Are There Folding Cartons in Your Future?


Margins on folding carton printing tend to be 30% – 40% range, higher than typical commercial print work. It’s no wonder that owners of print shops are adding packaging to their product mix. If you intend to add folding cartons to the mix, the first consideration is to implement an end-to-end automated workflow with an MIS/ERP system as the system of record and the heartbeat of the operation.

Are you among the sheetfed commercial printers looking for new products you can offer your customers to fill the gap caused by declining commercial print revenues? One area that is attractive is packaging – it’s a growth area, with research firm Markets and Markets projecting that the global packaging printing market, which was valued at US$352.1 billion in 2021, is projected to reach US$433.4 billion by 2026, a CAGR of 4.2%.  

Looking specifically at folding carton, which is likely the most logical entry point to the market for a commercial printer, margins can run in the 30% to 40% range, substantially higher than typical commercial print work. 

It’s easier than you think

Yet entering the packaging market can be intimidating for many. In most cases, the customer contacts are different. And larger brands are relatively inaccessible to newcomers – packaging is mission critical, and they are loathe to change anything unless there is a compelling reason to do so!

But entering the folding carton market on a smaller scale may be easier than you think. One of the critical issues many smaller businesses face – and there are thousands of them out there –is the need to order high minimum order quantities for traditionally manufactured folding cartons. Maybe they only need 2,000 cartons, but they have to buy 20,000. Then what happens when regulations change or they want to change their messaging? For a small business, having a warehouse full of unusable folding cartons is not a winning situation! And the good news is that, as of the 2020 U.S. Census data, the most recent available, there are more than 5 million businesses in the United States with less than 20 employees. You can bet that these businesses are going to need folding cartons in small quantities and on demand, with the ability to customize them as needs change.

What’s necessary to get into folding carton

If you already have digital presses – sheetfed or wide format – you’ve got the first piece of the puzzle in place. This allows you to cost effectively print small MOQs for these small businesses, and give them many other options such as variation by season, geography, special events, etc. Other equipment you will need includes die cutters, creasers/scorers and folders/gluers to start. Some folding carton manufacturers ship the cartons flat for assembly upon arrival. That reduces the amount of equipment you need to get started and the overall shipping costs as well.

The other aspect that is quite different from commercial print is design. Here you need CAD software and an operator that understands computer aided structural design. Some customers may already have design files you can use, but others will need the CAD design services. Like many of you already do in commercial print, a vertical marketing strategy is also a good approach – choose industry verticals that are most likely to need short run, customizable, fast turn folding cartons.

Case in point – the cannabis market

One if the fastest growing market segments is cannabis, especially as more states legalize marijuana and CBD for medical and/or recreational use. According to an article in Label and Narrow Web, “. Globally, [the cannabis packaging market] is expected to witness a CAGR of 24.3% over the forecast period from 2021 to 2026, according to market research firm Research and Markets, and is anticipated to witness notable growth over the next few years. The forecasted growth is due to rising consumer demand for medical and recreational cannabis products for consumption. And the increasing legalization of cannabis in various countries – much as it’s occurring within the United States – is likely to continue.” 

Cannabis products also have special packaging requirements, depending on the chemical content of cannabis-based products and the strain of cannabis sativa, or hemp, from which it is extracted. One key element is childproof closures. 

Hippo Packaging in Northern California, a branding and packaging company established to provide superior products and services to the Cannabis Industry, cites its experience with providing packaging for Canna Bath Co. as a good case study of the special packaging requirements for cannabis-based products. Canna Bath, who would fall in that category of having less than 20 employees, had a plan to produce both THC and CBD bath bombs. Hippo Packaging founder Kary Radestock stated, “A challenge for us was figuring out how to package the THC bath bombs in child-resistant packaging, which is required by law for THC-based products. We want to protect kids, but we also want to be mindful of the environment, business models and to not be wasteful with packaging.” The solution was to put the bath bombs inside a mylar bag to satisfy the child-resistant requirement. CBD products, on the other hand, can use mainstream packaging. “The only thing we need to be concerned about with CBD products,” Radestock said, “is that you can’t make false health claims around CBD.” 

For more information on the cannabis market and the difference between THC and CBD, check out this article.  

HiFlow IMP

Managing a Larger Number of Smaller Orders 

Commercial printers are already faced with producing a larger number of small orders with faster turn times. Producing packaging for small to mid-sized businesses will be no different. The challenge for managing this increased number of jobs with tight turn times is applicable to almost any printed product these days. As the number of jobs produced per day, week, month, increases, it becomes increasingly difficult to manage the workload using conventional methods – the infamous scheduling white board loaded with Post-it notes; Excel spreadsheets for estimating; paper job tickets that follow the job through the plant; and staff running around trying to figure out where a particular job is in the production process, how long before it can be shipped, and other information customers or managers may be looking for.

So whether you intend to add folding cartons to the mix or not, the first consideration is to implement an end-to-end automated workflow with an MIS/ERP system as the system of record and the heartbeat of the operation.

What to look for in an MIS/ERP 

  • A modular system that can be customized to your needs and can grow with you as your business grows. There is no one-size-fits-all system; every company has different needs and requirements. However, there are some elements that are critical, such as an estimating/quoting/order entry system to quickly get accurate quotes out, and jobs in the door.
  • With a wide range of products, short delivery times, and continuing supply chain issues, a solid inventory system is also important. There is nothing worse than accepting a rush job and finding out that the material you thought you had in inventory is not there.
  • The ability to integrate with third-party systems. For example, if you are happy with your accounting system, you should be able to integrate that with a new MIS/ERP solution, minimizing the amount of change the organization needs to go through to modernize itself.
  • A vendor partner that is knowledgeable, reliable and available to help you work through the pre-sale decision process, implementation and post-sale support, including advising on adding modules moving forward. Implementing an MIS/ERP is not trivial, but it is much less painful if you have a reliable partner to help you through the process.
  • The partner should also have available a broad base of online and in-person training materials. This is especially important during the implementation process – the goal should be to have your team be as self-sufficient as possible when the system goes live. But it is also important to have easy access to bite-size training modules to refresh a worker’s knowledge or to on-board a new employee.
  • Especially if you are looking to add folding carton or other packaging solutions, your partner should be knowledge about that sector of the industry as well, and have proven installs the demonstrate both the knowledge base and functionality of the system.

Final thoughts 

These are just a few of the things to consider as you look for new products to offer. We believe most commercial printers can begin offering low MOQ folding cartons to existing and new customers, thus increasing both revenues and margins.

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