From writing to adult colouring, a number of exciting trends emerged and re-emerged in 2015 which helped grow dollar sales for key players in the office supplies industry.

The US office and school supplies industry grew 3% in 2015 to $12-billion, with $1,2-billion stemming from online sales, according to retail sales data from global information company The NPD Group.

The bulk of the industry’s revenue came from the Writing Instruments category, which represented 20% of total industry sales, and was the thrust behind its growth in 2015; the category experienced dollar and unit growth of 8%, and 7%, respectively.

“From writing to adult colouring, a number of exciting trends emerged and re-emerged in 2015 which helped grow dollar sales for key players in the office supplies industry. These trends continue to have a positive impact on sales,” says Leen Nsouli, office supplies industry analyst, The NPD Group.

Amidst the digital migration being seen across industries, the traditional writing category has managed to grow and, at the same time, evolve with the times, as new products on the market show. Traditional pen sales grew 5% during the year, and specialty pens by 11%. In line with the adult colouring book trend, dollar sales of porous, gel, and multi-coloured pens were up by 28%, 9% and 8%, respectively.

Coloured pencils were also popular items, with sales up 40% for the full year. Consumers are also spending on fine writing instruments, and increased their spending by nearly $2,5-million on fountain, gel, and ballpoint pens compared to what they spent on these products in 2014.

While the pen category saw sales increase, 2015 marked a shift in the purchasing of pens versus pencils during the back-to-school season, with traditional pen sales losing unit share to encased and mechanical pencils. Looking at back-to-school shopping purchases, consumers traded 27,6-million individual units of pens for pencils in 2015.

“There is a lot of creativity and innovation in both pens and complementary products. Whether it’s taking notes in an office meeting, journal keeping, colouring, or finding that special lifestyle or luxury pen, many consumers are still handwriting,” says Nsouli.

“The comeback of the pencil could be due to a number of factors, including the increased mention of encased pencils on K-6 school lists, growth of large pack sizes in pencils, or the increased purchase rate of specialty pens like the stylus pen, which are an attractive option for consumers looking to blend traditional writing and technology.”

Looking at channel performance, the writing category experienced growth across all retail channels – brick-and-mortar, online, and food/drug stores – and outperformed the overall supplies industry in each.

“The keys to growth in supplies – whether for the office, school, or crafting – are all about innovation and price,” says Nsouli. “I’ve seen this done through new styles and design, new licensing agreements, a blending between glass and paper, and the creation of a new activity like adult colouring, which lead the way to increased sales across supplies categories.”

Change within a business is not only an inevitable step in the process of growth, but can also serve as a catalyst for further growth, if managed effectively. In today’s dynamic and fast-paced environment, businesses must adapt or risk becoming obsolete. However, managing change effectively must be viewed as an opportunity to improve rather than a chore.

This is according to Claire Simon, consulting psychologist at Work Dynamics – a leading HR consultancy in the country, who says that any change experienced by businesses, whether big or small, is often viewed as turbulent. “Therefore, it is important to shift focus from change management to change leadership – with a strong emphasis on change readiness. While implementing changes in business can come at a risk, it can come with great rewards too.”

These ‘risk changes’ can include mergers, acquisitions, Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE), technological developments and changes in leadership, she says. “As unsettling as these events may sound, they are crucial for growth and becoming more accessible as an organisation.”

With regards to the nature of change within an organisation, Simon points to the recent fall of the highly respected and reputable mobile company, Nokia, as a prime example of how change effects business development. “Nokia did not necessarily make any grand mistakes, but did not make any grand leaps to adapt to the ever evolving mobile technologies either. As a result, their competitors indisputably became too powerful for them to compete with. This is a prime example of the importance of change for organisations to remain current and competitive.”

She adds that organisations going through a significant change should partner with a qualified HR consultancy that is able to provide guidance on the psychology of change, especially in terms of the impact on employees. “Change is inevitable and affects the employees the most, as they have to adapt their daily processes to accommodate the change. Many organisations tend to focus primarily on keeping up with their competitors and other commercial elements of business, meaning that the human factor may be neglected. This is problematic, because a dedicated and motivated team of workers forms the backbone of most organisations.”

When it comes to ensuring that change progresses efficiently and smoothly, communication is imperative, explains Simon. “Preparing for and transitioning through change can be overwhelming and organisations have to provide an open platform for employees to express their concerns prior to the changes.”

She suggests the following change communication model to ensure that staff members remain in the loop. “Firstly, employees must be informed timeously of change to ensure everyone is aware of the process. Secondly, a transparent approach to involve employees is required to stimulate engagement across all levels of the business. Finally, the change must be integrated into the organisation without hindering the commitment and attitudes of the employees.”

This can be accomplished if leaders within the organisation act as the change agents and assist with transparency and honesty during the progression of change, says Simon. “Sound leadership will demonstrate an inordinate level of care on the part of senior management, in turn resulting in high levels of trust and compliance from the employees.”

She explains that while there is no general rating system available to measure change readiness within an organisation, the level thereof can be assessed through a change readiness survey that is tailor-made to suit the unique attributes of the organisation.

“A continuous change readiness assessment plan must be implemented within organisations to measure and adapt existing processes, thereby ensuring the organisation is resilient and prepared enough to continue its growth during periods of change,” concludes Simon.

The recent Penny Sparrow debacle on social media, followed by the Stellenbosch “black facing” incident, highlights the need for businesses to carefully manage diversity within the workplace. In addition to ensuring sensitivity and respect among employees, diversity must also be wielded as a key business strength.

This is according to Francois Wilbers, MD at Work Dynamics, who says that In the South African landscape, where socio-economic inequalities are rife and ethnic and cultural diversity is ever present, companies often face stern challenges with regards to effective human resource management (HRM).

Rather than viewing diversity and cultural variety as a challenge, organisations can embrace diversity as a platform through which to better understand its diverse stakeholder base.

He adds that as a democracy coming into adulthood, the country’s efficiency levels, leadership conviction, skills development and value systems come under close and often harsh scrutiny.

“These challenges we face as a young democracy, inevitably filter through into the businesses operating within the country and as a result, organisations big and small need to deal with several challenges on a daily basis. Nonetheless, valuing diversity throughout an organisation’s leadership and staff opens up a world of possibility with regards to interacting and engaging with a diverse stakeholder base – as is the case in South Africa.”

Wilbers explains that cultural-driven organisations often tend to outperform others, especially during troublesome economic conditions and says that company-culture is the building block on which the acceptance of diversity within an organisation is based.

“By building a company culture that is accepting of diversity and mutual respect, organisations create a space that is conducive to participation from employees with an alternative viewpoint.”

In order to build a company culture of acceptance, effective HRM is required, says Wilbers.

“Culture defines the accepted way of acting, thinking and interacting with colleagues within a business and an effective HR campaign can assist in defining or even reinventing company culture.”

He points out that in order to change the culture of an organisation, effective research in the form of internal meetings or surveys is essential to first define the current perception of employees regarding the company culture.

“It is advisable for organisations to partner with an independent HR partner to conduct this research to ensure that employees can freely discuss their views and opinions without feeling threatened.”

Wilbers says that secondly, strategic relationship building, internal communication and protocol development is required to filter in a new “collective attitude”.

“Managing change in an organisation is often challenging and businesses must remember that consistence, transparency and effective communication are key elements of success here.”

He highlights the fact that new generations are continuously entering the workplace and therefore culture management must not be viewed as a once-off exercise.

“Continuous assessment of the organisational culture is necessary to ensure that different cultural backgrounds and expectations are constantly being addressed.

“Aside from the business benefits of building a diverse workforce that mirrors and understands the country’s diversity, cultivating a culture of acceptance within an organisation will also do wonders for staff retention and overall employee morale,” concludes Wilbers.

Researchers have demonstrated that transparent ink containing gold, silver and magnetic nanoparticles can easily be screen-printed onto various types of paper, with the nanoparticles being so small that they seep into the paper’s pores.

Although invisible to the naked eye, the nanoparticles can be detected by the unique ways that they scatter light and by their magnetic properties. Since the combination of optical and magnetic signatures is extremely difficult to replicate, the nanoparticles have the potential to be an ideal anti-counterfeiting technology.

The researchers, Carlos Campos-Cuerva, Maciej Zieba, and co-authors at the University of Zaragoza in Zaragoza, Spain, and CIBER-BBN in Madrid, Spain, have published a paper on the anti-counterfeiting nanoparticle ink in a recent issue of Nanotechnology.

“We believe that it would be interesting to sell to different manufacturers their own personalised ink providing a specific combination of signals,” co-author Manuel Arruebo at the University of Zaragoza and CIBER-BBN told

The nanoparticle-containing ink could then be used to mark a wide variety of supports including paper (documents, labels of wine, or drug packaging), plastic (bank or identity cards), textiles (luxury clothing or bags), and so on.”

Whereas , the new technique is much simpler. The researchers attached the nanopartiprevious methods of using nanoparticles as an anti-counterfeiting measure often require expensive, sophisticated equipmentcles to the paper by standard screen-printing of transparent ink, and then authenticated the samples using commercially available optical and magnetic sensors.

“We demonstrated that the combination of nanomaterials providing different optical and magnetic properties on the same printed support is possible, and the resulting combined signals can be used to obtain a user-configurable label, providing a high degree of security in anti-counterfeiting applications using simple commercially available sensors at a low cost,” Arruebo says.

Although the nanoparticle ink is easy for the researchers to fabricate, attempting to replicate these authentication signals would be extremely difficult for a forger because the signals arise from the highly specific physical and chemical characteristics of the nanoparticles. Replicating the exact type, size, shape, and surface coating requires highly precise fabrication methods and an understanding of the correlation between the signals and these characteristics.

Making replication even more complicated is the fact that the combined optical and magnetic nanoparticles are printed on top of each other in the same spot, and this overlap creates an even more complex signal. Another advantage of the new technique is that the nanoparticles are able to withstand extreme temperatures and humidity under accelerated weathering conditions.

One of the greatest applications of the technology may be to prevent forgery of pharmaceutical drugs. Counterfeit medicine – which includes drugs that have incorrect or no active ingredients, as well as drugs that are intentionally mislabelled – is a growing problem throughout the world. The researchers plan to pursue such applications as well as further increase the security of the technology in future work.

“We plan to add more physical signals to the same tag by combining nanoparticles which could provide optical, magnetic, and electrical signals, etc., on the same printed spot,” Arruebo says.


Paper sourcing and usage is an integral part of a comprehensive corporate and social responsibility (CSR) strategy. By implementing a responsible paper sourcing and usage policy focused on recycled paper or paper produced from sustainable virgin fibre, enterprises can demonstrate their commitment to conducting business responsibly and encouraging the development of sustainable forestry.

To support companies in their efforts to integrate paper into their CSR policies, Antalis, Europe’s leading paper merchant, has developed its Green Connection Initiative with the Green Star System (GSS) at its core. The GSS attributes a number of stars to each paper product according to its environmental credentials allowing customers to make informed, responsible choices.

The Antalis Green Connection is completely aligned with its parent company Sequana’s global CSR strategy, which has three key objectives:

• Ensure responsible sourcing of the products Antalis sells;
• Ensure Antalis commits to environmental excellence in its everyday business; and
• Support Antalis customers in their commitment to green paper and printing.

The Antalis Green Star System: making it easy to go green
Hotels,restaurant and theatre reviews, household products … all are commonly ranked by consumers on a star-based system. Antalis therefore chose this universally-recognised point of reference as the indicator of the different levels of eco-responsibility for its Green Star System, ranking papers from zero to five green stars.

Even those unfamiliar with the growing number of ecological certifications, can easily understand the system and identify the most environmentally-friendly products.

While the GSS is designed to be accessible to everyone and to simplify the intelligent choice of products with a lower environmental impact, its definition is based on exhaustive information and stringent requirements regarding the origin of the wood fibres and the paper manufacturing process.

Origin of the fibre – for a product to be eco-responsible the wood fibres must either be FSC/PEFC certified or at least 50% recycled from post-consumer waste with the remaining in line with FSC or PEFC standards.
Manufacturing process – for a product to be defined as eco-responsible, the mills that produce the paper must carry either ISO 14001 certification (based on a framework for the development of an environmental management system – EMS – and the supporting audit programme) or the EU Ecolabel (lifecycle based approach).

Companies often still have an either/or attitude to paper and digital communications but these media are complementary,” explains Xavier Jouvet, group marketing and purchasing director.

Antalis’ David James says, “The right combination of both can strengthen the impact of a company’s messages and image, particularly when paper is sourced and used in an eco-responsible manner. We want to make taking that step as easy as possible for our customers which is why we have developed the Antalis Green Star System.”

As part of its Green Connection initiative, Antalis has developed a number of additional tools and solutions which aim to promote environmental excellence amongst all the stakeholders in the paper industry and to defend the industry as a responsible, sustainable economic player.

These include:

• The “Did you know?” video which debunks all those widespread myths about the paper industry which is in fact the greatest user of renewable energy and contributes widely to reforestation.

• The Antalis Green White Paper which provides concrete advice on how companies can integrate paper into their sustainable development strategy and the advantages of a properly managed paper sourcing policy.

• The Antalis Green Brochure which presents the merchant’s complete eco-responsible product offering, its characteristics and application possibilities. Brochure available on request.

• The environmental ECO calculator developed with Arjowiggins Graphic which allows companies to calculate the reduction in their environmental impact when using the Antalis range of eco-responsible papers.

To find out more, visit

Living ink powers Chia Pet pen

Some of the best inventions actually started out as accidents, and such is the case with the world’s first “Chia Pet” pen. Its creators were trying to create an eco-friendly alternative to printer ink using algae, but ended up creating invisible ink that magically appears after a few days exposure to sunlight.

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