“The Global Brand Counterfeiting and Trademark Infringement Report, 2018” by R Strategic Global states that counterfeit goods are expected to be a $1.95 trillion market by 2022. According to Jay Wittmann, product manager, Intelligent Labels at Avery Dennison, counterfeit pharmaceuticals represent the biggest counterfeit market, valued at $200 billion.
The label and surrounding packaging can play a pivotal role in protecting brands and consumers. Security implies that the consumer is receiving the actual good for which he or she is paying.
“Labels are the least expensive and most versatile way to add anti-counterfeiting features to a product,” says Tom Erickson, vice president of manufacturing at The Label Printers. “Labels can contain counterfeit-fighting covert measures like micro-printing, invisible inks, and varnishes containing taggants or DNA, to overt measures such as holography, color shifting inks, serialization and barcodes. Barcode technology can be combined with writable databases to create track-and-trace systems that follow products throughout their supply chain, from factory to end user. While not practical to use all of these technologies on one label, these often work best when two or more are combined.”
Brands must ask multiple questions when analyzing their needs and appropriate courses of action to protect their products. “Two key details need to be determined first: how the product is being distributed, and who will inspect the product to determine if it is counterfeit,” says Paul Purdef, marketing director, Durables, Avery Dennison Label and Packaging Materials. “Pharmaceutical products, for example, begin at the manufacturer and may then be sent to a distributor. They could take one path to a retailer to be purchased by a consumer, or could be sent to a doctor’s office or hospital where they would be administered by a healthcare professional. Understanding the journey of the product will help to identify each touch point at which it could be inspected for counterfeiting. Multiple pieces of information will guide the selection of a labeling material that is difficult to reproduce and has an identifiable characteristic that indicates that counterfeiting has occurred.”
Multiple markets have used security labels to deter tampering. Spirits labels, for example, will often have an open/closed feature that will let the consumer know if the bottle has been opened.
The label does not need to be obtrusive, either. “A security label can be designed in a conspicuous yet attractive way – on a CPG or pharmaceutical package – so that the consumer sees, interacts and feels good about the product,” explains Franco Diaz, brand protection director at Authentix. “It’s not that consumers should understand the science behind the technology. Consumers should feel confident that with secure, overt methods, such as a complex security hologram and dynamic color shifting ink features, their purchase is safe given the certain level of authenticity.”
Security labels are comprised of a number of different layers, as well. VeriTrace will utilize a range of substrates in its void printing technology, where removing a label will actually leave the word “VOID.”
“There are void and frangible technologies to promote security,” states Robert Sherwood, VP of security programs, VeriTrace. “You might have synthetic substrates that break apart upon removal, or little slits in the substrate to make the label more difficult to remove.”
The goal is to make a package as unique as possible, which will make it more difficult to replicate. “There’s a real danger behind people buying counterfeits,” says Sherwood. “If a brand is ‘hot’ and the packaging is easy to reproduce, it’s really easy for a counterfeiter to go in that direction.”
Brands might utilize bottles or packages with unique molds proprietary to their products. Many vitamins and supplements in the nutraceuticals world utilize generic packaging, making the product easier to reproduce. “People might think they’re getting a deal, but who knows what’s in the bottle,” adds Sherwood.
Security labels help with more than fake goods, too. Product diversion is a critical part of this industry, where a product is routed to a different location and then sold at a discount. “You would want to create a unique code for each label, where each product gets identified,” says Gary Peterson, senior account manager at Domino. “A scanner picks up the label, so when it goes to a certain distributor they know it’s going to the right place.”
Unfortunately, many brands wait too long to address a catastrophic counterfeiting issue. “Brand protection and anti-counterfeiting remediation efforts are often reactionary, based on an adverse event,” says Diaz. “Some companies hurry to seek out a security solution that can be deployed rapidly, which might be a holographic label or covert ink feature. At that point, the supply chain is already compromised, and this is especially complicated if there are multiple manufacturing and/or application sites.”
Once brands understand the importance of using security labels, the decision must be made as to how the product will be protected. Labels can include overt, covert or forensic materials to ensure safety and security.
“Overt, by definition, means to show openly,” explains Domino’s Peterson. “You see it, meaning you might be dealing with a 2D matrix code or QR code that would be on a label. With covert security, you don’t want to display what you’re doing.”
According to VeriTrace’s Sherwood, types of overt technologies would include holograms or OVI, or color shifting inks. He adds that a latent image or microtext might be included on covert labels. Semi-covert labels would require magnification or a reader.
Forensic, meanwhile, would involve DNA or a special chemical combination that’s unique to a particular tag. Sometimes a reader can verify a forensic label, whereas other instances require a product to go back to the lab.
“The pervasiveness of counterfeiting right now is monumental,” says Sherwood. “I think the consensus in the brand protection industry is layering technologies is the most successful, where you’re not relying on one technology. You could start with a substrate with a void technology or a taggant already in the substrate, and then you could layer your security inks. Creating the right microtext or line structure could differentiate the true label from a counterfeit label.”
Of course, there are inherent risks with overt technologies. “An overt technology will have a feature visible to the naked eye and can be identified by a regular consumer. The risk in this type of application is that counterfeiters can mimic the technology and fool customers,” says Avery Dennison’s Purdef.
Even when dealing with variable data, there are considerations. Selecting random or serialized data can make a product tougher to copy. “Serialized data involves incrementing or decrementing by one digit, and that’s easily replicated,” says Domino’s Peterson. “If the code involves random data, a counterfeiter will not have the ability to predict the next sequence in the code. Every label has a unique code, and with track and trace technology they can be tracked through the logistics supply chain.”
Successful security measures
Counterfeiting is an expensive business and a daunting proposition for brands. However, all is not lost. With new substrates, digital printing, and the latest R&D, brands are maximizing their opportunities to remain secure.
Converters will play a big part in this endeavor, too. “At The Label Printers, we have the longest-running, most successful authentication program in the industry,” says Erickson. “The first thing we do is listen. We listen to our customers to understand their pain points and to learn what areas in their supply chain have been compromised or are at risk. Armed with that information, we can recommend the most effective, cost-conscious solution.
“We offer tamper-evident substrates and adhesives, along with a wide range of other possibilities,” he adds. “In fact, many of these features can be added right to the product label itself instead of adding another label just for anti-counterfeiting purposes.”
The Label Printers utilizes three Domino K600i units for printing barcodes, variable data and serializing. The units have been added to flexo presses in order to add various overt and covert features to a label. “The durability of the Domino ink has been crucial to our processes, considering many of the labels we produce end up outside or in industrial environments, or both,” says Erickson. “With Domino’s N610i press, the possibilities expand even more – serialization/variable print can be accomplished in any color, and variable codes can be printed with invisible varnish or in metallic, using cold foiling.”
Digital printing has also opened up this arena to any number of brands. The technology is not just limited to the biggest players out on the market. “Through digital printing, not only did the types of anti-counterfeiting technologies grow, but they also became more affordable, enabling smaller brands to enter that field,” notes Erickson. “Now, even small to medium sized businesses can affordably add anti-counterfeiting features to their wines, spirits, nutraceuticals, and more, gaining the security they desire while also appearing like a high-end, high volume brand.”
Suppliers have responded to demand, too. Acucote, Avery Dennison, Mactac, UPM Raflatac and a host of others have engineered materials specifically for security labeling.
Avery Dennison’s security portfolio extends across many applications, including pharmaceuticals, home and personal care, consumer packaged goods, automotive and durable goods. “The products range in capabilities, providing solutions that stand up to different instances of tampering and counterfeiting, including void products, frangible and destructible labels, and photoluminescent labels,” says Avery Dennison’s Purdef. “Our multi-color patterned photoluminescent label, which will fluoresce in different colors, is a unique and hard-to-replicate solution for a high level of protection.
“As technology and counterfeiting practices advance, Avery Dennison continues to offer innovative labeling solutions that provide security,” he adds. “Our photoluminescent products can refine the level of protection. Smartphones also allow us to serialize labels and lean on cloud-based information to verify that the serial number on the label matched the product.”
The new Acucote 2 mil Clear Acetate UD can be used to achieve a “no-label look” for tamper-evident seals and labels. A gloss topcoat provides enhanced flexo printability, and its relatively high stiffness is ideal for machine-applied labels.
Mactac recently launched nine new tamper-evident labelstocks, which draw upon the success of Mactac’s LTCNVP50 non-PVC, destructible labelstock. The products’ security measures have been engineered to help brands and consumers know if a product label or closure has been removed. Destructible labelstocks, which were initially developed by Mactac’s parent company, Lintec Corporation, feature high tensile strength and low internal strength.
UPM Raflatac’s new range has been designed to support pharmaceutical companies in improving patient safety through secure and tamper-evident packaging. The range includes luminescent tamper-evident adhesives to help verify whether labels are in place and correctly positioned. The company’s existing luminescent RP62 EUL works with prevailing sensor systems, but the newly released Red Luminescent solution with RP62 EU works with a new presence verification system.
Consumers are interacting with security labels and anti-counterfeiting features daily, even though many never realize it. Authentix offers brand protection and packaging security solutions, enabling the brand owner to take a more proactive role in policing the supply chain.
Franco Diaz, brand protection director at Authentix, often lectures on the topic of brand protection. “I first tell students that brand protection is not a product, because a product has a lifecycle,” he notes. “Brand protection is an absolute process. It’s a series of functions, actions and changes all in the pursuit of protection of the customer and, ultimately, ROI.”
However, there are no guarantees when a brand owner chooses and implements security features on its products. As Diaz points out, security is an objective assurance. Consider it much like risk management, where one would typically buy insurance in case of an accident or disaster. When an adverse event happens, it pays off in high multiples. However, it can also do something most insurance can’t do – deter the adverse event from happening. Nefarious criminals, who target high value, unique products, will typically examine their choices for the easiest candidates to fake – and those are typically ones where minimal to no security features are known to be applied.
Many brands have made the choice to secure their labels. “Many liquor bottles have a security seal or a state tax stamp across the cap or enclosure,” states Diaz. “This tamper evident seal could be branded or generic. There are typically two reasons for a branded label: authentication and tamper evidence. This solution protects both the consumer and provides the brand owner a method for internal protection and supply chain integrity.”
Security is not limited to the label, either. The solution could very well be on the carton, a seal, or even directly in the product being consumed. Diaz notes, “Authentix has FDA approved excipients and other ingredients that can be added to food, supplements, drinks, and even pharmaceuticals. Even the tiny printed ink on some tablets or capsules may contain a specialized marker that is detectable with one of our proprietary field devices.”
Kent Mansfield, the company’s chief sales and marketing officer, says, “From a choice of the industry’s highest secure overt and covert technologies, our clients enjoy the expertise that decades of experience can bring,” he says. “We are trusted by national governments, central banks and the largest brand owners in the industry because we customize and rapidly deploy solutions for our clients based on their needs and constraints. Our goal is to make sure the most effective solution for an individual product’s risk profile is selected and that it can endure through the entire life cycle.”