The labels market went though a shake-up in 2007. Floramedia, one of the largest horticultural graphic product suppliers in the UK, bought the equally large Burall Floraprint, creating the biggest label supplier operating in the UK horticulture sector.
The buy-out ups the ante for other companies operating in the market, which now compete against an established and extensive stock range from the label "giant". While many continue to develop their own stock ranges in response, others have diversified to provide bespoke services to growers and garden centres seeking to create original branding for their products, new players have entered this area too, creating healthy competition in the market - a bonus for the end-product user.
Others, including St Neots-based Greenfield Software, continue to develop their offering to those growers and retailers wanting to bring labelling in-house, where advancements in digital and print technology are bringing increased quality and value to printing systems.
Floramedia sales manager David Matthews says 2007 was a hectic year for the company as it oversaw the takeover of Burall Floraprint's operations and accounts. In the short term, Matthews says the company will continue to offer both Floramedia- and Burrall-branded stock labels, with the intention of bringing the two together under Floramedia branding within 2008.
Looking to meet the needs of an increasingly environmentally aware industry, the firm has launched a range of biodegradable label and point-of-sale material using Verdant all-weather board. The material is made from recycled household waste and is water repellent, easy to recycle and offers good colour and brightness when printed on. The product falls into line among a vast range of label options available from Floramedia.
In the shake-up, former Burall production manager Duncan McLintock joined Raithby, Lawrence & Co, a Leicester-based printer with a strong reputation in the fine-art market that also supplies print - under contract - to the horticulture industry.
The company, keen to strengthen its position in the market, stopped contract supply and set up Raithby, Lawrence Horticulture in October this year, drawing on the experience of McLintock and his former Burall colleague Kate Titmarsh.
Creative director McLintock says the company aims to make its mark on the sector without a stock range of products, having seen a shift in retailer requirements.
He says: "We'd very much like to make our mark on the sector. We have no plans for a stock range from us - the other big players have the market on this. Our view is that the market has moved on considerably in the past 10 years.
"We want to offer a bespoke service based on fast turnaround, with a concentration on service. We will basically offer any size, any shape and any run length. The ideal customer for us is someone who wants us to sit down and design an original-looking range of labels for their plants - a full service offering."
He continues: "We've been very encouraged by the response we've had since we came into the market. Growers and retailers seem genuinely pleased to have another supplier on the roster, and we're looking forward to doing some business with them."
McLintock says that the company will be able to offer competitive, tight lead times thanks to the use of the large Raithby B1 presses and a wide range of finishing kit."We're very much the new kids on the block - but we're moving into the swim."
Greenfield Software aims to put the design stage into the retailers' own hands with the provision of professional label-printing systems. In the past five years the company has worked closely with colour-LED-printer manufacturer OKI Printing Solutions and horticultural colour-label manufacturer Floralabel to develop what it says is a "cost-effective answer to label solutions".
Its printer packages allow nurseries and garden centres to produce their own full-colour labels, incorporating their own pictures, descriptions, prices, bar codes and branding. The Floralabel range includes all traditional label styles such as lock-ties, stick-ons, stick-ins and swing tags. All are ready for outdoor use immediately after printing. Production costs now mean that a full set-up for colour labelling - including software and printer - can be offered for less than £750.
Constantly seeking to add value and innovation to its offering, Greenfield has also launched a duplex label range, allowing the user to print on both sides.
Sales director Mike Wing says: "People have been able to print their own one-sided colour labels, but with our duplex system they can now print on both sides. The printer turns the duplex labels over as it goes, performing all printing in one go. Before this, many people would be paying to have their artwork or logo produced on the back of the label when buying in the blanks. Our duplex system removes the need to do this."
Adding to the mix, Floralabel is soon to launch the Floramax label range, extending the duplex range with a label option that locks onto pots to provide more visual impact in display.
Wing says OKI made a raft of printer introductions in 2007 and has more planned for 2008: "OKI has already announced the new C5650 and C5850 A4 printer ranges plus the new C9650 A3 range, and there will be more announcements shortly. OKI has chosen to focus on improved running costs and has also enhanced media-handling capabilities for the A3 models."
For many consumers, price is the main factor in their buying decisions, and Positive ID Labelling Systems claim to have the solution to outdoor-product pricing options. Taking label technology used on off-shore oil rigs, the Derby-based business has developed a large, plastic self-adhesive label for use with a handheld pricing gun. The label material is constructed so water cannot get behind it. Positive ID managing director Mark Hurst says labelled pots therefore remain clearly and securely priced, reducing the opportunity for shoplifting, price switching and improper returns. Large, 10mm-high characters are printed in UV-resistant ink to ensure they remain legible for at least one season. The label gun itself is tough for everyday use but easy to refill and operate. All Positive ID products come with technical back-up and on-site support.
Hurst says: "Our offering is quite unique in that the labels are made out of plastic and they have a strong marine adhesive so they will stay on if they get rained on or watered. It is proving a popular line for us - more and more garden centres have come on board with it. We also offer bar code systems that the labels can run alongside, but the price-labelling system is a cheaper system for the operator."
Positive ID is currently running two deals on the pricing system. The first deal offers one label gun and 50,000 labels printed with garden centre/business name for £179. The second deal offers two label guns and 75,000 labels printed with company name and address for £249 plus VAT.
Point-of-sale supplier Green Magic Co says labels are just one element of the marketing mix used to attract customers to displays and persuade them to buy.
Bed cards and point-of-sale materials from A4-size upwards represent an equally important aspect of successful retail presentation in nurseries and garden centres, according to managing director Nigel Spelman. He says:"The garden centre industry has been remarkable in its uptake of this technology - much more enterprising than most high-street (retailers), which still tend to call in outside agencies to design and print their in-store promotional material."
Spelman says retailers are missing a trick by not reproducing label information on a larger scale to draw attention to the product, while removing the need for customers to bend down to read information off the pot label. He says: "We supply a vast amount of format printers to garden centres and nurseries, enabling them to produce large pictures of pot labels to pull people to a particular department or bench with a big colour image.
"Often they have all the information that is supplied on the pot label, meaning the customer doesn't stoop down to read the information. It's happening in retail in general and it's very much relevant to garden retail."
Green Magic provides garden retailers with a complete package. As well as offering outdoor printing solutions that do not require lamination, it has assembled a full range of display hardware, all carefully sized to suit the printer output and the needs of the individual garden centre.