In Case You Missed It: The Label Industry's Remarkable Resilience in 2020
To say that 2020 has been a roller coaster of a year for the label industry would be a drastic understatement. As the calendar turned, label printers and converters were flying high as demand showed promising growth and multiple industry events were poised to unveil the latest production technology that would open the door to even more opportunity.
But it wasn’t long before the trajectory of the year ahead changed drastically. In March, a novel coronavirus disease that had been spreading across other parts of the world reached North America. And as COVID-19 evolved into a pandemic, the country largely went into lockdown, with only businesses deemed to be essential or life-sustaining allowed to operate.
While the shutdowns have been devastating for numerous businesses, including many in the printing industry, label printers were considered to be essential, with their undeniably important role in getting products onto store shelves and into consumers’ homes. At a time when consumers began stocking up on food items, cleaning supplies, and pharmaceuticals, not knowing how long the shutdowns were going to last, label printers had to rise to the occasion to churn out more labels, allowing brand owners to package their products, retailers to refill their inventories, and consumers to access products they need.
Though the start of the pandemic required label printers to turn their attention to producing long runs and high-volumes of output to keep up the flow of packaged goods, it has also demonstrated how digital printing can play a key role amidst challenging circumstances. For example, as craft breweries and distilleries across the country sought out ways they could help fight the virus, they discovered their production lines and equipment could be used to manufacture hand sanitizer. As common users of digital printing for their small batch beers and spirits, these brand owners were able to turn to their label printing partners that have digital presses and hybrid presses to quickly produce hand sanitizer labels. By being able to forgo the platemaking process, these labels were able to go straight into production, and get the essential germ-fighting product packaged and out to consumers.
Label Industry Challenged to do More
Despite the times however, label printers and converters are being challenged by customers to find ways to ramp up the functionality and complexity of their products. Historically, a label’s two main jobs are to attract attention to a product from a visual standpoint, and to communicate information about that product to the consumer or end user.
However, as detailed by Packaging Impressions Senior Editor Patrick Henry in the 2020 State of the Label Industry report, label printers are being challenged to ramp up the complexity of their labels through new physical attributes and digital components. For example, as Steven Haedrich, president of New York Label & Box Works shares, the added components desired of a label can be a determining factor in how that label ends up getting produced. And as Henry details, the complexity can include digital components such as serialization, anti-counterfeiting or track and trace features, as well as physical complexities including booklet style labels, printing of multiple languages, or even features that bridge the physical and digital worlds, such as QR codes.
Another continuing trend adding to the complexity of label production is in how label printers and converters are being challenged to expand the sensory components of labels beyond the visual. For example, as Robert Parker, owner of San Diego-based Label King describes, his team has emphasized the addition of tactile elements on the labels it produces, providing additional differentiation to products and expanding on the consumer’s experience. Some of the strategies Label King has employed, Parker says, are combining soft-touch laminates with foil and UV inks.
All About Efficiency
2020 has undoubtedly been a year where predictions, forecasts, and expectations have been turned upside down as a result of the pandemic. But one thing that has not changed is the need for efficiency in production, as brand owners push for faster speed to market.
Label printers continue to report a mix of long run and short run work, and as a result, maintaining a fleet of both conventional and digital press equipment continues to be an effective strategy in optimizing workflow in production. But as digital equipment improves, it has demonstrated an ability to take on longer runs than it had in the past. Parker for example, states that he is on the lookout for a digital press to bring on board at Label King that could benefit his customers seeking flexibility.
New York Label & Box Works meanwhile, has gone in the hybrid press direction, bringing a Mark Andy Digital One on board to take on its short run work. But as Haedrich states, the press has allowed New York Label & Box to not only improve efficiency, but to add onto its business with the launch of Sticker Buzz, a custom sticker business focused on fast turnaround.
While the state of the label industry remains strong, even amidst an ongoing pandemic, much can be learned from the insights and experiences of the experts in this year’s report. Click here to access the free full report.