The past several months have revealed just how important labeling is in the manufacture and distribution of crucial commodities, including medical supplies, pharmaceuticals, food, and other necessary goods. The label market is directly connected to the products Americans use on a day-to-day basis, inherently serving a vital role in supporting industries’ supply chains.
Temporary lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, amid other effects of the pandemic, have caused industries to experience delays in production, ultimately influencing shipments, deliveries, and inventory. Meanwhile, consumer habits have adapted to new forms of digital, leaning on e-commerce to minimize contact and interactions. As businesses collectively move toward a new normal and navigate supply and demand instabilities, many are re-imagining operations with the intention to alleviate the effects of today’s challenges and pave the way for a more sustainable tomorrow. The label market is directly connected to the products Americans use on a day-to-day basis, inherently serving a vital role in supporting industries’ supply chains.
While the nation continues to navigate the ongoing effects of the pandemic, the label industry is helping to provide service and support to businesses on the front lines of paving the road to recovery.
Whether producing test kits for mobile testing sites, medical supplies and PPE for hospitals, or hand sanitizers for medical professionals or consumers, labels are being widely used in the medical industry. Labels are especially important for increasing patient and caregiver safety, helping to reinforce the medical infrastructure of the country.
“We have sold on-demand label printers into a number of industries since the pandemic has started – from hand sanitizer and soap applications to small beverage companies and home-based businesses,” says Tom Reed, president, Texas Label Printers, a full-service distributor of short-run digital label printing equipment.
As mobile COVID-19 testing sites have become an integral part of regional efforts to help make testing more readily available, Texas Label Printers has been working with companies to implement on-demand, compact color label printers into operations where available space is limited. The printers are used to providing identification labels for COVID-19 samples.
“A solution with 4″ continuous label rolls and an auto-cutter is ideal, as each label is applied to each patient’s documentation and test samples have a variable amount of information, resulting in labels that are various lengths,” continues Reed. “Since the personnel conducting testing are in protective gear and wear gloves, the extended liner on the continuous label materials allows them to more easily peel the label off the backing for application.”
Some craft breweries and distilleries have pivoted operations from producing alcohol to making alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Having an on-demand label printer in-house allowed craft brewers and distillers to be nimble with packaging operations – accommodating entirely new label creations, incorporating branding on refreshed packaging, and saving on costs and waste associated with pre-printed labels.
Color labels, in particular, not only enhance safety by enabling inclusion of photo identification, color-coded warnings, and color-highlighted information but also help improve readability and reduce errors.
Food & beverage industry
Food and beverage manufacturers must comply with a regimen of label regulations set in place by the FDA to ensure consumer health and safety such as the inclusion of nutritional and allergen information or weight/price details for fresh foods.
Amid stay at home orders across the nation, takeaway foods and food delivery services have increased in popularity. Businesses have implemented takeout stickers, food safety seals and labels for pre-packaged and grab-and-go meals.
Food labeling trends are increasingly consumer driven. “Consumers care about where their food comes from, what’s in it and how it’s been handled, and they are demanding visibility into the supply chain,” says Elizabeth Sinclair, director of marketing, BarTender Software. “Online grocery shopping has accelerated to an unexpected and stratospheric rate; stresses to the supply chain have made companies rethink just-in-time, offshore and Lean manufacturing; and consumers have shifted brand loyalty, choosing what’s available over what they’re accustomed to — and they expect to be able to order and receive groceries the same day, if not within the hour.”
When a business modifies a label, inventory of pre-printed labels can become expendable, resulting in money lost and requiring additional costs for producing new labels. On-demand printing can bring greater flexibility and reliability to businesses while helping to decrease total label printing operations costs, which can reduce waste and eliminate the need to monitor, plan, and re‑order pre‑printed stock.
Businesses require a solution designed to keep up with variable factors in the food and beverage industries, as well as consumer demands, such as changing product flavors, ingredients, and regulations that require businesses to often alter and update their labels. The flexibility offered by an on-demand label printer, including the ability to make changes to label designs in real-time and scale-up potential, means that businesses can find it easier to continue to expand portfolios with new products and flavor profiles.
Essential technology for essential goods
The pandemic has influenced the world of technology and encouraged, if not demanded, digital transformation. Today’s businesses face the obstacle of modifying operations to comply with local, state, and national guidelines to ensure both employee and consumer health and safety. In addition to abiding by social distancing protocols and other precautionary measures, the implementation of contactless and touchless technologies provides additional peace-of-mind.
Though warehouse operations have been shifting toward automation, social distancing precautions have surely expedited and encouraged these efforts. Businesses are now more inclined to implement technology that can minimize employee touchpoints and increase distancing in the workplace, as well as increase efficiency and support flexibility with logistics operations.
On-demand color label printers bring label production in-house, directly to the manufacturing site, often as part of the production line itself. Recent advancements, such the combination of a peel-and-present label printer with a label applicator, can minimize contact and automate the process of labeling and shipping goods.
While essential service markets continue to serve patients and customers throughout the course of the pandemic, label printers will continue to assist in making these jobs easier and more efficient. On-demand, short print runs, and fast turnaround times to accommodate fluctuation in inventory will continue to be paramount in the manufacture and distribution of goods today and for years to come.
This article by Andrew Moore, Product Manager, Commercial Labels, Epson America, Inc. was originally published in Label & Narrow Web.