of printing inks and pigments in the world.

The ongoing silicone shortage has caused our suppliers to continue increasing prices beyond anything we have seen in recent years,” said vice president of Sun Chemical, Dennis Sweet. “While Sun Chemical has utilized all its resources to offset these shortages and increases, we need to pass some of these increases on.”

Sun Chemicals isn’t the only one seeing price increases in the industry. According to the Alexander Watson Associates’ annual survey of industry professionals, the concern for the availability of raw materials is high among members of the industry. In addition, all respondents of the survey said they experienced cost increases throughout 2017, and most of them expect the costs to continue to rise throughout all of 2018.

In early 2017, Momentive workers began a strike that shut down the silicone manufacturer for over two months. On top of that, they also shut down silicone production in their Germany facility.

“Silicone facilities worldwide have fallen behind necessary demand,” said Alex Sechi, a senior account manager for BRB International B.V., a producer of silicone. “The demand has increased all over the world.”

Unfortunately, there is little hope for a decrease in pricing for silicone.

“We know this is not a short-term problem,” said Zack Beier, director of purchasing at Q Holding Co, a manufacturer of silicone products. “There’s not one single constraint that can be remedied to solve the industry’s problems.”

The silicone market is expected to be extremely tight for the next two years and the price increases show this.

As for adhesives, raw materials is on the rise. Propylene price is up by 50% since 2016 and methyl methacrylate is up by 10-20% since 2016.

Adhesive Price Increases:

  • SCIGRIP: 8%

  • H.B. Fuller: 5 – 12%

  • Ashland Inc: 3 – 4%

Silicone Price Increases:

  • WACKER: 10 – 20%

  • Evonik Industries AG: 1 – 10%

  • Ashland Inc: 3 – 4%

Paper Price Increases

There has been a worldwide increase in the demand for pulp used in papermaking.

It is believed that part of these price increases is a result of the rise in demand for recycled corrugated boxes, and China refusing to take highly contaminated recycled fiber. Chinese paper manufacturers are buying pulp in bulk for those boxes and it reduces the pulp supply for the label industry.

Pulp prices have increased by 20-50% in the last year, and they don’t show signs of slowing down as sellers continue to raise their prices. According to the Federal Reserve Economic Data,  the producer price index for pulp, paper, and allied products went from 167.4 in February 2017 to 219 in July 2018.

Raw material manufacturers have been increasing their prices, and this isn’t the first time.

These increases have been running multiple paper mills out of business, including West Linn Paper Company. West Linn was forced to close down after 128 years due to the lack of available pulp.

Another factor to the increase is that numerous paper mills were losing money and shutting down. Some of these issues are a result of the economy while others are environmental. Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey have resulted in a shutdown of 18 pulp and paper mills in the United States.

Since 2010, there have been eight major coated freesheet paper mill closures.

With fewer paper mills in operation, the total capacity has been reduced by 27% since 2010. The price increase for paper is unavoidable. With recent closures, the market is now tight and paper prices have gone up.

On top of that, Appvion filed for bankruptcy in October of 2017. Appvion is the third largest paper coater in the world, producing up to about 50% of all the coated direct thermal paper in the United States. Prices have increased by almost 30% due to input prices as well as Appvion trying to get to profitability, but they are still under pressure financially.

This results in the price rise of direct thermal paper, which will be up by 40% by the end of the year.

As prices rise, companies usually get a one to two-month notice beforehand and typically prices rise by 8 – 10%. We are coming up on the fourth price increase. By the end of the year, we expect direct thermal paper costs to have risen by a total of 45%.

Raw Material Manufacturer Price Increases:

  • Green Bay Packaging Inc:  7%

  • UPM Raflatac: 6 – 8%

  • Acucote Inc: 5 – 7%

  • Spinnaker Coating LLC: 5.5 – 6.5%

  • Stratatac: 5.5%

  • Avery Dennison: 5%

  • Technicote: 5 – 7%

  • Solenis: 5 – 10%

  • Henkel: 8 – 10%

Paper Mill Closures

Mill Closures Capacity (in tons)
Newton Falls (2010) 80,000
Hamilton (2012) 50,000
Courtland (2014) 115,000
Rumford (2015) 60,000
Wickliffe (2015) 280,000
Jay (2017) 90,000
Combined Locks (2017) 300,000
West Linn (2017) 265,000

Leuco Dye Crisis

Back in September 2017, the Chinese government decided to crack down on the enforcement of environmental regulations. Although this is a great thing, it did cause over 80,000 factories to be fined, legally charged, or shut down.

One of the companies, Connect Chemical, was shut down during the process. Connect Chemical was the world’s largest producer of leuco dye and used to be responsible for about 50% of the production.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, additional factories that created leuco dye were also closed – resulting in a disruption of over 80% of the world’s supply of leuco dye.

Leuco dye is a key component in direct thermal paper, and as a result, the price of leuco increased to over five times its average price. What used to be $5 – $10 a kilogram is now $80 a kilogram.

This resulted in a price increase throughout the entire supply chain. While leuco dye was the first, there have been other chemicals used in the production of direct thermal paper that have also been affected.

What is Being Done?

Smith Corona is working tirelessly to try and keep our cheap thermal label prices from increasing. We are looking carefully at how much raw material we use, and we are trying to minimize manufacturing costs while maximizing efficiency.

Smith Corona has spent considerable time and effort to reduce scrap and waste in our manufacturing plant, and to eliminate off quality goods, all aimed at making us the most efficient lowest cost provider of labels in the USA.  We really have the lowest priced 4×6 labels in the world.

We rigorously test our products for quality control and run tests every 60,000 feet of production.

As for raw materials, we leverage our size and specifically designed manufacturing assets to ensure very competitive pricing for liner and face, going to the ends of the world to find the right grades to produce our products.

Smith Corona has multiple suppliers, which is why we can keep our prices lower than our competitors. We aren’t going to run out of paper, but the market is still tight.

Smith Corona is doing everything to keep prices down, but it isn’t expected to see price decreases in the industry as a whole for another few years, and ongoing upward pressure is likely to be the norm for the next 2-3 years.