Diversified Labeling Solutions

 What is the latest on the availability of raw materials for labels? It seems like things have not gotten any better for months now.

You are absolutely correct; we saw material supplies starting to tighten up over a year and a half ago. Most raw material suppliers predicted things would improve in early 2021. Well, that certainly didn’t happen.


Throughout 2021, raw material supply availability continued to get worse. Most of our suppliers responded by enacting allocations on even the most basic stocks such as TT and DT paper.


We have all heard the issues related to storms in the gulf states and paper mills pivoting away from printing papers, but that is only part of the story. Here we are in Q2 of 2022 and there is no end in sight.


The UPM Finland paper plant strike exasperated the situation. This strike was important because that plant supplies over 25% of liner stock for the U.S. market, in addition to a large portion of semi-gloss face sheet. Even now that the strike was resolved, it will several months before we see results. As UPM resumes production and customer deliveries, it will take some time before the backlog of demand is filled.


At this point, every one of our raw material suppliers is stating that conditions won’t get any better throughout 2022. The industry continues to face unprecedented demand, while simultaneously dealing with supply chain problems.

 Why can’t the raw material suppliers find other sources and why can’t they ramp up production?

unbalanced demand and capacity


To answer this question, you need to take a more holistic view of our business environment. The economy has really taken off as we move from the pandemic to an endemic environment. Not only has e-commerce continued to grow rapidly, but general business has rebounded as well. This has led to extremely high demand for label products. While label laminators are facing a supply issue, the high demand has also created a capacity issue. When you put it all together, you get a perfect storm where demand is outstripping available capacity.


The raw material providers just don’t have enough capacity to handle more volume. They are already running at maximum capacity on their coating lines, and increasing capacity takes time. It will take months, if not years for them to invest in and deploy new coating assets, which cost millions of dollars each. Then there is also the need for physical space to house the new equipment and additional people to run the new production lines.

chicago dls plant material storage

 How hard is it for you to get raw materials?


Very hard. I have been in the printing business for 44 years. Outside of a short time in the early 1980’s when paper for stock computer forms had a significant shortage and allocations occurred, I have never seen anything like the situation we are in right now. It is generational.


Almost every one of our suppliers (who by-the-way, are all major companies in label lamination) have initiated allocations on material. Under these allocations, we can only purchase, at most, what we purchased a year ago, and none of the suppliers are accepting new volume. In other words, we can’t buy enough material to meet current demand from existing suppliers, and no raw material companies even want to take on more new volume. They are all slammed with business and are trying to get their arms around their blossoming backlogs.

 Are you trying hard enough?

Well, if you mean are we speaking with every raw material supplier we know, both domestically and internationally, the answer is yes. Material sourcing and acquisition has become a full-time activity for our strategic sourcing and executive teams.


The good news is that we enjoy very solid relationships with our suppliers and spread our volume around to ensure we are not captive to any one company. Also, we pay our bills in a timely manner and work to partner with suppliers so we get favored status. This has allowed us to take care of our distributor customers in a manner that is as good as it gets in the market right now. We are focused on getting materials in and getting production out the door every single day.

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If material is hard to come by and you can’t get everything you need to support your customers, how are you prioritizing your business decisions?


Great question. We have made some tough decisions. We are focused on taking care of our existing customer base, which has supported us for many years. We are turning down opportunities from prospects as we feel a fiduciary responsibility to our current customers. I can’t tell you how many companies have reached out to us and said they have large quantities of work they can send our way if we can just meet their needs. Our answer to those opportunities has been “Thanks for thinking of us, but with the tight supply, we are focused on our existing business right now.”


It has gotten so tight from a material supply standpoint that we are prioritizing the production of custom labels over stock products. We believe this is important because our distributors and end user customers rely on us to meet those custom needs.


As for stock label product, we have been forced to limit ordering quantities and to focus on the higher volume stock items. Right now, we can’t be all things to all people. It just isn’t possible. So we made a conscious decision to target the stock products that are needed most. You’ll notice this in our next stock catalog edition coming out soon.

What is going on with pricing? It seems like costs are going up exponentially.

You are correct. In 2021, we saw quarterly cost increases for raw materials that averaged 7% - 9% each quarter. And that was in addition to cost increases that occurred throughout the year for everything else we purchase such as: cores, cartons, plastic bags, shrink and stretch wrap, pallets, and ink. Plus, as we all know, freight and labor costs continue to escalate.


Now, in 2022, we have seen a continuation of the cost increases for raw materials, with 9% -11% increases in both Q1 and Q2. Think about it; we are experiencing rapid, on-going inflation, and at the same time, seeing a significant deterioration in service with two to four month lead times, allocations, and unreliable deliveries.


It is a common occurrence for us to expect material to arrive today that we have waited over ten weeks for, only to receive a notice that we won’t see the material for another month.


Every major label coater and laminator is telling us to expect prices to go up each quarter in 2022 with no lead time relief in sight. It is a very difficult situation for us, our customers, and the end users.

I have been told that pricing may not be able to be held for blanket orders and purchase orders where it may take months to get material. Why?

Again, we have a perfect storm. Here is what is happening to all label converters right now. We order material for jobs; we won’t see it for many weeks. In the meantime, raw material companies announce a price increase, which takes effect on all shipments within the next month.


That means our costs for material will go up well after we cut the purchase orders. And, with quarterly cost increases, there are many orders that won’t ship until two price increases have taken effect.


What used to be an orderly process is now completely chaotic. We quote jobs with the best knowledge we have, but the disclaimer is that all orders are subject to material availability and potential material cost increases. None of us like running our businesses this way, but it is our reality today.


We are especially cognizant of how difficult this makes things for our distributor customers in their relationships with their customers. Everyone in this market needs to ensure their customers understand that supplies are very tight and costs are not firm until raw materials come to the converter.


That’s why we have been staying very communicative with our distributors. We recognize this is a partnership and it is our duty to keep them updated, no matter if the news is good or bad.

label delivery hurdles


What should I, as your customer, be doing to mitigate the challenges? It’s been so difficult the past two years.

puzzle pieces describing what to do today in label sales


The best things you can do are:

  • Keep your customers up to date regarding market conditions and issues. You need to repeat this over and over again so they really hear what you are saying.
  • Get your orders in early and be prepared for delays and shortages. There is no bullet-proof answer. Do your best to get ahead of your customers’ needs knowing that you are not going to get everything you want when you want it.
  • Be open to alternatives. I wish this was as simple as it sounds, as all materials are in short supply. Right now, the coating and laminating companies are focused on trying to keep up with core material and adhesive requirements. There are some specialty products where you could wait months and months for stock. Working with our channel management and estimating teams, we can explore less painful alternative options. They may not be perfect, but they will allow you to keep your customers supplied with label stock.

What worries you the most?

My biggest fear is that prices continue to go up, material availability continues to be an issue, and end users get creative, finding other options to labels. Let’s face it, we all need to run our businesses and companies will pivot away from problem areas, finding new ways to mark products, identify inventory, track production, or ship goods other than applying a label.

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What is DLS doing to be prepared once the supply chain corrects itself and things return to a more normal environment?


Another great question. For the past two years, DLS has been on a mission to add capacity, both from an equipment and a personnel standpoint. This means we have been purchasing new equipment to add to our fleet – ensuring the equipment we buy has higher levels of automation so we can do more work, quicker and more efficiently.


We have also been adding to our production teams, which has been no easy task. Finding people has been tough. But we have gotten creative with hiring, training and promotion of personnel.


When you focus on it, good things happen. We have been highly focused the past two years on ensuring we have everything we need to produce more product. We agree the supply chain will eventually correct itself. We are in position to support our distributors once it does happen – so they can benefit from the change.


We are operating under the premise that the world is fundamentally different today than two years ago; we are building our company to meet the needs and challenges of the new normal.

We hope you found this insight from our CEO informative and insightful. Please feel free to reach out to us with any questions. We want to assist you in navigating today’s rough supply chain seas.