Gestel Printing Company, based in Dutch tobacco country, has been making an art out of printing and packaging (literally - they once even employed Vincent Van Gogh). Now, the company is set to move into the future as a modern packaging institution. We talk with Marcel Veldpaus, Gestel’s Sales Manager for the US & New Business, about the company’s past, the present state of the industry, and what the future may hold.
TI: Give us a brief history of Gestel:
Gestel was founded in 1880 by Mr. Baart Gestel. Due to the fact that the Eindhoven region was a tobacco region, most of the clientele of Gestel could and can be found in tobacco. Initially the company was located in the centre of Eindhoven, but Gestel moved to an industrial zone called “De Hurk” about 25 years ago. The company was family-owned, but in the late 60s it was sold to investors, and quite recently bought out by the current management.
TI: How was Vincent Van Gogh involved with your company?
During the late 19th century, Vincent lived in a small town near to Eindhoven named Nuenen. He became friends with Baart Gestel, since Mr. Gestel provided Vincent with black ink and paper in exchange for painting lessons. Mr. Gestel is named in the famous letters from Vincent to his brother. At our 125th anniversary, the theme used was the potato eaters, the famous painting Vincent made at the time he lived in Nuenen. It is made with the ink Mr. Gestel provided Vincent with.
TI: Today, what is the primary business of your company?
Nowadays the tobacco market still determines our turn over for about 85% of our business. This is both for cigarettes (60%) and cigars (40%). The balance of the 15% exists out of high-end labels for liquor, and packaging for chocolate, cosmetics, and food. Currently we work with the big cigarette manufacturers as a development printer. Due to the fact that the cigarette market changes rapidly, is getting smaller day by day, and also because of globalization, we are interesting for big companies to use as a development printer, since we work with sheet-fed machines. Next to printing, we are the biggest worldwide supplier of cardboard shoulder-boxes. This type of box is often used for cigar packaging purposes, for instance by Hajenius and Meharis.
TI: Are all your production facilities located in the Netherlands?
Our printing facility, and the factory where we make the domed boxes, like those of Davidoff Mini Cigarillos, is located in Eindhoven. The factory where we make the flat cardboard shoulder-boxes is located in Oude Pekela in the north of the Netherlands. This has to do with the fact that the substrates we use to make shoulder-boxes are produced in the same area.
TI: How much of your business is tobacco related?
As mentioned earlier, 85% of our turn over is tobacco related. Our business exists out of hinge lids, special packs like the wallet pack, the X-pack and the spring box we made for BAT, shoulder-boxes for both cigar and cigarette industry (Wills Insignia of ITC, Dunhill of BAT) Of course we make a lot of hull-and-slide packaging, which is a very common type of packaging Europe for cigars, but we make them also for Perdomo. We make pouches for RYO tobacco, cigar bands, inlayers etc.
TI: What multi-national clients have you worked with?
We work with companies such as BAT, Philip Morris (Marlboro After Dark shoulder-boxes), ITC, JTI, Swedish Match, Agio, Wintermans, Nobel, Arnold Andre, Perdomo, General Cigar, Xikar (the HC lighter labels), Burger, Davidoff, and others.
TI: What do you see as trends as far as tobacco product packaging is concerned? How is it different for cigars vs. cigarettes vs. cigarillos?
Due to government health regulations, packaging has become very important since it is not allowed to advertise for tobacco in anyway. The only place to make a difference is on the shelf at the retailer. Cigarette-wise, we notice nowadays there are cheap brands, and high-end brands that cost more. This is the group we aim at. For these more expensive brands, there’s more budget available for special packaging.
In the cigarillo world, everything has to do with pricing, therefore packaging is sometimes downgraded. We notice decreases in volume due to the fact that you are not allowed to smoke in restaurants, bars, etc. On the other hand, the packaging market for long filler cigars is stable.
TI: When a client approaches you for a new package, how does the design process work?
There are several ways to approach the designing process. 1) Mostly we get the finished artwork from our clients. We finalize the artwork technically seen, and then it is ready to print. 2) A client has an idea for a new product. Based upon the briefing of the client and supplied samples of the product, we develop mock-ups based upon our own expertise. Once we’ve finalized the mock-ups and we have an approval from the client, we then provide our client with the templates, so his artist can implement the art, then we finalize again. With regard to designs, we advise our clients of our abilities with regard to what we can do in order to improve the appearance of the final packaging.
TI: What kind of production capability do you have? How many units can you produce?
We work with sheet-fed offset, and sheet-fed gravure, with a maximum sheet-size of 72 x 102 cm. We have an 8-color offset printing press with 2 lacquering units implemented, and a 6-color offset printing press with 2 lacquering units implemented. Next to that, we have a 2-color offset printing press with a goldbronze unit (the brilliant bronze powder you see mainly on luxury US based cigar bands and European cigar packaging). We also have sheet-fed gravure (up to 5 colors in one run) which makes us unique. This special technique can be combined with offset printing, in order to get the most beautiful effect (like iriodin, special gold and silver, luminescent colors, special lacquers, and shifting colors). We emboss, foil (regular foil, but also in register so we can foil holographic foils), die cut, and glue. Of course we make both domed and flat shoulder-boxes. We have the capacity to make in total approximately 40 mn shoulder-boxes.
TI: Can you produce any with short-term or special runs or do you just work with long-term brand runs?
We are very flexible and work with both long term contracts and orders that have to be delivered within a very short time. For instance, the ESC project we made for Perdomo (vista’s, bands, bunch bands, etc.) was delivered in two weeks in Nicaragua starting from design. We made a shoulder box for Bogaert at the time in a weekend. Normally our lead times are four to eight weeks depending on execution and volume, and of course depending on availability of substrates we need to make the products.
TI: What are some of the differences of packaging in different geographical areas?
As sales manager for the US, I notice that US-based customers are very involved with quality, and appreciate craftsmanship. US-based designs have, to my European opinion, more contrast then European based designs, they use of lot’s of gold, heavy embossing, interesting use of foil etc. European packaging is more sober.