It's the start of a brand new year. So how do you feel? Cautious? Having suffered high energy prices, increased transport costs and needing to pay more for all things containing plastics, many growers report they are "concerned". They are wondering what to do in the future, what to grow, how to grow it and where to sell it. Most are looking to save money wherever they can. But if you think you can cut corners on labelling, then it's time to think again.
Labelling is important. Plants without labels simply don't sell in the garden centre. Plants with poor labelling don't sell well. Ball Colegrave marketing manager Stuart Lowen puts it succinctly: "Perhaps the most conspicuous enhancement a grower can make to the finished product is a good label."
Ball Colegrave supplies a large, high-impact colour label for its vegetative and cutting-raised plants, plus its 014 seed-raised plants for pot programmes. "It means our customers can choose all these products and everything can look consistent, providing a crisp presentation with real impact at retail," says Lowen. All varieties in the company's seed and seed-raised plant catalogues are supported by labels from the MasterTag brand.
Labelling is part of the packaging and a good label is one that actually sells the product and at the same time is informative and instructive. It provides the care details to ensure the consumer gets the best from the plant and is encouraged to return for more.
At Advance Bunzl in Kent, general manager Mike Sutton also believes this is not a time to cut corners on labelling. "Every pot needs a label and if you think about the unit cost of the label, it is a tiny fraction of the total cost of the product. To save a 1p on a label is a false economy," he says.
"You can always buy a cheaper label, but will it stay on the pot? Will the print stay on the label? Will it be light-fast? If the label construction is wrong you can have a problem if you are using application machinery."
Advance Bunzl, known for its traditional business of pot stickers and pot labels, is a new alternative source when it comes to plant-care card-labels. The company offers short run, quick turnaround on digital printing. "More people are coming to us because they want to get away from 'stock' labels. They want to have their own design - not necessarily branding, but a design that is unique to them so they can give the product a style," says Sutton.
With exciting promotions and events, perhaps garden centres will be able to draw in the crowds. And as the public recognises the significance of a weaker pound, perhaps British families will forgo that foreign holiday and spend time in the garden instead. And perhaps UK growers will find fresh channels for exporting plants to Europe as our Continental neighbours seek to take advantage of the exchange rate. But it's all "perhaps". And then there is the weather. The weather this spring could potentially make or break it for many nurseries. It is all leading to a lot of last-minute decisions for many in the industry.
"So far growers have been cautious on ordering labels, but I think it is likely that things will take off in January with a lot of last-minute and top-up orders," says managing director Jeremy Watkinson of PPC Labels, previously known as De Montfort Garden Print. "If it is a good spring and garden centres want more plants, then growers need to respond and we have to react quickly to print more labels to suit - we are making sure we have the capacity available to cope with any sudden demand."
The Leicester-based company specialises in bespoke labels and is able to offer smaller print runs.
Watkinson's advice to growers is to keep in touch with their label supplier, let them know what the situation is and what their plans are so that in the spring it is just a matter of signing off the artwork and pressing a button. "It would be crazy for growers not to have ordered their labels at all - especially bespoke labels," says Watkinson. "There is only so much that can be printed in the timescale so growers need to keep in touch with the supplier and make sure they have the labels to be able to get the product into store when they need it."
Major changes at Floramedia see improvements to communication and service levels to customers, and the previous two stock-ranges have been consolidated into one so that the company can hold more of the correct stock at the right time to ensure faster service.
"Stock systems have been upgraded and stock levels increased to help cope with last-minute order panics that will inevitably hit us during the season," confirms Floramedia sales manager David Matthews. As an added incentive, orders placed via the company's website attract a 10 per cent discount.
But Floramedia also sees the need to offer more than just a label. Matthews explains: "Given the current economic climate, growers are aware more than ever of the need to promote their products within the garden centre. This has seen an increase in demand for additional marketing support materials. We now offer to work with our customers on full marketing support material. We are able to do this by having a dedicated in-house design team, utilising our library of over 100,000 horticultural images."
Sheffield-based IML Labels & Systems believes it is a good idea to order as soon as possible and that there is sufficient choice for growers to be able to find a cost-effective solution to their labelling needs. A representative said: "We have seen big increases in raw materials and we advise our customers, if they know they have the usage, to get their orders in. They should buy in bulk to secure the best prices and keep everything stable for 12 months."
IML offers labels in a range of materials, from the economy through to the premium. For 2009, the company has replaced its vinyl material with 100 per cent recyclable polypropylene and is also looking at introducing a biodegradable label.
With a trend towards individuality without branding, it could be expected that more growers will turn to bespoke labels in the future - or perhaps even design their own. Both MasterTag (www.mastertag.com) and Advance Bunzl (www.prt4u.com) offer online systems so customers can control the design and benefit from the flexibility of short runs.
Increasing grower control
Print-your-own systems are popular with some nurseries but are not the solution for everyone. Those nurseries needing thousands of exactly the same things will probably find that "stock" labels provide a cheaper solution. Where print-your-own does win is when you need to print small quantities - or perhaps even just one label.
Greenfield Software is also looking to help growers who want to take control of their label production. For a small amount of money, existing users of the company's HLS labelling software can upgrade to receive benefits of a fuller and more modern system. The offer, costing £150, will run until early spring.
"In the past upgrades, have been as much as £500, so this is a good deal," says Greenfield Software marketing and sales manager Daniel Harris. "We understand that growers are reluctant to change and see no reason to change if something is working, but at the same time they should keep an eye on the future and seek the benefits of a more modern version."
So what are the benefits of the upgrade? Harris explains: "People with the old version are limited in what they can do for colour labelling and what they can do in terms of the design of the label. The upgrade gives more options for designing fancier, more personalised labels. It also enables you to link the pictures more easily and to see at a glance what plants in the database have a corresponding picture."
There are now just two versions of HLS - a black-and-white version and one for colour. Features for design and layout are on both and either can be put on a network with additional users. It makes it easier for the grower and it is also easier for Greenfield to provide support. As part of the upgrade, growers are given a free period of support. Growers with a support contract are entitled to a five per cent discount of any labels, printers or consumables.
"We have customers who buy labels and the discount they get more than pays for the support. They have the benefit of help when it's needed, plus discount as well. That has proved popular," adds Harris.
For the colour printing system, Greenfield is now offering a slightly thicker, more rigid label and can supply bed cards in the same 250 micron-thick media. For the future, Greenfield is looking to attain more imaginative sizes and shapes for labelling.
"If you wanted fancy shapes you had to get the labels pre-printed rather than print them yourself," says Harris. "In the past we've always had plain shapes because that is the most cost-effective way of using the space, but now we want to be more adventurous in the style and shape of labels."
We may also see a return to media development in future. Advance Bunzl tells us it is working with a durable material that is only 15 per cent plastic, the other 85 per cent being mineral filler, and that is photodegradable. Sutton says it works as a durable label and even has degradable adhesive. Meanwhile, at PPC Labels, Watkinson reports that the ultrasonic welding of labels onto pots is now at the trials stage.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
- Reliable supply
- Easy to separate, handle, apply and secure
- UV resistant
- Light- and rain-fast print image
- Resistant to temperature variations
- Resistant to chemical pesticides and fertilisers
The latest Oki printer available from Greenfield Software is the C710. Based on the 5000 series, the C710 has the same functionality but is bigger and uses higher-capacity cartridges - making it cheaper to run for higher-volume printing. It will print the full range of Greenfield labels and also 1.2m-long banners for signage. Also expected to be popular is the C810 A3 printer, which can take labels but has the ability to do larger sizes.
3D Labelling Systems 0161 366 5869
Advance Bunzl 01622 208155
Advanced Labelling Systems 0800 975 5040
Anglo Scottish Packaging 0141 882 5151
Ball Colegrave 01295 811833
Floramedia 08448 150915
Greenfield Software 01480 403111
IML Labels & Systems 0114 246 5771
Hortipak 0115 937 6355
Longcombe Labels 01803 867000
PCC Labels 0116 261 9128
Sheen Botanical Labels 01428 656733