Few growers were unaffected by the economic climate over the past 18 months. For many it has meant reassessing what they do and how they do it to prevent profits shrinking further. Plant labelling is one area that some are scrutinising for possible savings. Yet it could be argued that good labelling has never been more important.
Watch any garden centre customer shopping for plants and you are likely to see them pick up the pot and read the label, study the instructions, look at the price and decide - there and then - whether to put it back or put it in the trolley. Good labelling will attract the customer to the plant and there's no denying that it can make or break a sale.
New additions to the market
The labelling market has seen several upheavals over the past couple of years, with mergers and new companies dominating the news. Former Burall Floraprint employees Duncan McLintock and Kate Titmarsh set up Bamboo Print in Leicester just over 18 months ago. They aim to build a select portfolio of accounts where they feel they can add value through creativity and attention to detail. So far they have no plans for a stock range - preferring to come up with original approaches to specific needs.
McLintock is delighted with the way business is developing to date. He says: "We are offering the full package, usually starting with concepts, design and copywriting, and backed by a comprehensive production facility.
"We print lots of labels — mainly on polypropylene — and we also take on literature projects, point-of-sale (POS) material, packaging, retail signage and exhibition graphics. We are very conscious that we are the 'new kids on the block' and we expect to see plenty of evolution in our products and services as we settle into our market and discover what opportunities our strengths are best suited to."
Last year also saw the formation of another company — TEK GB headed by Phil Griffiths. Then in June the labelling and systems businesses of Greenfield Software and IML Labels & Systems were amalgamated, with all horticultural sales and marketing of the two companies being undertaken by Greenfield and label manufacturing by IML.
Increasing its market share, Hortipak reports to have grown its labelling business by around £4m over the past decade, seeing off some of the competition. Part of the Ryedale Group, Hortipak supplies labels, POS material and corporate stationery to more than 700 separate horticultural businesses including B&Q, Homebase, Roundstone Nurseries and small commercial growers. The company specialises in contract and bespoke labelling as well as carrying a developing range of stock labels. Emphasis is placed on service.
Hortipak director James Buffoni says: "We have a lot of technology and deliver the quickest turn-about time in Europe for UK customers. We work on the basis that customers want their labels to the spec they ordered, on the day they want them — nothing either side will do."
To this end, Hortipak has invested in artwork development technology, process technology and production. In future, the company will be able to share more information with customers — such as details of dispatch date, couriers and tracking codes - and will also have a stronger on-line proposition. Further investment is being made in warehouse software and hardware facilities to enhance integrated resource planning.
There's no doubt that service, along with a responsible attitude to environmental issues, is becoming increasingly important — both for grower and for label producers. As the economic climate impacts on growers, shorter runs are becoming much more commonplace. Just-in-time delivery and quality printing are also seen as necessities.
Leicester-based PPC Labels managing director Jeremy Watkinson explains: "Growers don't want to carry too much stock in case the labels are not needed or the retailer changes the requirements. As a result, we are doing shorter print runs - down to 250 in some cases."
At Floramedia UK, managing director Nick Mathias recognises that small print runs of labels at short notice for quick delivery has been a long-running issue for those in the horticultural print industry. Believing it has a solution that doesn't compromise quality or standards, last autumn Floramedia introduced Genius - a new service for short, fast print runs for small quantities of labels.
Mathias says: "In the supply of colour labels for plants, as everyone knows, economy of scale means that bulk ordering labels is the most cost-effective approach. However, it is recognised in today's market that there is an increasing need for businesses to be more reactive and for growers this means having access to shorter and quicker print runs. Traditional printing methods have made short runs difficult and very costly.
"Now the Genius solution from FM answers these production problems, while providing the quality expected by growers, at a cost that matches digital solutions.
"All labels are faced with the same tough conditions in the planteria. The quality of a Genius label matches that of our bulk printed labels, therefore guaranteeing print and colour quality, which in our opinion digital solutions still cannot achieve."
McLintock agrees that small runs are the order of the day. He says: "Like everyone else in the market, we are seeing steady demand for shorter runs — along with increased personalisation. We're evaluating several digital strategies that address those needs and we've been very pleased with the response to our short-run litho facility."
PPC Labels has also opened up extra production capacity to ensure quicker turn-around times. "Just-in-time management is key," adds Watkinson. "We can print just before the labels are needed so the grower doesn't have to pay for them before they are required."
The importance of timing is echoed by McLintock: "All of our printing and finishing takes place in the UK, so we are able to provide a quick response, while keeping our carbon footprint as small as possible. In 2010 we'll be developing our web design service to complement what we provide already."
At PPC Labels the focus has been on materials as well as colour calibration. The company has switched much of its label production onto a polypropylene medium containing a guaranteed minimum of 70 per cent recycled material. "This comes from industrial waste but the finish is now identical to that of virgin material — nice and glossy — and it prints just as well as virgin material and is as durable," says Watkinson.
It is still quality that counts, especially as growers recognise the significance that labels hold over achieving sales.
"We're certainly finding that people are much more focused on image quality these days," says McLintock. "There's a lot of great picture material available now and it's really encouraging to see so much of it being generated in the UK.
"After decades of rather formulaic plant photography — most of which came from mainland Europe — it's refreshing that label buyers are choosing more relaxed, more contemporary images to promote their products."
He concludes: "We are especially pleased with GAP Photo's recent initiative, which makes much of its superb collection available to the labelling market in such an affordable way. These highly creative pictures have always been used a lot in the editorial arena, and it's great that we can now use them for labels and packaging."
IDENTIFIED AND NAMED
Most professional gardeners would agree that communicating with the visiting public is part of the job. Sometimes, however, it can be an added pressure.
Picture this — professional gardener concentrating on shaping some topiary. A visitor approaches and asks for the name of a plant in the herbaceous border. The gardener follows the visitor the 200 yards to the border, where the plant is pointed out, and it's one of those mind-goes-blank moments.
"I'll find the boss," says the gardener. Five minutes later, the topiary is again being clipped, while the head gardener is further delayed as 20 questions are asked about the growing conditions needed for the plant. Before the topiary work is finished, another visitor wants to identify another plant in another part of the garden.
Clear labelling of plants in parks and gardens, and even in schools and universities, is helpful both to people interested in knowing more and for those in charge of maintaining the site or facility.
The demand for botanical labels, such as those produced by Sheen Botanical Labels of Haslemere in Surrey, continues to grow. "We've had a lot of new orders over the past year. There are new arboretums being established and orchards of old pear and apple varieties. They all want long-lasting labels," says director Christopher Ashton-Jones.
"We are also doing more labels for commemorative purposes and to identify the names of sponsors on newly planted trees."
Events such as Christmas, Easter and Valentine's Day generate their own momentum and increase in sales. But finding new ways to grab attention and focus in the planteria is a challenge.
One answer is Floramedia's range of A3 posters using contemporary images to reflect the tastes and lifestyle choices of today's customers.
Weather-proof and suited to indoor or outdoor areas, the new range uses large, bright, contemporary images from Alpines to Winter Berries and includes posters for Christmas, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day and Easter, along with "how to" planting-guide boards for bare-root plants, container-grown plants and trees. All items are printed in colour on 440micron PVC.
Following the interest in home-grown food production, Floramedia has also introduced a range of vegetable information bed cards. A new range of stock strap-handles is available.