Nearly every aspect of our lives has been affected by one or more supply chain issues recently. Whether it is the decrease in the supply of oil and it’s affect on gas prices, or the shortages of many consumer goods, we’re all aware of how interconnected the world has become. And it seems like every day there is another event that impacts a different market or increases the stress on an already affected sector. If it’s not the pandemic, it’s war in Eastern Europe. These play a part, but supply chain disruptions are often much more complex, and not solely attributable to one distinct event. Policies put in place in times of plenty can suddenly reveal themselves as poor decisions when a major event like a world-wide pandemic or a regional conflict are added to the mix.
We as consumers and citizens can’t solve most of these issues; we must adapt to the current conditions in our home and work lives as best we can. The package and label industries are no different. As we near the end of April in 2022, almost every component of a pressure-sensitive label, a shrink-sleeve, and flexible packaging is in short supply. These components include paper and film substrates; adhesives; inks and coatings; and paper & film liners. Added to these shortages are issues occurring when materials finally do get shipped. The increasing cost of fuel is driving up the cost of transporting raw materials and finished goods. Shipping backups at receiving ports are delaying the arrival of raw materials produced overseas, sometimes by weeks.
In the long-term, based on past episodes of supply-chain shortages, we expect these markets will correct themselves. But in the meantime, raw material shortages will mean longer lead times and increased costs. Here’s what you can do:
Stay a Step Ahead
If you can, plan your label or flexible packaging requirements six months out. You should at least have a forecast for the next three months. Estimate your future requirements as soon as possible, and place orders accordingly.
Consider alternate materials that might work for your application. You may find a material component that is more readily available than your existing material and adapts well to your construction and specifications. This can often reduce lead times in the short term while giving you more options in the future.
AWT can help. We have established relationships with raw materials suppliers and the volume of material we require gives us a market advantage. We’re also in constant communication with these critical suppliers, and we get updates on critical materials on a regular basis. This gives us the ability to provide you with the latest information on market conditions and recommend actions to reduce the stress of the current situation.
The traditional approach to purchasing product labels is to obtain price quotations from an approved vendor list, and then select the supplier with the lowest cost per thousand. Other factors such as timing and experience with the vendor might come into play, but generally the key determining factor is price per thousand. It’s simple, straight forward and easily justified. On the surface, cost-per-thousand label procurement appears fair to both the brand owner and the brand’s vendors. The brand owner gets the lowest price, and the process encourages vendors to continually focus on reducing costs while maintaining quality standards.
But the operative words are “on the surface.” In truth, the cost of a label goes well beyond cost-per-thousand to include many related factors; from order processing and inventory control to logistics and everything in between. The dollar savings from value-added services like package engineering consultation and specific industry experience are difficult to capture in a spreadsheet.
Maintaining and growing market share is increasingly difficult in the face of intense global competition that compels companies to continually drive down costs while rushing high-quality, customized products to market. Regulatory requirements, market specifications, new substrates, digital, sustainability, security, anti-tampering, and different languages that require varying amounts of space are just some of the labeling challenges faced by many product manufacturers.
In short, labeling is becoming more complicated on several fronts. The associated costs go well beyond cost-per-thousand. As a result, the most progressive companies are adopting a total applied cost approach that includes re-engineering their current processes.
Key Steps in a Total Applied Cost Approach
The key is to not look at any single cost element in isolation, but to look at all the associated costs and how one element impacts the next in the label procurement supply chain. Market realities are driving brand owners toward taking a more holistic view of applied label costs and punishing those who cling to outdated approaches. Simply put, losing track of the bigger cost picture is a penny-wise and pound-foolish scenario that can negatively impact a brand owner’s profitability.
For example, does a less expensive label construction increase the amount of storage, inventory and obsolescence, slow down line speed or have a greater rejected label percentage versus a more expensive yet more flexible and efficient label construction? Other factors such as necessary staffing levels, application equipment and labeling efficiencies also require consideration.
In some cases, having the correct label format is far more valuable than saving a few cents on the label itself. For example, a label set, even if it is more costly than the sum of the individual labels used on a package, has hidden value because it is impossible to shut down a line due to one missing label. It also acts as a quality check; if there are no labels left on the sheet, the package is labeled correctly. The additional savings of one purchase order, one invoice, one packaging list, one quality check, and one incoming inspection process are common sense but difficult to capture on a spreadsheet in a traditional “bid and choose the lowest cost” purchasing format.
If the new first rule of supply-chain management is to focus on total costs, the second rule is to postpone label manufacturing until the last possible moment. In other words, demand-based systems promote the concept of “never purchase today what you can purchase tomorrow.” Delaying production enables the customer to better anticipate real demand, which minimizes both inventory and obsolescence costs.
Demand-driven production also better addresses fast-changing markets and reduces costs over the entire lifecycle of the consumer product. Here are some questions to help evaluate whether your label program has the right supply-chain footprint and whether it is functioning at a high level:
But is it worth the effort to become more demand driven? You bet. Keep in mind that just one additional demand -based inventory turn per year of a stocked item can save 12.5 percent in the total cost of that label.
The good news is that digital print technology combined strategically with other print platforms and automated ordering and fulfillment systems, can effectively deliver demand-based label production to meet virtually any market requirements.
Key Components of a Total Applied Cost Approach
Examining the full cost of different labeling approaches often demonstrates that there is more “below the surface” contributing to total cost than many brand owners realize. Total Applied Cost includes the full cost to get a label from the conceptual stage to the brand owner’s customer and everything in between.
Here is an explanation of the factors that affect total cost – some obvious and others which are less visible:
The production line is where the rubber meets the road on quality. There is no truer statement than “you can’t ‘inspect in’ quality.” Line speed and throughput require labels that:
Label failure at this critical point in production is one of the costliest spots and can greatly hinder production goals. A qualified dock-to-stock label supplier can take this cost out of the equation.
When engineering the label construction, Goldilocks is a good model. Like the porridge and the beds, your label material needs to be just right. The temperature ranges your product will encounter and the environmental conditions need to be carefully considered and the appropriate material and coatings must be selected. Choosing a label construction that works for tough automotive “under the hood” requirements would be costly and unnecessary overkill for a health and beauty label. If the situation were reversed, the label cost would be reduced but the end use failures would more than offset perceived initial savings. Your label shouldn’t be over or under-engineered. It should be just right.
You’re a consumer goods manufacturer, and you’ve invested time and effort into making sure your
product’s packaging is sustainable. For example, perhaps you’ve worked with a packaging supplier
to develop a flexible package that can be recycled, and you’ve labeled it as such to let consumers
know they can recycle the package. If the consumer doesn’t get this package into the correct
recycling stream, there is a chance it may not be recycled at all. Despite your best efforts and those of the consumer, this package could end up in a landfill. So what are we missing?
As of today, recycling capabilities vary from one municipality to the next. Items destined for
recycling are commonly put into one container and delivered to these facilities to be sorted and,
when possible, recycled. Items not capable of being recycled at one facility are sometimes
forwarded on to a secondary facility where the material may be accepted, but just as often this
‘rejected’ material is sent to landfills.
Consumers need some direction as to how to place recyclables into the correct ‘stream’ to ensure
recycling takes place. Fortunately there are multiple organizations looking to help companies and
consumers route recyclables to the correct stream. One of these is ‘how2recycle.info’. This
organization has developed a standardized labeling system to show consumers how to recycle a
Here’s what a ‘how2recycle.info’ label would look like for our hypothetical
flexible packaging container. You can see right up top the label directs
consumers to make sure the package is ‘clean and dry’ before recycling. The
mid-section of the label indicates ‘store drop-off’ as the preferred way to
ensure the package gets to the right facility. The bottom portion of the label
provides information on the package type and material composition.
There are multiple ‘how2recycle.info’ graphics available, depending on the
package type and the material the package is made from. There are even
labels available for packaging with multiple components, like a label or inner
pouch. Companies wishing to have the graphics applied to their packaging
must apply for membership with ‘how2recycle.info’ and then submit
packaging to the organization for evaluation of recyclability. Visit their web
site to learn more.
No, we’re not talking about overly sensitive packaging that you need to be mindful of, and careful about what you say. This ‘touchy’ refers to packaging that lends tactile elements to the sensory presentation. Package material suppliers and converters have spent a lot of time thinking about the ‘touch’ sense and are suggesting that it may be as important as the visual when it comes to swaying consumers.
A visually appealing package can attract a consumer, and may provoke interaction like lifting the package from the shelf to read ingredients, etc. The inclusion of a tactile element such as a ‘velvet-like’ finish that feels soft to the touch may plant a subliminal seed in a consumer’s mind. “This feels nice” is a pretty good reaction to get when you hold a packaged product. It is such a positive reaction that it may just close the deal when a consumer is deciding between competing brands.
Most retail packaging is designed to appeal only to the visual sense, and marketers put a lot of effort (and money!) into capturing consumer attention with superior graphics, color combinations and appealing package shapes. Incorporation of tactile elements stimulates one more sense and can even help convey a higher level of value.
When it comes to tactile packaging there are two primary options: Soft Touch, which imparts a velvety feel to packaging, and Raised Profile which simulates embossing. Both these options are generally accomplished with a coating or a material lamination. Both are designed to give another sensory dimension to flexible packaging or a package label.
Consumer behavior experts advocate appealing to even more senses for an overall experience, including smell and auditory elements. The key is to engage as many senses as possible during the shopping experience. There really IS more to retail marketing than meets the eye!
AWT has materials and print processes that can help give your brand the tactile edge in the ever more crowded retail arena. Our experts can help you understand your options.
You may have the best product in the world, and a marketing strategy that generates a ton of interest, but none of that will matter if consumers can’t find your brand at retail. There are now so many different product options on store shelves that they begin to blend in with each other. Just look at a health and beauty products or nutraceutical section of any major retailer and you’ll understand what we mean by “Category Camouflage.”
Your packaging needs to be designed to catch the attention of hurried consumers, who generally want to get in and out of a store in short order. Here’s one idea:
Label and flexible package laminations have come a long way since the days they were used primarily to protect printing and perhaps add some subtle textures. One of the most exciting developments in laminations is the use of holographic effects. For instance, AWT offers a film laminate material which boasts a luminous rainbow holographic pattern so seamless the eye cannot detect any repeat in the design. The dazzling effect captures consumer attention and highlights graphic element on the printed piece.
“Rainbow Holografik™ is a fantastic film for flexible packaging and label applications. The pattern is unique in drawing a consumer’s attention to the packaging while still subtle enough to not distract from the overall branding and messaging of the product,” stated Angela Mohni, VP of Marketing for Nobelus, who manufactures the laminate product. “We are very excited to see the creative way our customers and brand owners utilize this film in their label and packaging applications.”
In addition to the attention-grabbing attributes, this treatment also lends a premium product appearance, further adding value to the packaged product.
This is just one of many attention-getting ideas for your brand. Want to learn more? Contact the experts at AWT.
We said it, and it’s true. For specific applications, flexible packaging beats alternative packaging for sustainability hands down. Now you might think that since most flexible packaging is plastic that it doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to environmental friendliness. But we need to look at the sustainable attributes of flexible packaging over the entire lifecycle of the format.
Here are some benefits:
Let’s explore this product-to-packaging ratio a little further (and well refer to it as P2P ratio for brevity’s sake!). According to the U.S. EPA Waste Hierarchy, the most preferred method of waste management is reducing the amount of ‘potential’ waste on the front end. A format with a relatively higher P2P ratio is more efficient than a format with a lower P2P score. Here’s an illustration of the concept:
You can see the flexible packaging format is much more efficient that the HDPE and steel can formats. Let’s see how this translates to materials that wind up in a landfill:
The P2P ratio is just one comparison where flexible packaging beats other packaging formats for end-of-life sustainability benefits. And again, the comparisons above are assuming all three formats are destined for landfills, which would be the worst case. Many recyclable flexible packaging materials are coming online, and these will help make flexible packaging even more of a sustainable champion going forward.
AWT is continually engaging our flexible packaging material suppliers to learn about the latest in recyclable stocks and total material reduction options. If you’d like to learn more about the sustainable benefits of flexible packaging, or if you have any other labeling or packaging questions, we’d welcome an opportunity to help.
It’s summer. it’s hot. So what better time to catch up on what’s hot in labels and packaging? Normally these catalogs of what’s trending are compiled and reported near the beginning of the year, but we thought we’d be a little different. Here are FIVE trends we’ve identified that are getting traction here in the middle of summer 2021. So let’s jump into the pool, as they say, and find out what’s hot.
If you look at any retail shelf, you’re likely to notice there are more options within brand product lines. In some cases, a LOT more. It used to be that you would go into a store looking for your brand of shampoo. You’d find it, most likely in the same package shape, size and color scheme you had used for years. Go looking for that same brand now and it’s just as likely you’ll be presented with a dizzying selection of package and label variations based on hair type, gender, age, scalp conditions, and scent. Brands are offering targeted products for a couple of reasons: More variety translates to more shelf space occupied and thus more consumer exposure. The increased volume of brand packaging is a larger billboard, increasing the chances consumers will notice and take a closer look. Another reason is the attempt to ‘personalize’ the product. If I am a 30 something with a dry scalp condition, a shampoo proclaiming to be formulated for middle-aged consumers with dry skin seems like it was made just for me. It’s subtle, but the affect is tangible.
What’s a brand to do these days with ever increasing competition for consumer attention in retail? As indicated in the previous trend, shelf space is at a premium, and there are many, MANY options for consumers to choose from. Increasingly, brands are making changes to stand out and “visually shout” for attention. Remember as a kid how alluring the candy aisle was in a store? No doubt much of the appeal was the seemingly endless display of sugary goodness, but that’s not all. The packaging was candy in itself – eye candy. The bright reds, oranges, greens, and purples drew you in just as much as the promise of confectionary delights. Now go down that previously mentioned hair care aisle and you’ll be confronted by a rainbow of bright colors and shimmering foil enhancements competing for your eye’s attention. Many brands are retooling their color sets to incorporate these vibrant hues into their packaging.
Increasingly, brands are attempting to forge closer relationships with their customers. Where brands used to measure success in terms of quarterly and annual sales growth, they now strive to ‘engage’ their customers beyond the sale. Labels are becoming a medium for storytelling, using devices like augmented reality imaging and QR codes to convey company values and other information that might help customers relate to them in a meaningful way. Much of the label content is used to direct customers to social media channels and other online forums where brands provide even more information as to what they are all about. This trend seems to cut along a distinct age demographic, with younger customers who are more internet savvy much more likely to engage with brands beyond the sale. But since younger consumers will eventually become older consumers, it’s likely this trend will gain momentum.
Let’s face it: People are generally curious, and they don’t usually like surprises. So it shouldn’t be any surprise that our next trend is all about the big reveal. Transparency in packaging is gaining steam, particularly in the Food and Beverage sector. Flexible packaging is on the forefront of this trend, aimed at allaying any consumer concerns that the product inside the package might not be as advertised. You’ll notice this demonstrated a lot (at least I have) within the chips and other snack foods market. A bag of tortilla chips will be completely decorated save for a round transparent area in the middle of the front panel. It’s saying “Hey, look at us! We’re all intact, not smashed into hodgepodge of pieces too small to accommodate your extra chunky salsa. Buy us!” Well, they’re probably not saying that, but you get the idea. Consumers like to know what they’re getting, and a window to the product gives them peace-of-mind. Again, this is often at a subconscious level, but a real reaction non-the-less. On the pressure-sensitive label side, clear substrates are being used to simulate a ‘no label’ appearance on glass packaging. This mimics direct print, and when it’s done well the effect is striking.
It is here to stay, and that’s a good thing. Sustainability in labels and packaging is now a prime consideration as consumer-packaged goods companies develop their packaging strategies. Not too long ago when the movement first started, many brands were sort of paying lip service to the concept of sustainable packaging. Not to say they didn’t care, but sustainability was not an urgent concern, given all the other market force issues they had to contend with. Also, there were not too many options available for sustainable constructions, and those that were available carried a price tag too high to be feasible. Material technology and pressure from socially conscious consumers changed all that. Today you’d be hard pressed to find any major CPG company without a thorough and detailed plan for reducing their carbon footprint and increasing sustainable packaging options by a specific date. A continuously growing number of common package and label combinations are now recyclable as a unit, or when separated by the consumer. And the future will see an increase in materials that can be composted and degrade naturally and rapidly if improperly discarded. This could result in a significant decrease in the amount of plastic in our oceans, and wouldn’t that be a welcome development?
The experts at AWT have their fingers on the pulse of what’s happening in label and flexible package construction, and they’re always happy to share that expertise to help your brand stand tall at retail. Find out how to add a little heat to your next project.
We have all been there: When taking on a project or goal, we often have an idea of what we would like to do but we are not sure where to begin. And sometimes the task is just a vague sense of what we hope to accomplish, without really knowing for sure what the end game looks like. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we may think we know exactly what we want, but our scope may be too narrow due to limited exposure or experience. There may be better options, but we don’t know where to turn to next.
At AWT, we hear this type of thing frequently from customers and potential customers who are looking to achieve more sustainability in their packaging and labeling. Often, the inquiry will go something like this:
Customer: “We need labels that are recyclable.”
AWT: “OK, we have options for that, but are you sure recyclable labels are the way to go for your purposes?”
Customer: “Well I guess I’m not sure. I just know I’ve been tasked with making our labels and packaging more sustainable, and I thought that meant recyclable labels.”
AWT: “Let’s take a look at your current packaging and see if we can make some recommendations. A recyclable label may be a good solution, but maybe we can identify other sustainable options as well.”
Back in the ancient past, when we wanted to drive somewhere we pulled out a well-worn map or atlas that showed us the route to take to get to our destination. Now we have GPS systems in our cars and phones that physically tell us how to get from point A to B, even recommending options that steer clear of construction or heavy traffic.
Wouldn’t it be great if there were a “road map” of how go from a general idea of more sustainable packaging to a custom solution that works for your specific needs? Well, such a guide does exist, and the sustainable experts here at AWT put it together.
We know there is some confusion when it comes to sustainability in packaging and labeling. For example, did you know there are significant sustainability gains you can achieve by implementing a material reduction strategy for your packaging? There are some materials or material combinations that impede or completely rule out recycling at end of life. However, you can make some minor changes to the gauge (thickness) of materials or overall size that will translate to sustainable ‘wins’ over the lifecycle of the label and/or package. The guide even includes a sample ‘life cycle assessment’ which provides a sense of the sustainable gains resulting from this kind of modification.
The Sustainability Design Guide presents information about this and other strategies to reach your sustainable goals in a straightforward and easy-to-read format. We invite you to download the guide and see if there are ideas that might apply to your project. We are confident it can help you understand sustainable options for packaging and labels. Follow this link to get your copy. AWT Sustainability Design Guide
If the guide provokes thoughts or questions about a specific project you have, please contact one of our experts. We are ready to help.
As a packaging professional, can you relate to this scenario? You have a great looking flexible package for your new snack product. The graphic design is outstanding; the material composition will keep the product fresh and tasty; and the reseal structure is easy to use and airtight. All that’s left to do is get the product into retail and in front of consumers (with some marketing help, of course!). On to the truck it goes, from a Midwest-based production and packaging facility and bound for a west coast big box retailer.
Upon arrival at the store, the packages are slated to be put on shelves and floor displays. But opening the cartons containing the product reveals a big problem; Many the packages have burst at the seams, spilling the contents, and rendering the product inedible and unsaleable. What happened?
What goes up often expands!
It’s an age-old problem, but one that some people are not aware of. The packages failed when the transport vehicle reached an altitude in the Rocky Mountains where the outside air pressure was relatively low and the air pressure inside the sealed packaging was high enough to cause a burst seam. It happens enough that there is a name for the issue – Over-the-Mountain (OTM). It can be even more insidious when it only damages the seams and seals; a problem that may not be readily visible to the retailer stocking shelves. It may only be discovered by consumers who get stale product. Almost any degree of package damage will lead to food freshness degradation or spoiling.
And it’s not just food products that are affected. Premoistened wipes packaging is another prime candidate for problems associated with pressure imbalance. Damaged wipes packaging will result in product that dries out rapidly, greatly reducing the longevity of the product.
You might think it’s a simple problem to solve: Just use stronger materials and adhesives when designing the package! Not so fast. In large measure, packaging needs to conform to the product it contains. This is especially true when the product is food for human consumption. You can’t use just any material / adhesive / seal combination without consideration for food safety. There are certain film materials which cannot be used for food packaging, or which can be used provided they are not ‘next to’ food. This can make it difficult to design packaging that is both strong enough to endure drastic pressure changes but also conforms to food safety regulations.
That said, there are designs and structures that can prevent OTM damage. These materials are making it easier to balance high burst strength, superior sealing, and product safety considerations. It used to be that three-ply structures would be employed to ensure package integrity for OTM applications. Advances in film technology have resulted in stronger materials, enabling two-ply constructions. This makes the packaging lighter while maintaining or increasing burst strength and simplifies the production process. Incorporating high-performance seals and advanced seaming techniques not only help prevent OTM damage, but also act as effective barriers to water vapor and oxygen which can degrade product freshness. Ink formulations have also been developed which can in some scenarios eliminate the need for laminating over the printed material. In short, designers have a lot more options for creating over-the-mountain ready packaging.
AWT actively collaborates with our material suppliers regarding the latest in packaging materials to address OTM scenarios as well as other stuff you might not think about when designing your package. We would welcome an opportunity to help you with your project – over-the-mountain related or not.
Packaging continues to follow other industries in the quest to become more environmentally friendly. Consumers are much more aware of packaging, and many are choosing products packaged in a sustainable manner. This means the packaging is recyclable, or biodegradable, right? Not always. Today’s consumer is concerned with ‘over-packaging’ to a much greater degree than even just a few years ago. The more packaging that is in the way of the actual product, the more it is perceived by consumers as wasteful. This is expressed as ‘product-to-package ratio’, and the lower the ratio, the better for the environment. This is true for several reasons, including the following:
Again, sustainably savvy consumers think about these issues, and the consensus is growing. They are seeking right sized packaging in the products they purchase, as well as attributes like recyclability.
Plastic to the rescue!
Plastics have been given a bad rap over the past few decades. Most are made from fossil fuels, which somehow has a bad connotation. And people understandably do not like the fact that improperly disposed of plastic is littering our oceans.
But let’s take a look at plastic’s positives. Specifically, let’s create a scenario where a plastic flexible package replaces a more rigid plastic container.
Right out of the gate, a flexible package has the advantage of using less material for each unit produced. At the very least, this means less plastic material entering the usage stream, and a proportionate decrease in material that could potentially enter the waste stream. Put a credit on the sustainability ledger.
Next, consider secondary packaging required to ship both units to product filling. The ability of flexible packaging to lay flat will significantly reduce the secondary packaging required as opposed to the rigid container (Read more about that here). Over the life cycle of the product line, the difference in the amount of secondary packaging required will be quite substantial. Another sustainability ‘win!’
Add it all up…
Now we come to the bigger payoff, sustainable benefits over time. Consider the gains we just talked about – less raw material required for each unit; less secondary packaging required; less space occupied in transit; less harmful emissions by transport vehicles; less material introduced to usage and waste streams. You can see where this is going. Over the life cycle of a product the gains will be substantial. Even if this hypothetical flexible packaging construction is not recyclable, it does have many sustainable benefits. And it’s worth mentioning that sustainable flexible packaging structures ARE available, and more are being developed.
Is moving your product to flexible packaging the right move? This post is provided as food for thought, and every situation is different. But where it makes sense, the move to a flexible package can be a mover toward sustainability. Ask one of our experts. We’d welcome your questions.