5 Ways Health Sciences Companies Can Safeguard Packaging Supply Chain
By Stephen Marshman
Health Sciences Safeguard

The trends impacting emergent Health Sciences companies in “Covid times” and what the sector’s burgeoning number of rapidly growing businesses need to do to safeguard their packaging supply chain.

2020 has been a year like no other with the Covid-19 pandemic triggering an economic crisis that has affected nearly every industry. However, in line with the impact of the disease itself, the degree to which different industries have experienced financial fallout has varied considerably. 

While the impact of the pandemic has undoubtedly been devastating for some sectors, the so-called “new normal” has been a landscape in which many Health Sciences organisations have thrived. The behavioural impact of the pandemic explains why this has been the case. 

First wave lockdowns, for example, saw many people focus more on personal health and fitness. According to Mintel, 34% of adults reported that exercise had become a bigger priority for them since the COVID-19 outbreak, thus driving a significant spike in the purchase of nutraceutical and sports supplements. Similarly, animal health categories saw significant upturns in sales as socially distancing populations increased spending on their pets.

These stimuli to growth are a welcome boost, however, many organisations are unlikely to have seen them coming. This rapid growth can also have an overwhelming impact on both marketing and supply chain teams who have to manage the increased workload. 

This impact can also be exacerbated by an organisation’s size. Many of the companies in these sub-sectors are smaller players, not used to having to manage their product supply on this scale. Take the pharmaceutical industry as an example, where according to Pharma Voice, today nearly two thirds of new molecular entity discoveries are filed by small pharma, compared with just one third a decade earlier. The market is still dominated by a raft of huge global players but hot on their heels are myriad smaller companies in the start-up or early-growth phases.

What if, in this strangest of years, you’re lucky enough to work for a business that’s going through an unexpected period of rapid growth? What do you do if your business is booming and your packaging artwork process is struggling to keep pace? 

If this sounds familiar, how should you respond to these challenges?

Simplify the supply chain 

It’s likely you’ll have more to do, without an equivalent increase in your internal supply chain and marketing resources. It’s imperative that as the amount of packaging you need to develop increases, that the number of supply chain partners you work with doesn’t. Where possible, look to centralise key activities with fewer agency partners. 

Make sure the process is being carried out consistently across brands and markets and, ideally, further simplify your external touchpoints by partnering with those agencies that have the capabilities and expertise to carry out multiple activities. Your needs will vary from one project to the next, but your packaging will require elements of design, adaptation, artwork and pre-press services.

Look to work with companies who can manage all of these activities, combining stages for even more efficiency where practicable. This is about reducing the time your teams spend briefing, reviewing and approving and the inevitable complexity that these actions drive.

Look for sector expertise

For many companies in the Health Sciences sector the way products are branded and marketed has become increasingly indiscernible from the approach from FMCG organisations. But it's a mistake to work with artwork suppliers who don’t understand the difference. 

The highly regulated nature of these sectors places subtle but critical importance on key drivers, such as, guaranteeing that your packaging is both accurate and compliant, as well as ensuring its appeal and connectedness to your consumers. 

With the lines increasingly blurred, the wisest approach is to side with an agency that has a proven track record of working across both highly regulated categories as well as understanding brands. 

Find the right cultural fit

A start-up biotech and a global pharma giant both sit within the Health Sciences sector, but a savvy partner would manage their artwork requirements very differently. Granted, if you are seeking to transition to a more scalable artwork process, it’s likely because you’ve outgrown the old ways of working. 

But this doesn't mean that your daily volume requirements have hit the hundreds overnight and that you need to migrate to an industrialised packaging artwork process, reliant entirely on systems and with little or no room for human intervention. 

Of course, migrating to a more efficient workflow with fewer manual touchpoints should be part of the journey but as you go through this type of change, you will want to rely on a supplier that can offer an experienced account management team. It might sound like a cliché, but it must feel right; you need that understanding and connection between the two companies. 

No matter how great the offer looks on paper, a partnership is only likely to succeed if there is good chemistry between your organisations and the teams that are going to work together. 

Get the right tech

If your organisation is still in its infancy, you may not have access to a specially designed artwork management tool. It may not even be necessary until your artwork volumes start to rise. 

Once that happens, you risk losing time trying to manage projects through increasingly complex and unwieldy spreadsheets, artwork-related messages clog up your inbox and the process of co-ordinating reviews and approvals quickly becomes a full-time job. Since it might be unrealistic to have the budget to invest in a fully validated bespoke workflow management software, it’s sensible to look at partnering with an artwork provider who can offer you an off-the-shelf tool at no additional cost. 

This will be key in taking away the burden of the heavy lifting of more manual project management as well as providing you with a suite of tools to govern the process. In turn, this will support your quality control requirements and provide you with the safety net of a comprehensive audit trail.  

Stability and scale have never been more important

The world has never been changing as fast. Huge economic uncertainty has made this period a vital time to re-evaluate your supply chain and to guarantee that an element as critical as packaging is in the hands of a trusted supplier that is both organisationally and financially robust enough to weather the storm. 

At the same time, your business is experiencing a sharp upturn in growth that demands you upgrade your processes and partnerships to ensure that your key suppliers are the right ones to support your artwork needs, both today and in the future. 

Unforecasted growth in demand for your products is the right sort of problem to have, but in practical terms it brings its own challenges. In the case of packaging, overburdened teams find themselves rethinking the models they have in place for developing and managing their packs. 

Consideration has to be given to new partners, technologies and processes, and as the market dictates, they upgrade their approach to new levels in demand. Rather than waiting for something to go wrong, make preventing mistakes the driver that stimulates a program of change. Far better to recognise that this is the right time to act in order to set your packaging supply chain on a scalable and stable growth trajectory.

About Stephen Marshman

Stephen has more than twenty years’ experience in branding and graphics, having begun his career with SGK in 1997. Today he works as a Business Development Director, focused on helping organisations of all sizes implement best practice processes for the development of packaging and branded content. Specialising in artwork and pre-press for packaging, and with a proven track record of helping clients optimise their marketing supply chains, he has extensive experience of both the Consumer Packaged Goods and Life Sciences sectors.