Field Report

'Exponential growth' in flexo label quality

September 27, 2007

Rodney Strong Vineyards of Healdsburg, CA, USA, has been in business since the late 1950s and has been constantly evolving. According to John Leyden, vice president of packaging and distribution, a 37-year company veteran, the winery is currently producing and marketing wine under the labels of Rodney Strong Vineyards, Sonoma Vineyards and the newly acquired Davis Bynum. "We have some of Northern California's finest appellations," he says. "Among them are the Russian River Valley, Chalk Hill, Alexander Valley, and Sonoma Coast."

Located on the Old Redwood Highway just north of Santa Rosa, Rodney Strong Vineyards is owned and operated by the Klein family. Tom Klein, who purchased the winery from the original owner in 1959, sold 50 percent of the 1,200 acres that were planted and, according to Leyden, "has replaced the acreage with specific land to grow grapes that will do best in specific soils and climate. For example, the vineyards near the Russian River are planted to pinot, Alexander Valley to cabernet sauvigon," Leyden says.

David Larsen, public relations director for the winery, says, "We're now putting together a plan for the Davis Bynum wines, and we will be concentrating on pinot noir and chardonnay." Rodney Strong and Davis Bynum are similar, both being family-owned, "and both use sustainable farming practices," says Larsen.

"There's a genuine sharing of craftsmanship with our wine grower and our winemaker," Leyden says. "We really want to bring craftmanship back into the hands of the winemaker. Because of direct competition with European wines, we're very careful about matching the soils with the grapes in order to produce the best possible wines."

"Terroir" is a term Leyden and Larsen both use when describing some of their vineyards. While there are numerous translations of this French term, the best one seems to be the combination of various natural factors associated with the vineyard. "These include micro-climate, including the amount of rainful, slope of the land, drainage, amount of sun in a day, altitude, even the type of underlayment - rock, gravel, sand, clay, and so on," says Larsen. Leyden adds, "You can even have certain rows of vines within a block which produce a different tasting grape."

With Rodney Strong's - and the wine industry's - quest for perfection, it's no wonder that there is a huge spotlight on the products used to label these nectars of the gods. "We put in a new bottling line last year and are capable of labeling with wet glue or pressure sensitive, but our labeling now is all pressure sensitive," Leyden says. "The recent exponential growth in flexographic label quality, combined with dramatic reductions in cost, has meant that we can switch totally to PS.

A bottling line at Rodney Strong Vineyards
"It's simple," he adds. "There is no clean-up required for pressure sensitive and no requirement to purchase change parts at $20,000 to $30,000 a set for wet glue applied labels." Leyden also says that a change in bottle design or label shape requiring different parts for the labeling equipment could mean a 12-week wait for the parts to come from Germany.

"Our marketing arm works with outside designers - they meet with them constantly, tweaking things," he adds. "It used to be that a design would remain unchanged, except for the year or the alcohol content, for five to six years. Now it's often three years or less, including minor changes, and sometimes a totally new redesign is called for to keep the line fresh."

Leyden says that Rodney Strong believes in establishing a partnership with its suppliers. "Of course cost is important," he adds, "but quality and service are paramount. Once you have earned a position as our partner it is very difficult to get bumped." (Great news for those who have experienced reverse bid auctions.)

"Relationships are key because they mean the difference between lip service and true service," Leyden says. "Annie Cheung of G3 Enterprises in Modesto, CA, is our sales contact and she is a true professional. James Stone runs the narrow web label team at G3 and he is the inside leader. Both of them take their business - and ours - to heart."

"We're realists," he adds. "There will occasionally be problems when you're dealing with any supplier. But the team at G3 makes it a point to be here within 24 hours or less if something has to be resolved, and they have a four to five hour drive to get here." With G3's vision "to be the supplier of choice to the wine industry" and Rodney Strong Vineyards proprietor Tom Klein's mission of "crafting world class wines that capture the essence of Sonoma County" you can feel the partnership at work.

Wal-Mart, RFID, PLA and lots of fish

Beaver Street Fisheries (BSF) started as a small retail fresh fish store in Jacksonville, FL, USA, nearly 60 years ago. It was run by two brothers, Hans and Alfred Frisch, along with their mother. In a fairly short time, the business began expanding and now it is a large complex, spanning some two city blocks and includes its own US Department of Commerce (USDC) Fisheries Inspection Station. The Frisch brothers used to scour both Florida coasts in search of the freshest seafood - now they search the coasts of some 50 different countries and their company has grown to become one of the country's top seafood providers.

In addition to the USDC inspection facilities on-premise, BSF is an HACCP-approved facility. (This is the US Food and Drug Administration's Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point food safety system based on prevention.) It identifies those hazards which are likely to occur in the food process, creates controls to prevent the hazard, and then systematically monitors those controls. With more than 400 employees at the Jacksonville facility, BSF is constantly upgrading its training to stay abreast of everything that is new in the industry.

"Three years ago, BSF met Wal-Mart's RFID requirement - a year before we had to," says Plant Manager Roger Denmark. Though it is not one of the giant retailer's top 100 suppliers, who were mandated to comply, BSF decided that meeting Wal-Mart's requirements was not enough, so they went beyond and exceeded them. "BSF has not only been pushing the envelope on RFID, but also trailblazing with recyclable/compostable packaging and labels for our products," Denmark says. "This ranges from the trays and absorbent pads used for our seafood packaging to the film that seals in the freshness to the actual label, made from a material derived from corn."

A pilot program is planned to gauge customer reaction for Wal-Mart which will involve BSF shipping some 300,000 trays to one Wal-Mart Distribution Center, and going out from there to dozens of Wal-Mart stores. "The new biodegradable packaging won't be the traditional blue or stark white styrofoam, which won't decompose even in a commercial facility," Denmark says. "Instead it will be a yellowish-white or opaque white." This packaging material is derived from a pulp fiber material rather than the polylactic acid (PLA) material used on the label, because the pulp fiber is more temperature-stable while still being biodegradable, compostable and, like the PLA label, derived from non-petroleum sustainable resources.

"There's a lot more than meets the eye," Denmark observes. "For example, the PLA label we use becomes very fragile if exposed to heat, and conversely, heat helps accelerate the decomposing process. If the temperature is very cold, as opposed to cool, the label becomes brittle." Donnick Label Systems of Jacksonville, FL, has been working closely with BSF on both its RFID labeling program as well as the PLA label.

"Dave Frederick of Donnick Labels started doing the testing for us for the Wal-Mart pilot program," Denmark says, "and this will be in stores up to the first of November. We have automatically applied these labels, as well as hand applied them, and there is no discernible difference between the PLA label and conventional labels, other than temperature. That will not be a factor at BSF because our labels are stored in an air conditioned environment, so we won't have to do anything different at all to use the PLA labels." BSF has already performed extensive internal testing with the PLA-derived labels as well as the various packaging components to ensure there wouldn't be any surprises when they went live with the Wal-Mart test.

When Beaver Street Fisheries first looked at the Wal-Mart RFID requirement, it could foresee some internal benefits as well. Software is now being written to integrate RFID with the BSF internal WMS system for packaging, shipping and receiving. Early on in the RFID process, BSF conducted many tests with the Donnick-produced labels to ensure they would work in the cold chain. "Having a company like Donnick, which is positioned to provide timely service, made our job easier," says Howard Stockdale, CIO of BSF. "Donnick delivered many different types of RFID label configurations which were converted using RFID production equipment for BSF to test on a daily basis. Now, based on this diligent testing, we found the proper label substrate and adhesive that lets the RFID label work great in our freezers."

Recently, BSF has started taking RFID to a new level internally and is in the process of automating its receiving and shipping processes. "We feel there is a lot of low hanging fruit in terms of efficiency gains using it internally," Stockdale says. "And we are moving as fast as we can to link our RFID edge applications to our WMS."

Larry Arway worked in sales, marketing and product management at Standard Register for 35 years. He was involved in product design and development, and has worked with major consumer and industrial products companies in North America. He can be reached at
  • Adhesives Update

    Adhesives Update

    Greg Hrinya, Associate Editor||April 7, 2017
    Label adhesives must meet a variety of performance and manufacturing requirements.

  • The Future of Flexo

    The Future of Flexo

    Steve Katz, Editor||April 7, 2017
    Recruitment and proper training are paramount to the health and future of flexography.

  • Latin America’s Label Market

    Latin America’s Label Market

    Greg Hrinya, Associate Editor||March 13, 2017
    Competition and emerging print technologies define this region.