For 2012 we present these Companies to Watch:
ASL Print FX
Viking Label and Packaging
Concept Mediterraneen D’emballage (CME)
Precision Label and Tag
ASL Print FX
1 Royal Gate Blvd, Unit A
Vaughan, ON, Canada L4L 8Z7
416-798-7310 or 1-800-263-2368
In 1965, a company called All Stick Label - which would later become ASL Print FX - was established. Ten years later, a man named Mike Adam purchased the company, and would own it for another 30 years. According to Karen Blumel, director of marketing at ASL Print FX, Adam was squarely focused on developing good technology, which has remained a key aspect of the company today.
“He produced good, quality flexographic printing in comparison to the market,” she says. “In the early days, the company was known amongst brand owners and industry peers as a problem-solver.”
Blumel says that the culture that Adam originally established for this Vaughan, ON, Canada-based converter lives on today. “Our ‘culture of innovation’ is a key driver of how we go to market as a solutions provider,” she says.
A major turning point for the company came in 1997, when Adam opened a facility in Winston-Salem, NC, USA, primarily to serve the automotive market. The facility is still open today. A third location, in Richmond Hill, Ontario, was established two years ago through an investment in DigitalLABELS. According to Blumel, the alliance was established to “recognize the need for a high-end focused, digital strategy.”
Seven years after the Winston-Salem facility was opened, Charlie MacClean took over as president. Stacy Daly is the general manager and vice president, and in addition to Blumel, the management team includes Yvonne Baker as vice president of finance, and John Baird as director of sales. Since MacClean took over in 2004, the company has been rebranded, purchased new presses, and has focused on the promotional, consumer goods, and wine and spirits markets.
As part of the company’s rebranding strategy, it established a marketing role for the first time. Blumel says that she quickly set out to establish ASL Print FX as “the best in the business,” and began submitting the company’s work to various label industry awards to prove it. “Since 2009,” she says, “I have submitted over 50 label award entries, and our company has placed 35 times.”
Several of those awards have been widely-recognized industry achievements. In March 2012, the company won the World Label Award for excellence in technical achievement for its printing of the Red Tile Central Coast wine label. In 2011, the company was awarded Best in Show at the 2011 TLMI Awards for the same label, which qualified it for the World Label Awards. ASL Print FX has won three additional Best in Show awards, and also won the 2011 World Label Award for technical achievement.
Blumel says that the secret to ASL Print FX’s success is its approach. “We call what we do HDFX. We think far beyond the printed surface to create dialogue, impact, interaction, and so much more. The possibilities today reach far beyond the limitations of flexo from yesterday. HDFX is not simply improvements in technology,” she says, “but a combination of proprietary technical innovation and the experience ASL Print FX brings to the table, the expertise to put it all together and bring it to life on a package or printed real estate.”
In 2006, the company purchased a new press: a Gallus RCS 330. Just three years later, it purchased a second. According to Blumel, this particular press was chosen because, quite simply, the company believes that it is the most capable of producing the high-end labels required by its customers. “It allows us to build some complex print constructions to give highly decorative effects all in one pass, making the label not only stunning but as cost-effective as possible,” she says.
The wine and spirits and consumer goods markets have been ASL Print FX’s primary focuses. Its specialties in the wine and spirits market include creating shimmer with foils, inks, coatings and laminations; creating tactile/texture; creating contrast with matte and gloss effects; the no-label look; and conversion to pressure sensitive from glue-applied to enhance the overall package. In the consumer goods market, the company’s areas of expertise include multi-panel constructions (including label-on-label) and variable imaging. In both markets, Blumel says the company specializes in QR codes and brand protection.
The sales philosophy at ASL Print FX is simple: “Get involved and stay involved, all the way through to the end.” The key to a successful partnership, Blumel says, is learning the objectives of your client from the very beginning, and keeping them in mind throughout the entire process.
Sales associates at ASL Print FX are encouraged to team sell, which means branching out to include every department involved in the creation of a finished label. “Every incoming project is assigned a team, including a technical sales representative, a client care representative, and a prepress representative,” she says. “In addition, this team links to production, marketing, quality and engineering.”
Blumel adds that the company’s approach to its clients is rooted in project management, and first focuses on preproduction events. “It is so easy for a job to go sideways if you don’t have a communication flow,” she says.
Preproduction meetings are held with the company’s client, all internal stakeholders, and sometimes the company’s vendors. “We’ve included this preproduction process in our ISO 9001:2008 manual,” she adds.
Offering prepress services, which Blumel defines as “having 100% of our prepress services 100% in-house,” is a point of pride for ASL Print FX. “The ability to print a 20 micron dot allows us to achieve close to continuous tone imaging; softer shadows, smoother highlights and near-photographic quality images.”
ASL Print FX also offers its customers the Flexcel NX plating system, which Blumel says provides consistent structure and repeatability on press, “which is the result of a stable, flat-top dot structure.”
As a 47-year-old printing company, ASL Print FX has had time to establish its values, its processes and its mission. According to Blumel, its philosophy was established by its former owner and grown by its current president. She adds that the company’s modus operandi is simple: “We add value to brands.”
– Catherine Diamond
Viking Label and Packaging Inc.
5652 County Road 18
Nisswa, MN 56468
Viking Label and Packaging has a rich history, new processes and machinery, and a strategic location in the heart of Minnesota. The converter has a strong foundation, and for nearly half a century has grown steadily as it now enters a new era of label printing.
The company got its start in 1964. Ed Decker, the founder, had worked for 3M in its Tape & Label Division, and upon retiring from 3M, he bought a single press and started his own business based on running trials for 3M. From its inception and into the 1970s, the business grew, though it was solely selling labels through distributors, which was commonplace in the industry at the time.
Today, the company is co-owned by Thomas Wetrosky, who has experienced Viking’s growth firsthand – he started at the company in 1977 in sales, during the distributorship phase. In 1990, Wetrosky and a partner, Donald Engen, bought the company from Decker. By then the business model had shifted from being distributor-driven to direct sales, and had also vastly improved upon its once relatively simple business.
You might say that Viking Label was a company to watch thirty years ago. During its earliest years, the business was primarily based on printing simple one- or two-color grocery labels on an Allied Gear machine. But a major milestone came in the 80s, when Viking acquired two rotary letterpress machines.
“At the time, this was a major milestone for us,” says Steve Engen, general manager. “The new equipment gave us tremendous opportunities and really put us on the map as a full-service label converter.”
Viking Label steadily grew, with most of its business coming from the food industry. In the late 1980s, its first Mark Andy press arrived, and Viking shifted from stacked letterpress to inline flexo printing. As the business took off, a second shift was added, as well as more press acquisitions. Today, in its 35,000 square foot facility in Nisswa, MN, Viking Label has six Mark Andy presses.
Surrounded by lakes, Nisswa is a rustic setting, perhaps not typical of a North American label converter. The small city is situated about a two to three hour drive from a major metropolitan area. The relative isolation has made Viking self-reliant – they’ve always made their own plates. A significant equipment milestone and upgrade came in 2005 with the addition of an Esko CDI Spark platemaking system.
The Viking Label facility – which is the same building that housed the company since its start in the 60s – has gone through some changes. (Though the front door remains the same.) Located about two hours north of Minneapolis, Viking has just entered its latest era as it has added digital printing to its repertoire.
Viking Label’s core customer base still lies in food, with regional customers that include Barrel O Fun, Trident Seafoods, Gold ‘n Plump Poultry and Jennie-O. Its customers are loyal, many of them growing their businesses with Viking for decades. Many new customers are gained via word of mouth, but the company also has a comprehensive sales force and strategy.
The majority of Viking Label’s customers are located in the Upper Midwest. “Our sales organization is divided into geographic territories,” explains Kim Larson, sales manager. “We offer incentives for new accounts and new constructions. We’re really proud of our long-term relationships and many times include customer testimonials in our sales presentations.
Larson notes the sales team is also incentivized through selling its new technology – digital printing. Earlier this year, the company – after lengthy research and discussion – decided that inkjet is the future. Viking Label’s customer demands have shifted over the years, in light of both the economic downturn as well as branding and marketing strategies. Larson says, “Customers are looking to order less quantity at the same cost per unit. They are holding less inventory, which, in turn, gives us less lead time to react. We’re getting more orders, but less quantity per order. Our digital press helps us meet these demands of smaller orders, more SKUs and the shorter lead times.”
Viking Label prides itself on quality and its custom-printed capabilities, which within the last year have significantly improved with additional equipment acquisitions. Prime labels are a core market, and addressing the need for high-end shelf appeal are Cast N Cure and cold foil units. A new onsert machine allows Viking to produce folded booklets in one pass, in almost any width and orientation.
Along with its equipment acquisitions, Viking has adjusted to changes in the marketplace as well as the label industry at large. Six Sigma methodologies have been adapted in its manufacturing processes are also being applied to prepress, purchasing and customer service.
“We view the label industry as very competitive and evolving,” Engen says. “We are continually assessing our procedures, policies and buying strategies to cut costs out of our business. To remain a viable supplier you must continually change, or you will be left behind.”
– Steve Katz
Mediterraneen D’emballage (CME)
515 av. Tramontane ZI Athelia
4 Immeuble Le Forum 13600
La Ciotat, France
Just to the East of Marseilles, on France’s Mediterranean coast, stands the port city of La Ciotat. Its main claim to fame is that it is where the world’s very first movie film was made, in 1895 (it lasted just under a minute). It is also the place where the sport of pétanque, a variant of the better-known boules, was invented. Last but not least, La Ciotat is where, in 1995, Patrick Jankowiak founded the label converting company CME. The company’s growth has been modest, but it has been modestly profitable; CME is typical of the several hundred small French label converters serving local markets. You won’t always be able to talk to Patrick Jankowiak on the phone, he aims to spend a lot of time in the plant, where “the noise of the presses is music to the ears.”
The mainstay of CME’s business is in wine labels, and his customers are récoltants, i.e. growers who make, bottle and label their own wine. The récoltants look down on the large-scale wineries that make and mix wines from many growers and sell under a fancy brand name. The récoltants also need a reliable supplier of short-run pressure sensitive labels. From an economic point of view the whole structure of the wine industry in France looks crazy. Why hasn’t it gone the same way as the beer industry, now totally dominated by just a handful of big groups? Patrick Jankowiak has a pretty good idea: “As I see it, the beer industry is run by bankers and bean counters,” he says. “But wine, in France at least, is part of our culture, and it’s highly traditional, and above all, local. What happens for wine labels is typical. My customers all know me, they expect me to call on them, and above all they want to be able to pick up a phone any time, day or night and call Patrick – not to log on to some customer website or email some big organization in Marseilles or Paris. Their worry may be a big order, or a change of bottling program, or some other unexpected crisis. Whatever it is, they want their labels fast. And many of the smaller customers don’t want to talk about PDF files and plates, they just tell me to change this, change that and then get on and print the labels.” This rather loose, over-the-phone ordering can lead to mistakes or misunderstandings, but as Jankowiak says modestly: “When it comes to labels, I probably know what they want better than they do.”
CME’s answer to the need for short-run wine labels was to invest in an HP Indigo press. This, at least for a while, has given CME an edge over most of its competitors in the region. Patrick Jankowiak hesitated for a long time before taking the plunge into digital printing. “Commercially it was becoming a necessity, but technically the digital process scared us. If the slightest thing goes wrong with a digital label press all you can do is call for help; we’re not used to doing that.” In fact, the teething troubles with the new press were fewer than expected. CME gives full marks to the supplier’s hotline service for answering queries, and today 40% of CME’s sales come from digitally printed labels.
Until now, the company was obliged to subcontract some longer-run business, so Jankowiak decided it was again time to invest. His choice fell on Nuova Gidue, the Italian press manufacturer, and in mid-2012 a new flexo press from this supplier was installed, with a view to making CME more competitive in longer run business.
“In September we held an Open Day to demonstrate our workshop and in particular the new flexo press, and I’m confident the extra business will come in now that we’re equipped to handle it,” he says.
CME also provides labels for the cosmetic and chemicals sectors, both of which often require screen-printed labels, and for this the company uses semi-rotary printing and converting equipment from French manufacturer SMAG. But it’s not just the print technology that is different for this kind of business. “Industrial customers have a totally different mentality from those in the wine business,” says Jankowiak. “Price is a key criterion, and deliveries are generally planned ahead. The downside is that these customers will change supplier at the drop of a hat, and I’m always aware that there are 20 other label converters within a 100 kilometer radius. Fortunately we do multi-page labels and hazardous product labels that not many of our competitors can provide,” he says.
It is interesting to note that although fast expressways connect La Ciotat to all the main population centers of France, for Jankowiak what happens more than 100 kilometers away is only marginally relevant. As for foreign competitors (the Spanish and Italian frontiers are both less than three hours’ drive away), Jankowiak says, “We haven’t seen them for years.” So much for the Single European Market.
CME’s recent investments in new equipment have not so far been matched by a dramatic rise in sales. “Our financial year to September 2012 will almost certainly show sales at around the same level as in the previous year, but with a slight fall in profits. We had a bad time in January and February, but sales have bounced back over the summer and business will surely pick up next year. With our 30% increase in capacity, it will have to!”
– John Penhallow
280 Clinton St
Springfield, VT 05156
Precision Valley is the moniker given to the Springfield region of the US state of Vermont, just across the New Hampshire border. The area got it’s name from it’s history as being a mecca for precision machine manufacturing, and even played a key role in the United States’ World War II manufacturing effort. Renowned for machine tool and telescope-making in particular, Springfield provides a fitting backdrop for ImageTek Labels, a converter that prides itself on supplying its customers with high quality, reliable and versatile products – in a one-stop-shop environment. The company recently invested in digital printing technology, and is thus poised to grow into new markets.
ImageTek Labels is only 10 years old and initially found success in a niche area – durable labels – leveraging the business of its sister company, Precision Contract Manufacturing (PCM). Founded in 1994, PCM delivers a wide range of products and services, including printed circuit board assembly, custom cable and harness assembly and testing, electronic manufacturing services and supply chain management. A third division of the company is the OEM Applicator Division which designs, manufactures and sells automated label application and lamination machinery. Together, PCM employs over 100 people operating two shifts in its 30,000 square foot plant.
Since it’s founding, ImageTek Labels has been very much a specialist operation. The company had purchased the hardware division of ImTec, and shortly after began offering value added services of media, ribbons and printers to support the hardware.
“Our Label and Media Division quickly found its niche in converting durable media for use in manufacturing,” says Mike Hathaway, president and CEO of ImageTek Labels, of the company’s specialty in high temperature, chemical-resistant products. The markets ImageTek serves have primarily been aerospace, automotive, electronics and durable goods.
Up until recently, ImageTek’s core customers were manufacturing engineers in the aforementioned markets. But recently, the company has found that energy-related projects are growing vastly, and it supports some of the key players within those industries on a national level.
Earlier this year, ImageTek purchased an EFI Jetrion 4900 digital UV inkjet inline system. The new capability is allowing the company to broaden its horizons and enter prime label markets such as food and beverage, wine labeling and short run applications. The Jetrion 4900 also supports some of its durable label processes while lessening lead times significantly.
“We expect significant and rapid growth over the next few years as we find our place in the digital label marketplace,” says Lynda Murphy, production manager. “Moving forward, ImageTek Labels will continue to expand on its durable offerings but also work with specialty food, health care and beauty, wine makers and household product applications,” she says.
The addition of the Jetrion 4900 digital printing system was a natural next step for ImageTek Labels, Hathaway adds. ImageTek works with thermal transfer ribbon printable materials, as it finds they are the most durable, which is the primary need of its core customer base. “We are well-known for flame-retardant and chemical resistant products, labels that can withstand high temperatures and harsh environments – that has been our specialty,” Hathaway says.
Combining both digital printing and finishing in one single system, the Jetrion will support the manufacture of durable labels that have kept ImageTek Labels at the top of the harsh environment label markets, while expanding its short run capabilities and lessening lead times – a win-win for ImageTek Labels and its current customers. Until recently, ImageTek converted materials often times using several steps. “Moving forward, the Jetrion 4900 will support the same quality label in the leanest way possible, making the entire process more cost effective for our customers while streamlining our short and medium run capabilities and giving label users high quality, UV-cured, laser cut labels at competitive prices.”
Perhaps due to the nature of many durable goods customers, ImageTek was fortunate to have not seen a significant downturn in business through the recession. “In fact,” Murphy adds, “we grew our customer base and were offered new opportunities as manufacturers tried to lessen costs by finding leaner ways to manufacture their labels. Current demands continue to be steady on the label side. We attract engineering professionals that need label solutions to meet extremely challenging environments and processes.
“On the digital side, we have begun work with an entirely different market than our typical durable label customers, where quick turnaround and price points are leading factors in earning the business. Thus far, we could not be happier with the new opportunities and growth, and very much look forward to what the future has in store,” Murphy says.
The addition of the Jetrion is a welcome investment for ImageTek Labels. In streamlining its operation, it enables new opportunities into prime label markets while also decreasing its expenses on tooling, plates and dies. ImageTek Labels is staying ahead of the curve and is a company to watch in the years ahead. In the near future, a new, instant quote website will be launched, where customers will be able to customize any label order, choosing from a long line of UL-approved, durable synthetic and paper materials.
ImageTek Labels received ISO certification 9001:2008 for its Quality Management System in 2012 and is ITAR certified.
– Steve Katz
Precision Label and Tag
1250 Reid Street, Unit 9B
Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada L4B 1G3
905-764-3745 or 1-800-465-1522
Brian Weller is a practical man. After working as the sales manager at Nashua Canada, he started Precision Label and Tag (“from scratch”) on December 27, 1987 and set out to be a quick-order turnaround manufacturer of full color labels to selected clientele. He decided to focus on food, he says, because it’s an industry with staying power.
“As long as people are eating,” he says, “you’ll need food labels. The last thing you want to do is set yourself up as the best manufacturer of a Hula-Hoop.”
Precision Label and Tag is housed in a 3,500 square foot facility in Richmond Hill, ON, Canada. It is an efficient operation, with just six employees bringing in more than one million dollars in annual sales. Weller has been president since he established the company; his son, Rob, is vice president. In addition to its focus on food labels, Precision Label and Tag also manufacturers prime labels and custom printed packaging; pharmaceutical, medical and diagnostic heat seal lidding; instant redeemable coupons, chemical and hazardous materials identification; and temper evident seals, among others.
The company’s primary clients are major distributors and wholesalers who re-market Precision Label and Tag’s products across Canada and into the United States. Weller knew some of the company’s clients from his time at Nashua Canada. Others have been acquired through referrals. “We’re very careful who we take on as a customer because we want to be sure we can satisfy their needs,” Weller says.
Weller is as thoughtful about his machinery as he is about his clients. Precision Label and Tag currently has three presses, including both a Mark Andy and an AquaFlex, and Rotoflex inspection/rewind equipment. Suppliers and partners handle the company’s prepress needs. Weller says that, in general, the company is most cost-effective with orders that range from 50,000 to 10 million labels. “When I first started, I was told ‘Just don’t grow too fast,’ and it always stuck with me,” he says.
“Any acquisitions we’ve made have been well thought out,” Weller says. “We own our own machines, and we have no debt. We work within our constraints so that we don’t leverage ourselves or our clients.”
The company’s sales effort is handled by authorized distributors. “We support [them] in their various trading regions by keeping them supplied with the latest in on-product labeling: the products their clients need to improve market share,” he says. “We do not sell our products directly to the consumer as this would breach our distributor agreements. Whether it is the latest cooking instruction label or an updated nutrition facts label, we work closely with our distributors and their clients to ensure satisfaction. Our distributors trust us.”
Weller says that he has learned a lot over the last 25 years, particularly that in order to stay relevant, label converters have to constantly adapt to both market and industry changes. He points out that nutrition facts and cooking instructions were not seen on some food labels as recently as ten years ago. Additionally, the need for more sustainable materials and production processes has changed the game in many respects.
Specifically, Weller says, specialty food label materials and content are constantly being improved upon. For example, he notes that Precision Label and Tag manufactures biodegradable labels for “green” food containers that will breakdown in landfill, as a replacement for plastic labels. “This has been a dramatic growth opportunity for us,” he adds. “Also, content and graphics are constantly changing on food labels to initiate and maintain consumer interest.”
Weller adds, “In the long-term, we are finding that over the last ten years, production runs are becoming shorter and more frequent, and we don’t see this changing. This can be very difficult for the larger manufacturer but fits in well with our program and capabilities.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes since 1987, and we’ve found ourselves having to adapt to new materials, machinery, etc.,” he says. “You have to make investments in order to maintain, and in order to continually grow.”
Weller is someone who not only seems to embrace change, but looks forward to it. At this year’s Labelexpo, he said that he welcomes the next phase in printing technology. “Digital flexo is the next generation,” he says. “Once it becomes commercial … its got legs.”
He adds that, in his experience, it’s as vital to embrace change as it is to create an environment that works for everyone involved. Maintaining good supplier relations, he says, is also crucial.
Weller emphasizes that the key to success for a label converter, especially in today’s market, is recognizing what type of industry it is. “The label business is a craft industry,” he adds. “That’s the key. If you see it as anything other than a craft industry, it’s a race to the bottom for mass production. It’s an easy way to turn a large fortune into a small fortune. What makes it work is knowing that it’s a craft industry, knowing your machinery and hiring the right people.”
– Catherine Diamond
Etiketten - Rollendruck
A-1230 Vienna, Wiegelestraße 26 Austria
For most people, Austria is famous mainly for the Blue Danube Waltz and for delicious, calorie-rich Sachertorte. However, Austria’s capital, Vienna, is also home to one of Central Europe’s biggest roll label converters: Ulikett. The company was founded in 1981, and moved to a new site on the southern fringe of the city in 2003. Today, Ulikett can boast a 60,000 square foot plant, and no less than 80 print stations covering offset, letterpress, screen, UV flexo and digital. The company employs 125, has annual sales in excess of $36 million, and produces more than five billion labels per year. It was recently voted “Best Family Business of Vienna” by Austria’s main economic newspaper Wirtschaftsblatt.
Two years ago the company decided the time had come to go into digital label printing, and having considered the various toner-based digital presses which dominate the market, CEO Gerhard Ulrich decided instead on a Caslon UV inkjet print unit. “It was a quantum leap into a new world of label converting,” he says. “Now we are getting speeds up to 150 feet per minute and printing on most paper and filmic substrates without corona treatment.” In the same year, the company invested in an 8-color Nilpeter offset press – its third – and this latest one using sleeve technology. Last year saw the installation of a second digital press, and this year Ulikett installed yet another web press, this time with ten colors and a wide range of finishing options. The company also has two VEGAplus finishing systems from Italian equipment manufacturer Prati. One of these is being used to diecut and rewind blank labels: “There was no diecutter prior to this with an automated web-rewinder of this type,” according to Ulrich. The other is for the video-controlled slitting and rewinding of printed rolls. (Under the terms of a recent partnership agreement, Prati machinery is now marketed in Austria by Nilpeter, so the same service network covers both product ranges.)
Ulikett not only prints using every current technology, it also has a wide range of finishing equipment, including hot and cold foil, Braille embossing and reverse printing. Special effect inks include rub-off inks for scratch cards, scented inks for cosmetics and chromosensitive inks which change color when the product (frequently a wine) is at the right temperature to be served. The company’s main strength lies in printing self-adhesive labels, but it also produces scratch cards, and large volumes of blank PS labels for the office supplies sector. Other products include web offset printed flexible packaging and wraparound labels for beverages. Despite the economic downturn, the company is still operating in three shifts.
“From our digital prepress and color management through our computer-controlled presses with 100% video inspection to our finishing and delivery, we aim to support our customers as completely as possible,” says Ulrich.
Ulikett was one of the first in Austria to see the potential of booklet labels and to invest in the required machinery. The same goes for pouches, which Ulikett now makes for a wide range of foods and cosmetics. “Peel-and-Reseal” labels used for products ranging from foodstuffs to motor oil are another Ulikett specialty. For the pharmaceutical label sector, the company was the first in Austria to install a 100% video controlled inspection unit; this technology ensures verification and certification of products for pharma and other security-sensitive industries.
Austrians take ecological issues very seriously, and Ulikett is dedicated to the protection of the environment. This means, among other things, the use of solvent-free, low-migration inks, and careful waste separation, which facilitates the recycling of waste into stove pellets used for heating. The company has also installed numerous energy-saving systems, including heat recovery from machines to heat offices in winter.
Ulrich, along with his wife, are both very much active in the day-to-day running of the company. “If we’ve been called ‘The Ulikett couple’ it’s because we feel personally responsible not only for our own production, but also for the products of our customers,” he says.
Austria well deserves its reputation both for music and for gastronomy, and Ulikett played its part at a recent trade show where its booth featured a “singing chef” who prepared snacks for visitors.
Whether he was singing the Blue Danube while making Sachertorte has not been disclosed.
– John Penhallow