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Czech exhibition offers look at Eastern European market

P + P '94; the first Czech packaging and converting exhibition, was visited by over 5,000 attendees in the Czech Republic.

The exhibition was sponsored by Syba, the Czech packaging industry association. P + P '94 also featured an international conference dealing specifically with flexographic-printing technology.

Held in the northern part of Prague at the historic Prague Exhibition grounds, the site reflected the rich history of Prague as the center of Europe and as symbolic of the nation's booming post-communist economy.

Syba was established in 1990 to include all the important packaging converters in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It now has 40 members and is a full member of COPMA, the worldwide confederation of packaging machine producers. Syba is the only member of the former Socialist Bloc in COPMA. Headquartered in downtown Prague, the organization is lead by Edward Nemec, who spearheads the international liaison still lacking from many ex-communist nations.

Flexo-Print was sponsored by the Czech Flexographic Technical Association. It's chaired by Jiri Drlik. He's also the head of Kovolute Bridicana, the Czech Republic's leading aluminum-foil converter.

More than 150 attendees were at the conference from Italy, Germany, France, Slovakia and Hungary. Czech was the official language with simultaneous translations available in German. Topics covered included flexographic printing on aluminum foil, ink formulations and the use of photopolymer plates. The full set of papers are available in Czech for interested readers.

About 150 exhibitors displayed their products at P&P '94. The Syba booth contained a large grouping of Czech and Slovak converters, including representatives of Packex, UK, Taropak, Poland and IPACK-IMA, Italy.

The Polish representatives of Taropak, recently held in Poznan, told me the show had a large international contingent present from Belgium, France and the UK. It's about double the size of the Czech show and also represents a valuable window into the Eastern Europe market.

Kovohute Bridlicna (KB), Bridlicna, Czech Republic, had a large booth that showcased their foil-converted products from yogurt cup lids to blister-lidding stock. Their literature was printed in Czech and English.

I visited their plant in Bohemia and closely observed their fully-integrated foil-converting operation from rolling to printing. The plant is a modern operation with bauxite arriving from Russia and the final converted stock sold all over Europe.

Tetra-Pak Inc. had a rather small booth at an adjacent beverage show. They convert material with KB aluminum foil at Grafobal of Skalica, Slovakia, near the Czech border. Their package is used in the Czech Republic for all types of beverages ranging from fruit juices to wine.

I spent some time at the Chemsovit, Slovakia, booth. The firm is the largest flex-pack converter in the Czech Republic and Slovakia that produces a wide variety of laminates. They produce their own biaxially oriented polypropylene film in overextruded categories. Chemsovit also produces a type of horizontal packaging machine widely used in Eastern Europe.

Granitol, Czech Republic, exhibited their range of printed high-density polyethylene film and bags. The firm extrudes and flexo-prints film for the garbage-bag and consumer-sack industries. P+P '94 reflected newly found interest now influencing the packaging of the former Socialist Bloc.

All the exhibitors I spoke to, from glass bottle manufacturers to plastic crate producers, now want and urgently need to sell their markets to a global market.

While most of the product categories didn't reflect the high technology characteristics often found at other large international packaging shows, I was impressed with the technical ability o produce their product mix as well as a strong desire for technology transfer.

There also appears to be a zest for achieving perfection in the new free market economy that these companies have found themselves in. All over the show, I found examples of superbly printed film, excellent laminates and technically proficient, high-density polyethylene plastic crates and drums. Privatization is sweeping through the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

More than 80% of all industry has been privatized in the Czech Republic. These new entrepreneurs urgently want Western know-how and are seeking joint ventures. With their strong base and the infusion of Western technology, their dream of participating in the global market can become a reality.

Problems remain in the full convertability of the Czech crown and payment transfers. Several converters told me of having to be paid by third partners in order to produce material for Western-owned plants in Eastern nations.

Simple traveling requirements still have to be worked out. The head of a large Czech converting firm was unfamiliar with the American Express card, a necessary requirement for international travel. Any sign of the former USSR, a vast market for packaging converters, was missing from the show.

As the only American at P+P '94, I was totally amazed at the lack of US participation in a rapidly emerging economy. With the strong growth rate of the Czech Republic, US converters should participate in these newly-formed private firms.

Other US industries, such as McDonald's, Kmart and Levi-Strauss, have already participated in the Czech boom, so why not converters?

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