Any recent trip through the grocery store reveals the growth in the variety of foods over the past decade. “In the old days, maybe one or two tomato variants existed in an order of 100,000,” SpectraGraphics Inc. President Kevin Briggs observes. “Now, customers order 100,000 but with six or eight varieties included. 

“In general, orders are getting smaller, and clients are shying away from inventory programs,” Briggs continues. “They are leaning toward shorter, faster runs. That’s why I think digital printing is gaining ground to a degree. I think clients are gearing labels more for marketing channels than historically, as well. We‘ve seen more variable label information, more SKUs and fancier marketing schemes. Some clients want to track products in the marketplace a little faster. They might see some QR codes, things like that.”

The trend toward frequent rebranding has created a great deal of activity in the labeling industry, but also represents a fundamental market change for printers such as California-based Label Impressions Inc. Companies no longer want to hold large stockpiles of labels because the design of the box or logo could change in six months. Rebranding has made it difficult to forecast orders so Label Impressions has made hefty investments in equipment and green energy to continue growing its business while improving profit margins.

Ted Salisbury founded Label Impressions in 1988 as a small printer with three presses doing a few hundred thousand dollars in sales each year. It was Ted’s son, Jeff Salisbury, who grew the business into the mid-sized labeler category with revenues over $10 million annually. Label Impression’s workforce has expanded with its sales, going from five employees in the late 1980s to nearly 50 today.

When is a commodity not a commodity? When it is provided by a company that does not treat its product like a commodity. For Heartland Label Printers – which prints labels for a wide variety of warehouses, grocery stores and other applications – the product is only the beginning.

“We have the technical capabilities to create a product as good or better than anyone else,” Vice President and General Manager Steven Wilhelms maintains. “What sets us apart are a couple of things: We take a very hands-on, relationship-type of approach to drive most of our sales. We believe in the ‘high touch’ quality and service approach, even though to a great extent we’re dealing with commodity products. This approach is somewhat unique in the commodity label market, but it allows us to get close to our customers, creating a positive framework for collaboration. Heartland collaborates with customers and partners to develop innovative solutions. Collaboration is the key to making us different in the eyes of our customers. We work together to identify new ideas and develop new products that create value.” 

Inks and coatings are to packages as paints are to a blank canvas. Used in the right combination, inks and coatings can make a package that would otherwise go unnoticed draw consumer attention and, ultimately, money.

Just as artists need the right colors and textures of paint to create their masterworks, printers require coatings, adhesives and inks that will enable them to produce the best packages possible. 

CAI Inc.’s mastery of coatings, adhesives and inks is obvious from its name alone, an acronym for those three products. The Georgetown, Mass.-headquartered company has specialized in supplying and serving flexographic and rotogravure printers since 1985. Inks produced by the company are used in the manufacturing of a variety of packaging types, including flexible and rigid packaging used to market food and other products.

Breit Technologies is one company that can point to innovation as a major factor behind its creation. After President and co-owner Tim Cain discovered an application later known as Cast and Cure in 2004, he and partner Vice President and co-owner Bill Granfors created the company in early 2005. Driven by the need to develop alternative and creative decorating options for packaging, the company has become a global provider of its trademarked Cast and Cure process to the commercial printing industry. 

“Our process helped expand the decorating palette for the commercial print market and has become a new standard for decorating and product enhancement,” Cain says. “It is a low-cost, sustainable and highly effective process designed to enhance the shelf appeal to a wide range of product applications.”

For 23 years, AJ Adhesives Inc. has had low turnover among its staff, which is a key focus of owner and President Andy Schwartz. “I work hard on a daily basis for my employees,” he says. “It’s a conscious effort to keep them motivated and enthused to work.”

This results in client loyalty for AJ Adhesives, Schwartz says. “At the end of the day, that’s what in my opinion keeps customers – that consistency and that brand reliability,” he states.

Based in St. Louis, AJ Adhesives supplies industrial adhesives and application equipment to multiple industry sectors. Schwartz started the company in 1992, after working for National Starch and Chemical Co.

Since 1980, Ohio-based 3 Sigma Corp. has been recognized as a thought leader in the development of coating and laminated products for the labeling industry. Vice President of Sales and Marketing Terry Cudney says the expertise and development know-how that the company offers are just as important to its customers as the actual physical products it manufactures. “Everybody thinks that all companies have a product line, and 3 Sigma does and doesn’t,” he says. 

Thanks to the company’s diverse capabilities and dedication to research and development, Cudney adds, 3 Sigma has become a go-to provider for customers looking to develop their own proprietary labeling products. Although much of what the company does is made especially for specific customers, 3 Sigma also is a leader in the production of standardized products used across a wide cross-section of the labeling market. 

The Internet and email have made life simpler for so many, but for a few, the advent of these modern technologies has made things a bit more difficult. 

“Back in the ’60s when we started, letters were flying everywhere, so we were making millions of stationery and note boxes each year,” says John Ray, president and third-generation owner of family operated Ray Products. “Once the Internet and email began to take off in the mid-to-late ’90s, our industry took a significant hit. For the better part of 30 years, large quantities of simple two-piece rigid boxes were the norm. Companies like ours were forced to reinvent themselves.” 

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