Market Focus

Household Products Labeling

October 7, 2009

The printing process and material choices are key considerations in the competitive household goods market.

Household Products Labeling

The printing process and material choices are key considerations in the competitive household goods market.

By Steve Katz

Look around the house, and chances are they’re everywhere. Under the kitchen sink, in laundry rooms, closets and cupboards, household products are an integral part of maintaining a well kept home. And their labels are important. Like all consumer packaged goods (CPGs), competition among products is fierce, and the label plays a crucial role in that regard. But also, products designed to clean, freshen or polish often contain potentially hazardous ingredients, thus requiring that the label withstand chemical assaults, as well as serving as a line of defense against dangerous product misuse.

Digital printing, shrink and competition

Unlike other CPGs, household products are a necessity, and because of this they make for a reliable niche of the labeling industry despite a tough economic climate. “Household products are of course one of the staples in the label business and have held up well in the slower economic times,” says Joel Carmany, president of Consolidated Label, Longwood, FL, USA, adding that the downturn in the economy has even helped to open doors for some manufacturers. “The secondary household brands sold in the dollar stores and as generics in other stores have done extremely well during the recession and have picked up market share.”

Lars Ho-Tseung, president and CEO of Custom Label, Hayward, CA, USA, discusses competition and how it’s affecting the types of labels the company prints for its household products customers. “With a household product, many of our customers share competitive shelf space with discount brands and generic alternatives. Low unit cost is a key driver that allows our customer's to out-sell their competition. To meet this requirement, we must consistently engineer the lowest total delivered cost for our customer,” he says.

Acknowledging the cost pressures, a high quality look is critical, Ho-Tseung says. “For many household products, the label is the primary decoration. The label must, therefore, attract consumer attention and encourage a purchase decision at the shelf. For that reason, ‘down and dirty’ labels just won't cut it. An effective household products label jumps off the shelf at a consumer, while driving down packaging costs,” he adds.

As in other markets, the battle between discount brands and generics is ongoing, and a quality label is a difference maker. Stacey Santos, marketing manager for Dion Label Printing, Westfield, MA, USA, sees some developing trends resulting from the competitive nature of the market. “We are noticing that the more competitive the household products market gets, the more involved are its labels. Companies are using complex graphics or constructions, such as colorful multi-panels, for their labels,” Santos says. She also notes that some household products companies are now packaging their products with shrink films, a segment Dion Label Printing has recently entered into.

Kathy Popovich, director of marketing and communications, ILS Labels, Hamilton, OH, USA, also notices the move toward shrink sleeves in the household goods market, and discusses the benefits of having digital capabilities when working with shrink. “Many household products are transferring to shrink sleeve decorations – primarily for the increased real estate to deliver the essence of the brand as well as for graphic impact. Shrink sleeve development and decoration is a whole new ball game for the pressure sensitive label converter. It involves creating graphic grids for distortion, making the right material recommendation given the container specifications, and more. It also involves a secondary operation of seaming and finishing on roll form or cut/stack – depending on the application process.ILS is fortunate to have all of these capabilities in-house, offering a turn-key solution for our customers.The beauty of digital is that we can run an actual press proof and hand apply to the container to verify the distortions are correct,” she says.

These candle labels from ILS were First Place winners at the Third Annual HP Indigo International Labels & Packaging Contest.
ILS won several awards in the Third Annual HP Indigo International Labels & Packaging Contest. The award winners were announced at Labelexpo Europe in Brussels, Belgium, last month. Two of ILS’s awards were in the households category. First Place went to ILS’s Candle Cottage candles label, and the company received a Second Place award for its True to Nature Organic Room Spray label.
Aside from being a good fit for shrink, digital printing provides additional benefits for labels in the household goods market, Popovich says.

In talking about ILS’s award winners, she says, “Both of these product lines were perfect candidates for a digital solution,” Popovich says. “As each had more than 20 SKUs in the line, as well as seasonal scents that came on and off the shelf each year, a digital solution was the best choice. With a digital solution, there were no plates to invest in, while delivering a premium graphic quality featuring photographic images, and the flexibility to print on demand and make text and graphic changes with efficiency and ease.”

Expanding SKUs is a distinct trend in the household products market, and Popovich emphasizes just how much of an asset having digital capabilities is in order to accommodate brand owners. “Household products, from room sprays to cleaning products, are offering more and more scented versions. And each version has its own iconic graphic to express the personality of that scent. Digital is a great solution here, as SKU proliferation is one of the strong suits of the digital printing process. Some product lines can have up to 25 scents. For example, through one of our distributor representatives, we provide labels for an organic room spray.Each version has a photographic quality image representing the scent. Many of the scents are seasonal or are updated regularly.Some are high volume scents and some are slow movers. With a digital solution, each SKU is ordered in the quantity needed and there is no additional setup or changeover from one item to the next,” explains Popovich.

Cynthia Cyr, marketing director, Étiquettes Profecta Labels, Boucherville, QC, Canada, says the household products market has grown at a slower pace for Profecta in the last few years than other markets, such as the food industry or the promotional coupon markets. But digital printing has provided Profecta with an advantage. “We have seen growth but mostly in smaller volumes with private labels. The economic uncertainty has given the private labels a boost over the brand name labels. Private labels are much more appealing to the growing number of consumers who are looking to stretch their budgets. We are able to meet the demands with our flexographic capabilities accommodating the higher volumes and our HP Indigo digital technology is well suited for the runs with smaller volumes and many SKUs,” she says.

Cyr also points out that an increasing number of consumers are looking for convenience in cleaning products, and this, for example, has led to the creation of another market. “The ‘too tired to clean’ syndrome has created an age of disposable products that stress convenience. This has given rise to a whole series of packaged wipes for everything you can think of that needs wiping. The packaging of these new age disposables vary from pressure sensitive labels to in-mold labels and shrink sleeves,” she says.

Note the emphasis on the environment with this household products label from Étiquettes Profecta Labels.

Eco-friendly marketing and materials

Stacey Santos says the household labels sector is alive and well. “The relative health of this market seems to be good and growing. Particularly in the household cleaners market, we see product line extensions as well as new brands emerging,” she says, pointing out that a profitable niche in the household goods sector has developed around a focus on eco-friendly products. “Dion Label Printing has been able to benefit our customers with eco-friendly materials including varnishes, inks, adhesive, and printing processes.”

Joel Carmany concurs. “The biggest single movement is the addition of a green line in every household product to align with the overall ‘save the planet’ theme. These products are priced at a premium in the market and will grow with the trend’s popularity,” he says.

Despite the economy, environmental responsibility is still a hot topic, says Lars Ho-Tseung. “For household goods the trends are toward natural and organic active ingredients, and more environmentally friendly packaging.Primary labels play a key role in communicating ingredient changes and broadcasting the eco-friendly message.New label materials are available featuring post-consumer waste raw materials, and materials created from renewable sources. Unfortunately, the high costs for eco-friendly packaging remains a significant barrier,” he says.

As with most segments of the industry, cost is a driver, and household products are no different. While converters acknowledge the trend toward green, it’s also understood that it takes green to be green, and in today’s economic environment it’s just not always a practical strategy.

Cynthia Cyr also echoes the trend toward environmentally sustainable materials but says there needs to be widespread change in order for it to become mainstream. “More and more clients are inquiring about eco-friendly products but there are still many recycling issues to be worked out; demand needs to increase, better sorting technologies need to be developed, and the funding of these technologies needs to increase,” she says.

Material selection and other challenges

Household products are often stored in environments that subject the containers to conditions that could damage a label. For this reason, converters and end users must carefully consider material choices such as substrates, inks, and coatings, for each particular end use application.

Santos says that Dion Label Printing takes into account the product’s contents as well as the environment it might be placed in. She says, “Due to the hazardous contents in some products, converters must ensure that the label holds up should the contents of the product get on it. For waterproof labels, we recommend a laminate with a film. For bubbling, out-gassing, or chemical issues, we test recommended packaging solutions on products prior to printing.”

“Cost pressure appears to be driving more household products to less expensive label solutions, including roll-fed glue-applied labels and full-body shrink,” Lars Ho-Tseung points out. “While economical, both are somewhat limiting with regard to package shapes and label substrates. The introduction of lower-cost squeezable film substrates has filled a cost-gap for flexible squeeze bottle decoration. The new squeezable films can provide excellent label durability on a squeeze container at a competitive substrate price. As with other customer requirement changes, the substrate trends point to lower packaging costs. We have not see a significant demand for premium label effects such as foil stamping, embossing or creative diecut designs.Simplification and cost-cutting are winning out over trendy packaging,” he adds.

Ho-Tseung also says that with household products, material selection and the print process can be critical to label performance. “Some packaging specifications call for durable materials able to withstand harsh contaminant conditions. Other products are intended for outdoor use, requiring inks that are fade resistant. Many consumer products, including spray bottles, utilize special die shapes that must fit the contours of rigid or squeezable containers.

“Additionally, the storage and use environment for a typical household product is very demanding,” he says, adding that moisture and high humidity environments such as under the sink, in the garage, and bathrooms can make for challenging adhesive selection, necessitating stability and life cycle testing. “Chemical exposure during filling, shipment and storage may require a lamination to protect the label contents,” says Ho-Tseung.

Al Kuhl, technical services and support representative, Roll Label, MACtac Printing Products, Stow, OH, USA, also talks about the challenges associated with containers and spillage. He says, “One common labeling challenge is the unusually shaped and textured plastic containers typical to packaging in this market. In addition, label adhesion and appearance can be compromised from household chemicals spilling or leaking from the container or, in some instances, migrating through the container and affecting the label.Exposure to a wide range of temperature and humidity conditions can also offer challenges to household product labeling,” Kuhl says.

An effective household products label has to be more than just durable. It also has to appeal to the customer and stand out on the shelf.

Joel Carmany talks about what he sees as a trend in resulting from the drive for product differentiation, and alludes to the aforementioned trend regarding an increase in SKUs. “There is more attention to detail and more versions of every product with different scents and colors. Also, there has been some movement towards film for the labels versus paper in order to provide sharper printing or, in the case of clear film, a focus on showing more of the product in the bottle,” he says.

A household products label from Étiquettes Profecta Labels
“The use of paper and synthetic stocks either UV varnished or laminated are still the most commonly used. There is awareness on the part of the consumer and a greater demand for eco-friendly products in substrates, inks, varnishes, and laminations,” says Cynthia Cyr, adding that Profecta’s clients are inquiring about what in the PS world is good for the environment. “The awareness is present but it is not yet economically feasible for most clients to be eco-friendly. The obstacles are many but one of the issues is in the price differences. The increased cost of a PLA corn-based stock or a paper containing PCW affects their bottom line and in these economic times they end up opting out of the eco-friendly trend.” She also points out that in the household products market, converters have seen some of the pressure sensitive labels being replaced by either in-mold labels or shrink sleeves.

Kathy Popovich says sometimes just giving the appearance of being environmentally friendly is a driver for brand owners, as is going for a flashy, high-end look. “In label constructions, no-look labels or labels printed on ultra-clear material are increasingly in demand. But also, materials that either have the appearance of a recycled material or are actually environmentally-friendly are gaining in popularity. Brands are also looking for cost-effective ways to simulate a higher end finishing effect like hot stamping. To accomplish this, we have seen an increased use of metalized papers or simulating gold and silver with yellow and gray inks,” she says.

Joseph Funicelli, CEO and president, Unifoil Corporation, Fairfield, NJ, USA, says that when launching a new product or refreshing an older one in the household goods market, converting with clear, metalized, holographic and special effect film laminates is an effective strategy. “Experience demonstrates that when end users want to launch a brand or refresh an older one, or emphasize a new ingredient in a product, for example, a metalized or holographic label, in particular, has proven to be an especially effective tool in catching the consumer’s eye and driving a new message,” he says.

Material selection is indeed a challenge, and Kathy Popovich offers sound advice by suggesting converters pose a series of questions. “As with most label and packaging requirements, it is important to make material recommendations based on the manufacturing environment as well as the durability requirements.For example, what is the composition of the container? Does the decoration process involve machine or hand applications? What kind of environment is the end-product going to be subject to when in use by the consumer? Et cetera. Knowing the answer to all of these factors plays a significant role in the final material recommendation,” she says.

Changes to come

Tying in with environmental concerns is a nationwide push for “full disclosure” on all household products., says Lars Ho-Tseung. “Consumer products companies are facing tough questions from consumers about the ingredients in their products, and their impact on the environment – particularly cleaning agents. Lawsuits in several states imply that consumer products giants are hiding information regarding the detrimental effects of their products. There is even a measure being circulated in the US Congress that would mandate product disclosures on all labeling and packaging.This will no doubt drive numerous rounds of graphics and label changes.”

Also, with household products, safety is an issue. Due to potentially dangerous ingredients, accidentalmisuse has serious consequences. Recently, the household products industry itself has taken steps to take on safety issues that will affect the labels printed for these products.

The Soap and Detergent Association (SDA), the Consumer Specialty Products Association (CSPA), and the Canadian Consumer Specialty Products Association (CCSPA) have developed a voluntary program called an “ingredient communication initiative” as a way to provide consumers with information about the ingredients in products in four major categories: air care, automotive care, cleaning, and polishes and floor maintenance products. The program will take effect in January 2010.

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken has recently introduced legislation that would require household cleaning products, like furniture polish and laundry detergent, to carry labels with a complete list of ingredients.
The Household Product Labeling Act, the second piece of legislation introduced by Franken, would expand existing labeling requirements. Current law requires that product labels list “immediately hazardous” ingredients, but companies are not required to list ingredients that might cause harm over time.

The proposed legislation, if it comes to pass, will certainly pose more challenges to brand owners and label converters. MACtac’s Al Kuhl says the industry is already undergoing change. “First, there seems to be a growing trend in the use of flexible packaging and peel and reseal pouches in the household products market. Second, regulations requiring additional information about ingredients and safety will probably lead to a growth in expanded content and multi-page labels.And finally, with the continuing concerns about the environment, recycling and the use of fossil fuels, I would expect new trends to emerge in alternative packaging and labeling designs and materials,” he says.