The happiest moment for a brand manufacturer is when the consumer reaches out, plucks their product from the shelf and puts it in the shopping basket. This triumph is achieved, more or less, by advertising and by labeling. The trend among marketers today seems to be an increased focus on labeling. As Tom Silvano, president of Label Graphics in Little Falls, NJ, says, "Labels are imperative — they are what move the products off the shelf. The first time a person buys a product is because of the label; the second buy is more dependent on the product. If the customer is not happy with the product, no matter how good the label looks — they are not going to buy it just because of the label." And not just any label: It must be innovative and eye-appealing in its use of graphics, color and type. The consensus seems to be that this is the most difficult thing to do.
Labels have grown in complexity over the past six years, observes Dick Chesnut, CEO of Chesnut Engineering, a narrow web gravure press manufacturer in Fairfield, NJ. Many years ago, he says, most personal care products were put in boxes and displayed in those boxes on the drug store shelf. The label on the product inside the box was fairly minimal; it was the box that was decorated. Today the boxes are gone, and the container stands on the shelf by itself, decorated through the use of labels. That's why the labels today are more complex: they need to catch the consumer's attention. According to Diane Ewanko, market manager, household and personal care, at Avery Dennison, Painesville, OH, it's all about getting the consumers interested, getting them to pick up your product and hold it in their hands. Once they pick it up, they're more apt to buy it.
"It's documented that 75 percent of purchase decisions are made at point of purchase," she says. "Consumers purchase 80 percent of the products that they hold in their hand." She contends that it's not an easy thing to do. "Everyone is struggling," she says. "Manufacturers are looking at the types of containers, different and innovative looks with labels — basically whatever appeals and whatever communicates the attributes of the product."
There are different ways to make labels stand out. To achieve the unusual looks demanded by their clients, some converters are turning to combination printing. "We're seeing a lot of multi-process work," says Bob Fisher, ink department manager at Paris Art Label Co., in Ronkonkoma, NY.
Although there are some new looks on the market, the clear, no-label look still has a dominant hold in the labeling of personal care products. Ewanko says, "What Herbal Essences started in the mid-90's has caught on and has been copied by various other brand names." The clear, see-through identification is made up of two labels: A clear label on the front of the PET clear bottle, and a second label on the back of the bottle which is printed on both sides. "Herbal Essences, has chosen to go with the botanical, natural look with their clear shampoo, clear bottle and a picture of some type of herbal plant in the inside cover of the back label," Ewanko says, adding that she sees an increased use of PET containers to complement the clear, see through labels to better achieve the no label look.
The use of holographic paper, silver and gold foils to produce a metallic look, and the use of sparkles are making great headway into the personal care labeling market to capture the attention of the consumer. Unifoil of Passaic Park, NJ, and Crown Roll Leaf of Paterson, NJ, are among the major suppliers of substrates for these labels.
Creating the right look has different implications for three groups of players: The end users or product marketers, the converters who produce the labels and who perfect the look desired by the end users; and the suppliers who provide the needed materials to converters to produce innovative labels.
For end users like Amway Corporation, Ada, MI, the most important thing is image. What will get the consumer's attention? What will make the product stand out on the shelf apart from the many other products? Personal care products today are fighting for shelf space in stores.
Jim Brundidge, manager of paper products for Amway, says, "What we're seeing is that people are looking to decorate their package in the least total cost realm." Brundidge says Amway is conducting extensive comparisons between screen printing and the no-label look on its bottles and containers. "That's certainly a big trend for us. We're also taking that a step further and looking at some of the metallic inks that are now coming out. We are trying to replace hot stamping and more expensive components that way, too."
Marketers look at packaging from the standpoint of the target market. With high-end products, says Brundidge, they don't want to make reductions for cost. On the lower end of the personal care market — deodorants, for example — the graphics don't have to be all that elaborate.
Something else to consider is competitive nature of the marketplace. Brundidge says Internet bidding might play a strong role in increasing competition: "I was just taking a look at Internet-based free market competition. It's getting interesting. I think issues like the Internet are going to drive the competition up significantly and the costs down significantly. It's going to be a much tighter market."
Those who have participated in bidding via the Internet say that although cost competition is critical, the downside is that the process removes the personal aspects of selling, which could have an effect on overall relationships between customer and vendor.
John Shammas, creative/art director at Townley Cosmetics in New York City, agrees. Although Townley doesn't put jobs out to bid on the Internet, Shammas knows of other medium sized companies who do so, feeling that they can get their printing done faster. Shammas cautions against that move because it takes away the human interaction. "There needs to be communication between the printer and the manufacturer or the art director. That is important to print jobs." Shammas prefers to work with printers personally, to see what they are printing and see if it matches what he has in mind. "The human interaction is very important," he says, "Seeing the job run on the press is a valuable asset."
While searching and picking a converter, the end user understandably wants to get the best value for the dollar. Price and turnaround times are factors to consider. Brundidge says that the converter who offers the lowest cost might not be able to produce labels of the best quality. Obviously," he says, "the product, their output, has to match our market plan, but after that it certainly becomes an issue of cost, reliability and customer service — whether they're going to provide us the information and the products we need on a timely basis."
Townley Cosmetics, a distributor of cosmetics for a younger audience, has been working with Disney and Hello Kitty. "As far cosmetics go, we see the trend getting younger and younger," says Shammas. "I used to create very young, funky graphics, and I still do that, but I'm starting to create older types of graphics for lines geared toward kids." Shammas defines the "younger" as seven to eight years old, which is the time when parents start buying Hello Kitty items for their children.
Image and message
Cosmetic labels have more than one function, Shammas observes. "Sometimes it's actually about selling an image," he says. But it's also important to get the message across. "A clear label lets the product tell its own story. The product should be the focus." That is why hang tags are big this year, especially in the cosmetics arena, he says. "They are a decorative additive. Holographic hang tags, especially, increase visibility on the store shelf."
"The no look label is a bit costly for us," he adds, "so we are still doing the labels you can see, but it's very, very clear and we do screening on them. We also still use holographic labels, though we feel that holographic labeling has been done so much in the last two years. We are starting to experiment with satin-like holographic patterns, satin moire patterns, rather than just stock holographic pattern. We are experimenting a lot more, and we can do that because prices are starting to come down, due to increased competition in the market."
As with Amway, Townley too looks to find a converter who can do everything from A to Z — "make the label, stick it on, put it in the boxes or pouches and ship it to us, and we ship it out into the stores. That's ideal," Shammas says. Price is a factor, but Shammas says he is mainly looking for quality. "I'm looking for technology, so they can produce the graphics I want, and definitely a quick turnaround time. There are times we need something turned around in three to seven days. It would be nice to be able to give the printers two months, but that doesn't always happen."
For Avon, also based in New York City, the cosmetics market is a different ball game because the company relies on catalog sales rather than store shelves. Ellen Caruso, senior design manager, global personal care, says Avon's challenge is to have the labels work in a brochure both as a visual eye catching aesthetic and as an informative tool for selling the product with all the required copy. Labels, she adds, are keeping up with technologies in plastic and still enhance the external packaging and the formulas inside.
As for the future, Caruso says, "We'll see a lot more innovation in labels. We might see the surface of labels changing to something that might simulate a velour or another type of texture (like rubber) or perhaps more playful and engaging like color changing or peel-offs with multibenefit use."
Converters agree that they are seeing an increased demand for clear labels, and are getting more and more orders for shorter runs.
Short runs are popular. One of the reasons for the trend, says Shammas, is because kids are fickle. "You only have five seconds to get their attention. Once they see the product in the store, they'll love it, but then two weeks later they'll want something else. That's why for younger kids it's always important to come up with something new."
Ted Rubino, vice president of regional sales at CCL Label, in Rosemont, IL, says the run lengths vary. "Some of the customers in hair care will have more longer runs, but the niche players are obviously looking at multiple SKUs and shorter runs, changing their SKUs on a monthly or quarterly basis to see what fits best in the marketplace and what consumers seem to be drawn toward."
Rubino says there is a growing trend in downgauging, moving from a film of a certain thickness to a thinner one to save money. "You're starting to see some of the higher end graphics with foil stamps and hot stamps. As far as decorative foil stamps, you see some special effects with new varnishes that are being used."
But the downside of downgauging is that it might have an impact on the end product. According to Rick Harris, sales and marketing manager on the packaging business team of FLEXcon, a film supplier in Spencer, MA, "With the thinner gauge film you might lose the ability to dispense at a continuous pace. You have to be on your toes when dispensing a thinner film."
"Customers are looking for something that will have consumer appeal, something that will differentiate their products from someone else's product on the shelf," Rubino says. "Obviously price plays a huge part in it, but how the product looks on the shelf, often is what makes or breaks the deal for the customer—whether someone buys that product or not."
Product marketers, he adds, "are looking for reduced cost overall and a very premium look as far as graphic quality. Sometimes the two work against one another. But the demand is top line quality. You can't get by with just flexo quality anymore. For the high-end personal care market, customers are looking for seven, eight, or nine-color combination printing."
Color and clear
Tom Silvano, president of Label Graphics, Little Falls, NJ, believes that the no-label look will continue to dominate the personal care product market. Silvano says, "There is a continuous trend toward enhanced, elaborate products. We are seeing more color, screen printing, and use of holographic foil."
Silvano finds that their customers want a converter who will give them a leg up on the market. "They are all looking to move their products off the shelves. So, they are looking to be innovative and use enhanced labeling."
Bob Fisher, ink department manager at Paris Art Label in Ronkonkoma, NY, has another perspective on the customer. "Customers want to be able to grip or see colorful displays," he says. Although they are seeing more colors, Fisher explains that the use of color is mainly seasonal. For example during Christmas, they'll see more foils, gold and silver, and more color. In spring it's a lighter color scheme.
Fisher believes that the label is the main reason a product moves off the shelf. "First impressions are key," he says. Although he does not negate the importance of product name and performance quality, he says the labels are what initially sell the product.
For small printers like Label Impressions in Anaheim, CA, service is the number one advantage they have to keep up with the competition. Jeff Salisbury, sales manager, explains: "Someone out there is always doing it cheaper. Those people get the odd jobs. For us, taking good care of customers is key. It keeps them coming back."
Salisbury says combination print jobs kill small printers. Producing short runs on combination presses is difficult and expensive. "We all want to do big runs. You buy these big expensive presses for that, then you get these five- to ten-thousand label jobs. That's not what you want. It's hard to do a label that's screened and flexoed, letterpress all at once. It's a long set-up. You're not trying to make your money on the set-up. You don't mark up your dies all that much, or your plates, but when you get a guy that's paying $4,000 in plates and dies, and he's paying $500 or $1,000 for the labels, that's frustrating."
Dick Chesnut, CEO of W.R. Chesnut Engineering, a narrow web gravure press manufacturer in Fairfield, NJ, says product marketers "are going to very exotic lengths to get a unique look to their products."
To achieve the stand-out look, printers pursue two courses, Chesnut says. One is combination printing, using offset, letterpress, screen, perhaps gravure. The other is rotary gravure, or perhaps rotary gravure with screen printing. Gravure and screen have distinctive properties that complement each other. The screen gives high opacity and density, to a point where it has a feel to it.
"The rotary gravure does a great job in process printing," says Chesnut. "It's extremely versatile at process printing. It prints film very well, and the metallics can be printed to a high degree, to the point they look like metalized. There is a lot of metallic printing being used in personal care products. Traditionally, gold or silver has been used on health and beauty products as an enhancement to the package."
Hot stamping, an old but high quality method of foil transfer, is expensive and slow, according to Chesnut. "If you can print the silver or gold to the quality that is needed versus hot stamping, it is a tremendous saving."
The market is competitive for suppliers as well. "There are a lot of players in the market," Chesnut says. "There is pressure on how much you can charge, which means that not any means can be used to produce them. So label companies are becoming efficient printers. Price is a factor, as well as high quality work, and quick turnaround time."
Joe Funicelli, CEO of Unifoil, in Passaic Park, NJ, says they are seeing smaller runs more frequently. "The market has been less committal — no one wants inventory anymore. It's hard to get somebody to layout inventory if they don't know what and how much they're going to need. I think forecasting the success of a new product is difficult. This translates into smaller runs for us until a product catches on."
Funicelli also sees an increase in the use of holograms and foils. "The metallic look seems to be popular," he says. "There are many colors, the designs seem to be more spectacular than simple. It's not simple little labels anymore. A lot of them have some really nice fonts or four-process color on it — and to put that on a metallic surface is different. You're not printing on plain paper anymore."
Unifoil deals only in foils and holographics. Funicelli says customers report that the more they use them, the more return they see on their investment. A metallic label is going to be more expensive than a plain paper label, but the benefit is product differentiation and eye appeal in supermarkets and stores.
Diane Ewanko of Avery Dennison reports that the industry has witnessed a good many product redesigns along with new launches. One example is Pantene products. The graphics now have a metallic look; where the Pantene name or logo is on the bottle, there is now a silver, satiny type of metalized graphic.
"Since the re-design of Pantene," says Ewanko, "there are something like 40 or 42 SKUs on the shelf. Take a look at bath and body, where they're pumping out new products all the time. Just their body wash lines alone have at least seven to nine SKUs per fragrance. You'll have your cucumber body wash, and then matching spray, matching candle, and other matching lines. That's a lot of versions of a product and they all require they're own label, also depending on what kind of container they are packaged in."
Ewanko also says, "You'll see a lot of metalized materials in anti-perspirant. And that is really a way of generating new interest in what is really vague material market. That means you have to do something different to entice the consumer to pick up your product in the store — or you have to create some new product categories."
Pliable tubes are on the increase, she says, and a corresponding need for labeling material to conform and move with the container as it is squeezed. These labels require special adhesives.
This is where Mike Rivera, vice president of sales at Beacon Adhesives in Mt. Vernon, NY, comes in. "We are an adhesive company, so customers are coming to us for two reasons," Rivera explains. "They don't come to us for the look, but on the printing side they are coming to us for cold foil application — for the adhesive application of it. With hot foil stamping you can run only 100-150 feet a minute. If the job is on a cold foil process, you can run up to 500 feet per minute, and as wide as you want.
"The second thing they ask from us is specialty adhesive for the application of the label itself. The labels need to withstand spillage, and water and just about any other conditions under which the label will be used. The main requirement is that the product inside the container will not interfere with the adhesion of the label to the bottle. We provide them with permanent type pressure sensitive adhesives. Our Magnacryl line of adhesives are what we use to meet these special requirements," says Rivera.
The dominance of short runs makes cold foil transfer attractive, says Rivera. Costly dies used in rotary hot foil stamping are rendered useless once a product changes its appearance. With cold foil, however, the image is transferred using a regular photopolymer plate. Cold foil transfer is being utilized by a small number of converters today; many more are experimenting with it.
Unfortunately, says Rivera, most customers in the cosmetic industry are not even aware of the cold foil process. "They just know that they want foil. There are two things they care about. They want the foil, and the price is important. How the foil gets on there is not important to them."
Stewart Glazer, vice president of sales and marketing at Crown Roll Leaf, Paterson, NJ, is a big advocate of cold foil transfer. "Almost everybody seems to be interested in cold stamping." He agrees that the major reason for pursuing cold foil transfer these days is the cost of rotary hot stamping dies.
"The objective is that they will be able to run products faster," Glazer says. "You don't have to worry about heat recovery from stamping to stamping. You don't have to maintain a certain amount of heat to make a transfer work on the substrate. Any substrate that will allow the adhesive to adhere the foil will work with cold stamping." In other words, it is as much about the adhesive that's applied to the label substrate as it is about the foil.
Edward Rulon-Miller, marketing manager specialty films business, Engelhard Corp., Iselin, NJ, has faith in the clear label. "People want to be able to see the product inside," he says. Also he points out that there is a growing trend towards special effects labeling, because the shelves are getting more and more crowded. "More and more products are vying for the attention of the consumer. And, it's getting harder and harder to break through the clutter," he says.
Engelhard is in the business of making specialty films, such as iridescent film. "The special quality of this film is that it's not only transparent, but because it's iridescent it shifts color. This catches the consumer's eye, so it gives the marketer the ability to have a see through package and still have a stand-out effect."
The market for health and beauty aids labeling is already 50 to 60 percent saturated with pressure sensitive. "I think that the no-label look or clear labels will stay dominant, but you will reach a point when everyone's product looks that way, and then how will you capture the customer's attention?" asks Diane Ewanko of Avery Dennison. "My sense is that the trend will move toward more sensory interactive packaging. We will see more tactile or sensory type of materials."