This is not a ranking of any kind, nor is it meant to be all inclusive. In making our selections, we did not consider company size or annual sales. If these companies share anything in common, it is that they are highly successful, that their work is of the highest quality, and that they are setting new industry standards every day.
For 2007 we present the following Companies to Watch:
Western Canada has its fair share of label converters, some of them highly visible in the industry and in possession of awards by various associations for printing excellence. Some of these converters are off the radar; they've been around for years but have kept a low public profile. Associated Labels is one of those in the quiet category, though that posture appears to be changing.
Associated Labels, of Coquitlam, British Columbia, has been growing steadily for two and a half decades, and is preparing for a forward surge into one of the industry's most active segments: shrink sleeves.
Rusty Ashworth came to the label industry with a background in large corporate sales and "zero background in labels", as he puts it. In 1981 he decided to try something new and started his own offset printing company. "I realized in a year and a half that I wasn't going to make it. Some customers were looking for labels and couldn't find anything local at a reasonable price. So I bought a Mark Andy 820 and realized that it offered the opportunity to make money producing labels. So in 1982 we transformed the business to a label shop."
Not long after that Ashworth acquired a Barco Graphic imagesetter, "the most expensive one on the market. This was just when Macintosh computers were coming out, and we set up a total in-house prepress and plate department. That remains our thinking today: We do everything in-house."
Seventeen years ago, having increased its printing capacity to four presses, Associated Labels moved to a new location. Steady growth has seen the number of presses grow to 11, all from Mark Andy.
"We acquired a DuPont FAST dry plate system, and we are now converting the plate imaging to two Esko imagers," Ashworth says. "There's no comparison with conventional platemaking, none whatsoever. With the dry thermal system you remove all environmental concerns, costs and the unhealthy aspects of the conventional processing."
Associated Labels has 125 employees, and it remains a family business. Joining CEO Rusty Ashworth in the business are his sons Shaun (the COO), Cory, Jordi, and Jay. The senior Ashworth says that the company is devoted to its employees, and points to a triangle that it uses in its marketing and on its web site to reinforce that point. "The sides of the triangle say People, Ethics and Quality. Without any one side we have nothing."
The company's web site reinforces the dedication to its people: "Associated Labels is all about our people. Without the professional, committed and dedicated people, our business foundation would not be strong and we wouldn't be where we are today. Our focus as an employer is to employ the utmost in personalities, which builds the core of dedicated employees through out our company."
A one-of-a-kind press
The western region of Canada is not heavy in manufacturing, and so Associated Labels' customer base is diverse. Among the larger industries it serves are fruit, nutraceuticals, juices, and milk.
The production of labels for beverage and other liquid containers led to a foray into shrink sleeving over the past two years. The growth in that field is such that the company has made an investment in a new press custom designed and manufactured specifically for Associated Labels by Comco.
"It's an 11-color press, 26" wide, with eight flexo stations and three gravure stations, and it's 105' long," Ashworth says. "It has inline laminating, which according to our plans is going to set this industry on its heels. This press will be dedicated to shrink and unsupported film.
"We do quite a bit of unsupported film for the chocolate industry and for nutritional bars, and this new press gives us the capacity to supply cold seal adhesive.
"It's another direction for us. We want to maintain our pressure sensitive business, but we are looking to expand. This puts us way ahead of our competitors. Narrow web shrink and unsupported film gives us the opportunity to use flexo plates for short-run fast turnaround compared to wide web."
Associated Labels now ships about 2 million sleeves a month, Ashworth says. "We know that this is going to open doors for us." The company uses Stanford seamers, inspectors and slitters for the sleeve finishing work.
The company is changing in even more ways. Eighteen months ago Ashworth and his team began to concentrate on Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing, and have seen significant results already. "We have realized a savings of more than 40 percent in our finishing department. We've made improvements in prepress and are working on our inventory systems currently. Production will be next. We also pay an incentive based on production, and everyone wants to be a part of that incentive program. Our plant is already different from the way it was six months ago. To be better, to improve, you always have to look at different aspects of quality control. This is actual fact, and it makes us better."
— Jack Kenny
61 Clipper St.
Coquitlam, BC, Canada
Management:Rusty Ashworth, CEO; Shaun Ashworth, COO
Presses:11 Mark Andy, 1 Comco
In its own quiet way, Berkshire Labels in Hungerford, Berkshire, has pushed all the right buttons in sustaining profitable growth over the past two decades. But then, like the best of small to medium sized businesses that remain family owned, it benefits from the continuity that a home-grown management team can often bring. Representing the second generation is Paul Roscoe, managing director, who has been part of the company since it was formed in 1983: "Continuity has definitely been a key factor in the way we have controlled our growth. Private ownership means we can be light on our feet, while having a stability that gives us many advantages over competitors." In fact, it reflects an innovative approach to business, which has lately extended to a distinctive approach to environmental matters.
Berkshire's mainstream business is producing PSA labels for the cosmetics, toiletries, food, drinks, and healthcare sectors. They all conform to ISO 9001/2000 and BRC/IOP standards. Customers include several top UK retailers and supermarket groups, as well as overseas businesses. In recent years its investments have reflected more specialized activities, such as producing sheets of stickers for children's publications. In 2005 it formed Berkshire Security Products (BSP) to independently develop brand and asset protection products, such as tamper-evident labels, seals and holographic based items. They include Stab Seal, which provides a permanent seal on almost any surface. BSP recently engaged the Swiss based Unisto group to market and distribute this and similar surface-mounted security products on an international basis. Berkshire also produces a vast quantity of scratch-off security labels each month, many of which are utilized in the growing telecommunications markets worldwide.
From left: Grant Picking, Paul Roscoe and Marcus Smith
There is also an in-house creative design studio offering additional copywriting, photographic and color management services. The studio allows the company to undertake rebranding and design projects for customers — including labels and marketing materials — at a competitive price. The fact that the group also includes a separate firm, Wessex Print & Signage, means it can also offer screen or inkjet-printed POS materials, displays and banners. A similar size to Berkshire Labels, Wessex is located on the English south coast in Poole, Dorset.
Production is centered on UV letterpress and UV flexo. The press list for the former includes a semi-rotary Lintec LPM300 for short runs and a rotary four-color Lintec Delta SR 520 with foiling and sheeter. There are two eight-color Ko-Pack 250s with two-color reverse side facility. A Newfoil 3000 machine with dual heads handles foil embossing and the re-registration of security holograms. UV flexo now accounts for the majority of the group's production. It is represented by a 250mm, five-color Edale Alpha and two eight-color, 13" Mark Andy presses: a 2200 with cold foiling, four-color reverse printing onto adhesive, and an LP3000.
The latter was installed at the end of 2006, marking a new phase of extended capacity for both paper and film-based labels and packaging products. Costing the equivalent of more than $900,000, its comprehensive range of ancillaries includes a rotary screen unit, cold and hot foiling modules, equipment for producing coupon labels, and a sheeting option. A corona treater and UV units with chill rolls facilitate the handling of unsupported films.
Berkshire's innovative stance towards waste management, energy consumption and pollution control reflects a growing concern with such issues among European converters. However, as Paul Roscoe explains, it can involve more than just compliance with national or regional legislation: "We treat environmental issues as a marketing tool in their own right. In fact we market ourselves as the 'green label company' with ISO 14001 environmental accreditation. Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth consider that we are one of the UK's most environmentally friendly printers." (www.thegreenlabelcompany.com was recently set up as an extension of its main site.)
This is underlined by the group's development of BioTAK, which was the first UK labelstock to use a completely biodegradable and permanent adhesive. Suitable for industrial and domestic composting, it took five years to develop and is made by another group company, Sustainable Adhesive Products. The globally distributed BioTAK line includes no-label look types using Innovia's NatureFlex cellulose material, as well as corn-based PLA films. The product has FDA approval and is undergoing testing for EN 13432 accreditation. Current applications include labeling for PLA bottles, organic foods and sandwich containers.
For the future, Berkshire is currently expanding its headquarter building with an eye on installing extra printing capacity. This could feasibly include digital color printing, but the management is still weighing up the various options. "We looked at the issue seven years ago, wondering whether it could drive us forward. But we decided against it," says Roscoe. "Now is the time to take another look. We want to revisit our evaluation and see whether digital printing is a viable option for our type of double-shift operation. The right type of materials and the right kind of peripheral finishing systems are all in place, but the main point is whether we can make money from it."
— Barry Hunt
Swangate, Charnham Park
Berkshire, RG17 0YX
44 (0)1488 683628
Group sales:£9 million ($18.1 million)
Management:Paul Roscoe, managing director; Marcus Smith, production director; Grant Picking, sales director
Presses:UV letterpress: Lintec & Ko-Pack; UV flexo: Mark Andy & Edale
In France and on our home market here in Belgium we are the market leader for pressure sensitive labels," says Marc Boehlen, founder and CEO of Bopack Labels. By natural growth but more especially by a series of acquisitions, Bopack now has four plants in France, two in Belgium and one in Holland. In addition to making labels, the group also develops and distributes labeling, coding and marking systems. All in all, the Bopack Group employs more than 700 people and has total sales of €120 million ($160 million).
Timothy (left) and Marc Boehlen
Several investments are necessary before a label converter can start making sleeves. First, a software program is needed to pre-distort the design so that the percentage of shrink is taken into account for every different shape of bottle or container. Then, once the film has been printed using a gravure, flexo or digital press, it passes through a folder-gluer which turns it into a flattened tube. It is now ready to be shipped to the customer.
Shrink tunnels — Bopack plays the Taiwan card
Bopack has always insisted on supplying its customers with labeling equipment. "Our job isn't finished until the label is correctly applied onto the product," says Timothy Boehlen. "And when we started looking at shrink sleeves we wanted to offer our customers the right applicator and shrink tunnel for the job. Make or buy, that was our dilemma. Many of the best European and American equipment manufacturers were already tied up or closely associated with our competitors, so we decided to see what Southeast Asia had to offer. I personally spent a totally unreasonable length of time in planes and airports before finding what I was looking for — in Taiwan. The Xu Yuan Company, with whom we have now signed an exclusive agreement, makes high quality sleeve applicators and tunnels. Their top-of-the-range applicators run at 48,000 cuts per hour — that's 13 per second — with a single applicator head. For the shrink tunnels, Xu Yuan is experienced both in steam and in hot air technology."
Bopack imports the Taiwanese equipment itself, adapting it to the needs of each customer. "We provide installation and full maintenance and repair of every bit of equipment we provide in Belgium, the Netherlands and France. We plan to extend the same service to other countries soon, starting with Britain," says Timothy Boehlen. Asked about the notorious culture shock of dealing with the Chinese mentality, Boehlen makes light of the problem. "The engineers and managers from Xu Yuan are pretty much on the same wavelength as we are. Sometimes there could be a language problem, especially with my Chinese!"
A synergetic effect
Marc Boehlen's brother, Frédéric Senior, runs the Bopack Systems Division, and he sees the sleeve label as fitting well into the company's strategy. "There is synergy between sleeve labels and our two 'historic' activities, pressure sensitive labels and applicator systems," he says. "We have always sought to bring a total solution to our customers' labeling problems. Many people today see the shrink sleeve label as a high-cost option, but in addition to the aesthetic and marketing advantages of sleeves, we will soon in my opinion be able to use thinner films. On the day when we can get down to 20 microns instead of today's 50, the economics of sleeve labels will be revolutionized."
Wider still and wider
Marc Boehlen, a young 59-year-old, is not content to sit back and wait for retirement. His company installed no fewer than nine new label presses last year, and it already dominates the label market in two European countries. Where next? Germany, UK, or further afield�?
"It's more interesting at the moment to look at the Eastern European label markets with their high economic growth and fledgling label industry," he says. "As for China, which everyone in the label business seems very excited about, I don't think you'll see Bopack buying up any Chinese label converters just yet. To my way of thinking, the Indian market is much more interesting."
Bopack also plans to build on its reputation for pharmaceutical labels. Marc Boehlen again: "We have an active R&D department, clean rooms and all the latest inspection equipment. What's more important is that we have a team of people dedicated to quality. So we aim to build on our strengths."
These strengths are real — but more than 90 percent of the Bopack Group's business is in just two European countries, while certain other major label converters are building up a worldwide network. Does that worry Marc Boehlen?
"It doesn't keep me awake at nights," he replies. "What matters for me is that we know our customers and they know us, and know that they can depend on us. We speak their language and we know their culture and their business."
With two sons and a brother in the business, the generation change, when it happens, is unlikely to affect Bopack's status as one of Europe's leading family-run label converterting companies.
— John Penhallow
Plants:7 production plants in France, Belgium & Holland
2006 sales:€120 million
Management:Marc Boehlen, founder & CEO; Timothy Boehlen, sales & marketing manager, Bopack Labeling Systems; Frédéric Boehlen Sr., GM of Bopack Labeling Systems; Frédéric Boehlen Jr., director, Bopack Labels Division
Innovations:Reseal-It reclosable packaging, RFID based traceability systems, security labels, shrink sleeve labels and applicators
The scene: a crowd of men and women stand chatting in a traditional Irish bar, the walls covered with photos of Rugby matches and advertisements for Guinness. Suddenly a door opens, and we look out into � not a cobbled alleyway of old Dublin, but an ultramodern print shop.
Where on earth are we? A tall, smiling gentleman introduces himself. He is Peter Berveling, and he is welcoming us to Geostick, one of the leading label printers in the Netherlands.
Peter Berveling with one of his three (soon to be eight) HP Indigo digital presses.
You don't get to the top in a fiercely competitive environment like Northern Europe without being inventive, and one of Geostick's marketing inventions is called Geo-Totaal. This is an all-inclusive "package" offered to the company's regular customers, and it covers the supply of labels, labeling equipment, installation training and service, plus a same-day (sometimes same-hour) replacement service if any equipment goes wrong. The customer signs on for a year or longer, and pays a monthly fee which covers everything. "Customers like it because it gives them security," says Berveling, "and we like it because it gets us into a close and long-term relationship with the customer. So everybody gains."
Flexo versus digital
Out of Peter Berveling's 18 presses, more than half are UV flexo. The latest additions to the family are a Nilpeter FA-4 100 percent servo with a 161⁄2" inch web. Plant Manager Cees Schouten enjoys discussing what his latest presses can and can't do. "When we decided to invest in another high performance flexo press we looked closely at two factors: start-up waste and makeready times. All the major press manufacturers have made big strides in reducing both these elements, but with this new Nilpeter press we can generally get total quality within 50 meters of start-up, thanks to the independent servo drives on each print station. Then there is the modular 'slot-in slot-out' configuration, which means we can do a complete printing sleeve changeover on an eight-color job in under an hour. The other decisive factor was the way that the servo drives eliminate slippage when we're running unsupported film or thick board materials, even at the top speed of around 500 feet per minute."
With all these advantages from a conventional press, you would guess that Geostick scarcely needs to invest in digital label printing. Wrong. Maybe just one digital press for running very short orders? Wrong again.
"Europe's biggest flower wholesale market is just down the road from us," says Peter Berveling. "We have a lot of customers there and elsewhere who order low volumes, and of course they want instant delivery. To meet this kind of demand, three years ago we invested in our first digital label press." As always, when a label enthusiast hears the word digital, your correspondent came back with the Pavlovian question, "Where is your break-even point between digital and flexo?" Peter Berveling had the answer ready: "For print runs of less than 5,000 running feet we nearly always use digital. Our latest flexo presses as you know are pretty efficient, but with digital there is even less start-up waste and almost zero setup time. With no plates to make or fit we save around $80 per color by using digital. Another advantage: When we get a repeat order we can be sure that the colors will be identical right off the start, and with no hassle."
One of Geostick's best customers makes paint, and sells it through own-brand wholesalers. This makes for hundreds of different labels, often ordered in very low quantities. Digital printing has here provided the perfect answer. But with a print speed (four-color) of just 50 feet per minute, the advantage tilts to flexo for most runs over 12,000 running feet.
Peter Berveling is obviously satisfied with his HP Indigo presses — he now has three, including a ws4500, the latest of HP's range of narrow web digital machines — and announces his intention to increase his digital fleet to eight as soon as a new building extension is completed. His investment strategy: To continue to install the latest flexo and digital presses so as to offer his customers the best of both worlds.
Why the Irish?
If any readers are wondering how an authentic Irish bar found its way into a Dutch label converter's plant, well, the answer is simple. Peter Berveling's wife is Irish, and that gave him the brilliant idea to transform his rather uninspiring works canteen into something out of a James Joyce novel.
The only thing missing when your correspondent visited was the draught Guinness — but then, nobody's perfect.
— John Penhallow
1422 AD Uithoorn
(0297) 51 41 31
Group sales:€19.4 million ($27 million)
Management:Peter Berveling, owner & CEO
Presses:13 Arsoma, 3 HP Indigo, 2 Nilpeter, 1 AB Graphic
All commercial offset printing houses know where they can get flexo work done properly. It comes with the territory: A good sheetfed customer needs some pressure sensitive labels from time to time, and the offset house assures the customer that they will provide the labels. No doubt there are quite a few offset shops that have their own flexo equipment and perform that work in-house. Sometimes, as has happened at Graphics Universal, flexographic production becomes a large part of the printer's revenue stream.
Located in the town of Greencastle, in south central Pennsylvania, Graphics Universal is a commercial offset printer that has been enjoying flexo growth since the early 1990s, when it acquired a Mark Andy 2200 press. But long before that, the company had a Mark Andy 810 central impression press to handle the occasional flexo job. Today the picture has changed dramatically, and flexo is now nearly half of the company's business.
Launched in 1965 as The Morrison Press by Morrison and Grace Speaks, it was acquired in 1975 by Gary and Nancy Gembe (Gary Gembe had been hired in 1970 as president.). The following year they changed the name to Graphics Universal, and growth led to two address changes over the next seven years.
The Gembes began their succession plan in 1999 by promoting their son Garon to the presidency. In February of this year, Garon Gembe purchased the total shares of stock from his parents.
Sheetfed printing dominated most of the life of Graphics Universal, though the owners did acquire the Mark Andy 810 quite a long time ago. "I've been here since 1977, and it predates me," says Joe Hulock, operations manager. That press was in constant use until about a decade ago, and has since been sold.
"It allowed us to get into other markets," says Hulock. "About 80 percent of its use went toward one large manufacturing account that we had. There seemed to be one or two large accounts that needed flexo work. But I had known for years that we had not been tapping the flexo work that was out there. On the offset side we were seeing the run lengths go down and down and down."
In sheetfed offset's heyday, customers would use broad lists and print long runs for a shotgun approach to their marketing. "Now they are buying more targeted lists and ordering 3,000 at a time," Hulock says. "On the flexo side that's not the case. Everything has a label on it. We needed to position ourselves for the future, and that's the segment that was poised for the most growth."
Graphics Universal bought the Mark Andy 2200 press, a 7" six-color machine, in 1991. "We still have it, and it still runs two shifts a day," says Hulock.
About 18 months to two years ago, the company decided to commit funds and energy to a significant expansion of its flexo operation. That meant the purchase of a new Mark Andy LP 3000 press, which was delivered in July 2006. It's a 13" wide press with eight print stations, two with movable UV capability and cold foil application.
"This press gives us potential," says Hulock. "When we make a purchase we like to offer things that we were not able to offer before. Now, though the offset side is still more than 50 percent of our business, the label end has grown dramatically in just a year and a half. The markets served by Graphics Universal are mainly in food packaging and manufacturing.
"We are definitely growing," Hulock adds. "In the past two years we have doubled our flexo business easily. And we are situated to do that again in the next year. I wouldn't be surprised by that at all." Sometimes, he says, the company will get a job and will quote it in two ways, offset and flexo. "It just gives you more choices how to produce the finished piece."
— Jack Kenny
25 Commerce Ave.
Greencastle PA 17225 USA
Annual sales:$6 million
Management:Garon Gembe, owner & president; Joe Hulock, operations manager
Presses:Offset: Komori, Perfector, Ryobi, AB Dick; Flexo: Mark Andy
Most of the industry's leading label and packaging converters have strong print-related origins. Permapack of Rorschach in Switzerland is different. It began in 1958 as a small-scale importer of the then novel product of pressure sensitive tapes. The link remains. The group still manufactures many types of tapes and sealing products for industrial, construction, commercial, and domestic applications. In the mid-1960s it moved into label printing and caught the wave, which saw the gradual introduction of pressure sensitive labels into Europe.
Permapack headquarters in Rorschach, Switzerland
These activities are grouped within the Flexible Packaging Division, comprising separate packaging and printing business units. The manufacturing processes in each unit conforms to ISO 9001:2000 accreditation, plus the BRC/IoP global standard for food packaging products, labels and tapes. Another division is split between business units for construction, business, retailing and DIY products.
With such a varied range of print-related operations and product types, maintaining close contacts with customers is essential. Offering production design services is considered a critical part of this process. In this case, it is supported by an integrated Artpro/Nexus origination workflow, backed by digital contract proofing and color management facilities. All flexo, rotary screen and letterpress plates are made in-house to meet the specialized needs of the different markets served by the company. With press productivity in mind, the platemaking department can generally produce new plates or screens within 20 minutes or so. A color mixing department supplies pre-mixed inks for all presses.
In the pressroom, production in up to 10 colors centers on UV flexo and rotary letterpress combination presses, with screen, gravure and hot foil embossing decorative effects with varnishing. The latest addition is a 10-color Gallus RCS 330 flexo/screen combination press with 13" web width. This is the company's fourth servo-driven RCS 330. The first was installed in 2001. The total of 10 flexo and letterpress machines includes two Gallus/Arsoma EM 410 UV flexo presses.
One of Permapack's four Gallus RCS 330 presses, with an LRD automatic transfer rewind from Martin Automatic at the end
The latest installation prompted Mark Lehmann, head of Permapack's Packaging Division, to comment: "Six years ago, Permapack handled around 12,000 jobs every year. This number has since fallen to 9,000, but while the runs have not lengthened, the number of versions of each job has increased typically to 30 to 40. It was partly why we decided to invest in automated splicers and rewinds, because we now have fewer substrate changes."
Despite this factor, the company feels no strong urge to enter the world of digital color printing, at least in the near future. Instead, Permapack operates several thermal transfer printers used mainly for the post-printing of bar codes and sequential numbering as required by individual jobs.
In respect of Permapack's future direction, this must be seen within the context of how similar large and fully integrated label/packaging companies tend to operate. Increasingly, they must compete in a globalized marketplace, which has forced many of them to look far beyond their traditional sources of business and set up new plants accordingly. But this is not necessarily a universal template. According to Lehmann, Permapack's strength lies in offering a well developed range of labeling, packaging and tape related products. This has helped the group to remain competitive and expand in regional European markets, especially in those that are mainly German-speaking. He adds that with certain specialized projects, Permapack also works with global partners, so giving them access to world-wide end users.
— Barry Hunt
+41 71 844 1212