Promotional labelling has attracted some highly specialised label converters, but it is unlike any other sector.
Some label sectors start off as being highly specialised, but then market forces begin to erode their riche status. The so-called ‘intelligent’ label sector, including the cleverer types of promotional labels, is of a different order and by definition remains restrictive.
Underpinned by some advanced technology, this sector includes variable information printing, the use of special inks and adhesives, RFID circuits, scratch-off panels and colour-change inks. Promotional labels roughly comprise multi-page leaflet/labels, multi-ply an/or dry-peel constructions, perforated strips and peel-and-reveal coupons. Some constructions can include scratch-off coating for games and use some form of on-demand laser or ink jet printing.
The flexibility of using these on-pack labels at the point of sale attracts marketers and brand managers of hair care, toiletries, food and drink products. They can carry details of incentives, money-back offers, recipes and the like, often as part of regional or seasonal campaigns. Furthermore, they affix to every type of packaging, including aerosols, using automatic label applicators.
Multi-ply products are particularly versatile. These types of labels are formed by printing a web of material and running another web on top of it in register. Applying a UV-cured release lacquer is the main method of obtaining the dry peel ability.
A common method is to over laminate a double-sided peel-off coupon label with a clear film to give it extra strength and surface gloss. It could act as a redeemable coupon applied to the primary packaging like an ordinary label. Peeling away the coupon leaves a clear film base that leaves the graphics unobscured. Buyers could specify a barcode on the coupon’s reverse for redemption purposes. Other usages include competitions, encapsulated fragrances, stickers or stamps.
Closely related are the informational booklet labels. Typically, these info-labels may carry several thousands of words of usage instructions produced as multi-layered fold-out booklets. Alternatively, a zig-zag folded leaflet may be attached directly to the product container. They have become extremely popular for labelling hundreds of different DIY, gardening, pharmaceuticals and agro-chemical products.
Two companies dominate the European market for promotional and extended text labels: Denny Bros Printing of Bury St Edmunds and Inprint Systems of Ashford, Kent. Their respective proprietary systems involve scores of international patents covering the minutiae of perforations, fold, laminates and adhesives. In this legal minefield, David Instance, Inprint’s chairman, remains well-known for keeping the lawyers busy.
Denny’s manufacturing methods for the well-known Fix-a-Form system include its own patents and those licensed to it by Instance. Licensees pay royalties for the right to use the know-how and special machinery. They can also sell their promotional services to other converters on a trade basis if they want to. Currently, 23 label printers in 22 countries around the world hold licenses. They include Kenilworth Products in Dublin and two in the USA: American Labelmark and CCL Label (Sioux Falls). It also has its own dedicated production plant and works closely with Pago to develop customised processing equipment. Pago’s main plant in Switzerland and others in France and Germany are Fix-a-Form licensees.
‘There’s been a hardening of the promotional label market, but it still offers good prospects to those who are dedicated to it,’ said Andrew Denny, managing director of Fix-a-Form International. He confirmed the company was still looking for licensees, especially in the untapped Middle East and South American regions. Eastern Europe is another potential growth area. It already has a presence in Poland through the Danish Iwaco A/S company. The next big step is to build a factory on a green-site outside its home town to house the separate printing and equipment manufacturing units.
The company markets fifteen variations on the Fix-a-Form brand in addition to the standard product. The main theme is affixing multi-page leaflets to a self-adhesive carrier using permutations of perforated or re-sealable opening tabs. Specialities including Safe-Seal, with tamper-evident opening tabs and reseal able leaflet for pharmaceutical products, and Seal-a-Form featuring a folded leaflet within a welded secure pocket. There are also multi-ply dry or wet peel versions for removal or reseal ability.
Inprint Systems was formed in 1973, five years before Fix-a-Form arrived. Its info-label products, trademarked as ‘Extended Text’, are produced in the UK, Italy, the USA and Singapore. In May it acquired Witsiers BV, a family-owned printing and label business in Oss in the Netherlands. It has three operating divisions covering offset printing, self-adhesive labelling and digital printing for the pharmaceutical and veterinary products industries.
The Witsiers deal followed the move by PPM Ventures Ltd, the venture capital arm of the Prudential Corporation plc, to acquire a ‘significant equity stake’ in Inprint. It could signal further moves by Inprint to expand its core leaflet/label business.
The usual method to process text for information labels is to print it on offset-litho presses, followed by conventional guillotining sheets and folding on small-format folders used for pharmaceutical leaflets. The finished booklets are fed automatically from a hopper on to the self-adhesive carrier. Clear-film over laminates protects the booklet and also act as a hinge or peel and reseal medium. Leaflet/labels are supplied for either manual or machine application.
Notwithstanding the patent situation, an alternate method is to use a multi-web label press using integrated printing, coating and processing units. This method delivers a more limited number of pages, but production can include a variety of piggyback or coupon labels, importantly produced in a single pass.
Gallus and Nilpeter have variously developed special twin-web presses for these products, while a few other press manufacturers have also developed customised versions of standard presses. Ko-Pack International is the most active manufacturer in this respect and holds many patents. It offers the All-in-One-Pass Coupon press in 254mm and 381mm web widths. Also using Ko-Pack’s C1 drum and stack-design with UV rotary letterpress units is the twin-web 250 Series 004, which offers twelve colours, hot-melt gluing, folding and UV flexo varnishing in its standard form. Products include folded booklets with up to nine pages, piggyback labels and basic labels and tags. In Japan a huge diversity of promotional products form a large part of KO-Pack’s own label and tag printing activities.
Many of Europe’s larger label converters who use such equipment or are licensees have traditionally done fairly well in this sector. However, it is not immune from the market conditions that have depressed margins in many prime/product sectors. Jarvis Porter’s recent decision to close the former Irwin plant in Cardiff was attributed partly to declining orders and adverse market conditions in the promotional self-adhesive label sector’. For many years it produced a large range of multi-ply coupons and dry-peel products, now produced at the group’s factory in Lewes, Sussex.
Harlands Labels based in Hull is another long-standing player in this sector. Along with the machinery division it was recently acquired by B H Matthews Ltd from Sonoco Products. It patented dry peel and twin-ply peel/read filmic coupon products continue to make up an important part of Harlands’ current business, especially in the hair care and toiletries markets. Interestingly, exports of promotional labels to French buyers exceed those for UK companies. Apparently, coupon-type products are taken more seriously as promotional tools for certain fast-moving consumer products. Harlands recently introduced a triple-decker peel/read label, again non-paper, to give even more extended product information.
A few trade houses, notably Paperwork, produce off-the-shelf piggyback labels with two or more surface-printed layers.
In the USA, the country’s huge size allows for several specialised converters to operate in this sector. A leading one is Mid America, which produces and licences its Applied On-Pack Promotions range with over a dozen different multi-ply constructions. Booklet/Plus reseal able booklets include seam-glued type with up to ten layers (20 pages) and a folded type with up to 14 layers.
Occasionally, a labelstock innovation comes along from a coater/laminator that gives converters an entry-lavel to promotional labelling. An example is the Universal Coupon Film from 3 SIGMA from Troy, Ohio. Unlike other coupon materials, it is said to produce a finished coupon designed to lift from any size and removes cleanly without leaving an adhesive residue. Available in several web widths and various adhesives and liners. The film is printable both sides and is available in clear, printed or metallised film, which is designed for block-out on game pieces.
While overwhelmingly identified with pressure-sensitive labelling, promotional labelling can include special types of shrink sleeves and non-adhesive bottle collars for beverages, sauces and marinades. They can also carry promotional features, including booklets.
Sleever International in France has been developing innovative products in this sector for some years. A version of its Seelpack has a double or mono construction that can include a patented peel-off coupon for money-off promotions. It also developed NotiSleeve, which combines a paper reclosable leaflet of up to nine pages for info-labelling purposes.
OPP or PET shrink sleeves and film wraps are widely used to band ‘two-for-the-price-of-one’ products and can offer anti-tampering features. This application also works with the patented DAS labelling system. Here, the adhesive is applied strategically in strips, leaving the product unmarked when the film label is removed using an ‘easy peel’ strip. As with sleeves, reverse printing on clear film protect the surface graphics. Unlike sleeves, the label does not have to encircle the product decoration aspect, but bands products with differing sizes, weights and shapes.
Whatever the application, these distinctive labels require innovative types of equipment to execute them and resourceful people to manage and operate it. This applies to licensed operators, patent holders and to those who have independently installed specialised promotional label presses. And of course, this is one type of labelling that demands some strong marketing initiatives to exploit the opportunities that are undoubtedly there.