European rotogravure printing capacity continues to shrink

The rotogravure printing market in Europe has seen large-scale consolidation activities in the last five years with more customers turning away from print to digital

Rotogravure printing is becoming less and less convenient for European publishers, retailers and printers due to higher printing costs and lower flexibility compared to heatset web offset printing. For this reason, more and more iconic catalogs have been discontinued over the last few years and are now available in their digital version only, while a number of magazines have stopped production or are now produced on offset presses. Consequently, consolidation in the publication rotogravure printing segment is proceeding even faster than on the offset side of the business.

According to data from the European Rotogravure Association (ERA), the number of publication gravure presses in Europe plummeted by 31.7% to 69 between 2019 and 2021. In 2021, the estimated capacity of the rotogravure printing segment was 1.9 million tonnes/yr.

During the period, 11 presses were closed in Germany, nine in Italy, four in France and the Netherlands, three in Finland and one in Poland.

Consolidation continued over the last two years

In December 2022, Prinovis, part of Bertelsmann, closed its rotogravure printing site in Dresden, Germany, which operated five printing presses. It then permanently shut its Liverpool site, the UK’s last gravure plant, which operated four machines. In a final turn of the screw, the firm announced it would exit the rotogravure printing market altogether, with the closure of its Ahrensburg printing plant in Germany in January 2024. The plant operates nine printing presses.

In September, France’s Riccobono snapped up German gravure printer Tiefdruck Schwann-Bagel, becoming Europe’s largest rotogravure printer. The firm said that as part of the acquisition process, a restructuring plan involving a reduction of rotary presses from six to four was also approved.

“This takeover is the Riccobono Group’s most important development abroad and fits in perfectly with our external growth strategy. It will enable us to gain a foothold in the German market, which is the largest for high-volume printing, while at the same time enabling us to size our industrial facilities below the expected workload in order to anticipate the market’s future decline,” the firm’s CEO Guillaume Riccobono said at the time of the takeover announcement.

Following the closure of Prinovis’ Ahrensburg plant in 2024, the number of publication gravure printing presses in Europe will stand at 48, corresponding to a 30.4% decrease compared to 2021 and a 61.6% drop compared to 2015.

According to the 2022 Intergraf Economic Report, publication gravure printing in Germany, Europe’s biggest market, decreased by 9.5% year on year in 2021.

The retailer segment in particular has abandoned rotogravure printing – or printing altogether – as more and more consumers started to increasingly shop by e-commerce than printed catalogs. The move has allowed retailers to reduce costs while allegedly reducing their carbon footprint. Last September, UK retailer Freemans announced its decision to stop production and distribution of its catalog after 118 years, thereby reducing its graphic paper consumption by 650 tonnes/yr.

Freemans is only the latest of a long list of retailers including UK’s Argos, Sweden’s Ikea, Germany’s Otto and France’s Monoprix, that have stopped printing their iconic catalogs during the last five years.

Impact on paper production

The decrease in rotogravure printing has forced paper producers to redirect their focus more to offset paper production. In late 2018, German lightweight coated (LWC) paper producer Leipa decided to stop producing rotogravure paper in 2019, as it believed that the sharp increases in raw material costs would have required a price increase in the rotogravure segment that would have made gravure paper prices nonviable for clients. According to some market sources, Leipa has restarted some rotogravure LWC production recently, in light of the situation at the Duino mill.

Burgo’s Duino mill was taken over by Mondi at the beginning of the year, and under the original terms of that deal, the mill was to continue producing LWC, but it emerged this summer that the plant had been operating only intermittently for months due to the weak market situation, leaving UPM and Kabel Premium Pulp & Paper as the only regular suppliers of rotogravure coated mechanical paper in Europe.

Also, last week, UPM confirmed that it will close its Plattling publication paper mill by the end of November. The mill’s two paper machines produce coated and uncoated mechanical paper, for both offset and rotogravure printing, and have a combined production capacity of 595,000 tonnes/yr.

This article was first published in our PPI Europe newsletter. Find out how you can access the latest market news and price developments in Europe directly from your inbox by speaking to our team.

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