Papers that Deserve a Passing Grade

I had a ball last week, comparing press sheets printed on the new NewPage Sterling Premium stock to domestic #1 grade competitors. I won’t say it was superior across all aspects, but the paper definitely belongs in the consideration set.

My NewPage rep came by to share details of the rationalization of the Sterling, Productolith, and Centura sheet grades in favor of the new 94-bright Sterling Premium. The company’s reasoning was that the current delineation of grade lines is out of date and out of touch.

NewPage is about a decade late, but I’m glad it has hopped on the train.

My overall reaction was that of profound relief. At last, a major domestic mill has recognized the profound changes to the competitive landscape; changes prompted by the importation of high-brightness European and Asian sheets. Denial and litigation have finally given way to product line enhancements that will better compete in today’s market.

In this quadrennial season, the Olympic hendiatris comes to mind: “Citius, Altius, Fortius,” which, as everyone knows, means “Faster, Better, Stronger.” So goes the paper market.

“Faster, better, stronger” will also describe the supply chain if the overall paper market rationalizes SKUs in a similarly thoughtful, customer-focused way. For many categories of paper, the total days of inventory within the system can be mind-blowing. Coated freesheet, for example, often has 50 or so days of mill inventory, plus 30-45 days of merchant stock, and a couple of weeks worth of inventory on the printer’s floor. The total cost is massive.

Order variance drives the need for so much buffer stock. But what if the number of SKUs were reduced? With fewer options, demand would be more predictable (lower variance), and less buffer stock of fewer items would be required. Reduced inventory—and subsequent lower costs—across the supply chain would strengthen economic sustainability, something we can all appreciate.

A third-generation printer, Dustin LeFebvre delivers his vision for Specialty Print Communications as EVP, Marketing through strategy, planning and new product development. With a rich background ranging from sales and marketing to operations, quality control and procurement, Dustin takes a wide-angle approach to SPC

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  • Adam

    Wow, How simple and very rational…
    We live in such a custom world, but as one of our employees refers to it, "white and made of wood" it’s just that simple. Maybe Dustin has hit the nail on the head and it is time for the market to right size the number of items produced or certainly the number inventoried; after all, there are only so many characteristics that matter when it comes to selecting a paper grade. Henry Ford offered his car in any color you wanted as long as it was black… Hmmm

  • Pat Vernon

    1. Big offset paper machines can’t manufacture the quality formation an opaque grade needs for quality four color process. It is more than just brightness, whiteness, and opacity for quality offset printing.
    2. Coated grades and board grades are two different end use markets for the most part. Manufacturing efficiencies for board grades in the traditional caliper ranges are lost to make 7 or 9pt unless you’re talking big tons. Further – board grades are stiffer and lighter than coated grades – they just don’t print as well.
    4. Agreed, but the paper mill’s customer is the merchant. They want brand exclusives.
    5. All paper mills have to have a sustainability banner & green products they manufacture rally around. It is a table stake not a niche play.