Informative labels at point of sale are vital for attracting customers. They should be colourful, eye-catching, help customers choose the right product and provide suitable advice on aftercare.
More than ever, retailers are looking to promote their products through innovative labelling and strong marketing activities. Labels have to withstand the vagaries of the UK's climate so polypropylene continues to feature among the most commonly used materials.
Green alternatives are increasingly available though, from materials made of recycled plastic as well as bio-based and biodegradable products. However, these can be comparatively costly. When selecting a material, consideration should be given to whether the labels are destined for fast-moving environments or in markets where stock can sell more slowly.
Horticultural retailer Floramedia, which focuses on marketing materials for plants, has introduced the more environmentally agreeable FM100 - a recycled plastic that costs no more than the normal, less biodegradable variety. Sales manager Rachel Churchward says: "This is a great breakthrough because it is 100 per cent recycled polypropylene. Securing a sound source has meant we now have continuity of supply - something that has been very difficult to achieve in the past."
The words included on labels need to be accurate and to the point, so attention to detail is essential. They must also be relevant to the appropriate country - pan-European labels often convey very little to a potential purchaser.
Tags are generally used when minimal information is required. Ball Colegrave, which specialises in patio, bedding and perennials, has teamed up with MasterTag to offer a wide range of smaller plant labels. Ball Colegrave marketing manager Stuart Lowen explains: "MasterTag is renowned for high-quality printing and is an expert on written horticultural-care information. As a result, every seed and seed-raised plant listed in our catalogues now has a suitable MasterTag label available."
For pot-bedding and high-value products that require a larger colour label, Ball Colegrave designs and supplies its own four-inch impact colour labels. These are used for all raised cuttings as well as selected seed-raised varieties in the plant catalogue, which includes 400 varieties.
Growers wishing to save considerable money on labour costs need to ensure that they receive their delivery of plugs together with appropriate labels, so that they can be inserted at the time of potting and packing. This avoids double handling of the crop. At Ball Colegrave's distribution facility, stock due to go out to professional nurseries and garden centres is sent with a bundle count of labels that matches the number of plants in the plug tray.
Operating on a bespoke basis, Bamboo Print also supplies retailers with a range of labels, together with point-of-sale and promotional literature.
Director Duncan McLintock says: "We have seen increased interest in larger, more informative labels and customers want them in shorter runs. Growers want to carry as little stock as possible and this is especially true in the current economic climate. The challenge is in trying to accommodate them."
On the production side of labelling, McLintock reports that digital printing is increasingly significant because it offers greater flexibility and faster turnaround times. "I cannot stress how important it is to make sure that labels carry the appropriate information on plant breeders' rights and toxicity. The RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) should also always be displayed where it applies because it is a useful pointer to a plant's reliability. The AGM is not always as widely understood as it should be."
Floramedia has recently introduced some new stock label designs and offers 10,000 varieties that can be delivered by the next day. Stock labels are used by almost every grower in the UK, so the company continually invests in developing its range.
The company has its own in-house creative and design team of eight working within the UK, delivering innovative and creative solutions. Managing director Nick Mathias explains: "By being in total control of the process - from the conceptual design stage right through to printing - we are able to provide a highly reliable service."
In this increasingly image-orientated world, consumers are more discerning than ever. Images sell plants and quality of printing is an important factor in the production of labels.
Greenfield Software has an ongoing relationship with GAP Photos that links their stock of 22,000 images to Greenfield's HLS Pro+ labelling system. Plain labels for colour or mono-laser printers, thermal printers and dot-matrix printers are supplied by the company and labels can also be pre-printed with customers' logos.
Greenfield managing director Daniel Harris says: "Some retailers prefer the speed and convenience of printing their own labels. With the high-quality images that are now available and with lower running costs on OKI colour printers, it can be an attractive proposition. This is especially true for smaller print runs."
Floramedia has its own image library and retains three full-time photographers to work on customer projects. The firm has a permanent studio and nursery at its main base in Holland and its images are used by growers and breeders throughout Europe and the UK.
Print company TEK GB is making its mark on the labelling market since being established a year ago. Managing director Phil Griffiths says: "Our printing facilities and extensive image library in Poland mean we can offer short print runs, a quick turnaround and great prices on bigger orders that are less time sensitive."
The firm offers an extensive service, with thermal printers and labels for retailers who prefer to produce their own labels and an array of point-of-sale material. Griffiths adds: "My aim is simply to become a 'one-stop shop' so retailers don't have to worry about dealing with a mass of suppliers."
Barcoding technologies such as QR codes and 2D/datamatrix are starting to appear as a tool with which to connect the printed label or other media with the web. This has only recently been introduced to consumer markets as smart phones have evolved sufficiently to read the codes.
However, James Buffoni of Hortipak says barcodes are not considered attractive to the eye, particularly given that most people invest in their labels' appearance as part of their brand.
Hortipak says it has a unique solution thanks to an exclusive license it holds for clic2c technology in this area. It uses invisible watermarking technology and a free clic2c application available on modern smart phone handsets plus a text2c application with the same functionality via a text message for those with older handsets, Buffoni explains.
"The applications are mind boggling, from e-commerce links to security, data capture and added value information," he says.
Hortipak has produced bedding plant labels augmented by a video explaining how to care for the plants. "We see this application being of high value to the growing 'marginal gardener'," says Buffoni. " It's a real opportunity to provide creativity for the industry, not only with our labels but all our printed and digital media."
Ball Colegrave - 01295 811833
Bamboo Print - 0116 234 2940
Floramedia - 01206 771040
Greenfield Software - 01954 233980
Hawkesmill Nurseries - 01676 532334
Hortipak - 01676 532334
TEK GB - 01206 266930
INDUSTRY LOOKS TO THE FUTURE
Horticultural applications (apps) for iPhones, iPads and smart phones are set to radically change how plants are marketed in the UK, when they become available (see Hortipak box).
Whether this will pose a challenge or complement conventional labels that are currently available is debatable. To date, most apps focus on recognition and education, or on providing information on garden tasks required throughout the year. But it will only be a matter of time before growers harness this technology to market and promote their ranges of plants.
Companies are very much in the development stage of this process, according to Floramedia. Managing director Nick Mathias says: "The advantage to the plant world of apps technology is that it will allow prospective customers to view a tremendous amount of information. If they are browsing around the outside garden centre area, they can access advice through suitable phones. You cannot carry a laptop around to do that. This technology provides guidance, help and information to customers selecting plants."
Mathias adds that his retail background has been invaluable. "I understand what the web can do in promoting products. Currently labels generally feature one image and a short piece of text, but this technology enables the label to be a link to more enhanced information that can be accessed anywhere.
The Shoot website (www.shootgardening.co.uk) demonstrates how informative and accessible this type of system can be. Visitors look for advice and talk to others about their own gardens. Those who become members can sign up for monthly plant care reminders by email.
Labelling wild flowers
A major project carried out this year by Leceister-based Bamboo Print is a wild flower range of labels for Hawkesmill Nurseries in Kenilworth.
Hawkesmill director Richard Evans says: "Labels for this range, which has 30 wild flower varieties, needed to be colourful and attractive, rather than just provide basic facts. We wanted them to be more inspirational and stress the benefits to wildlife as well as provide some history of the plants."
He adds that good labelling is the key to product differentiation. "We have to supply plants to the garden centre in a way that inspires its customers and makes them want to pick up the product. They have to merchandise well and excite the retailer and customers."
Bamboo Print director Duncan McLintock says: "Here we undertook the research, copywriting, design, production and used GAP Photos' images to great effect."
Hawkesmill has received positive feedback from customers who really enjoy reading the stories relating to wild flowers, particularly those associated with a given area.