Sticking Together

Manufacturers and converters of label materials have partnered to offer drug makers eye-catching labeling at an affordable cost.

by Colleen M. Canale

Competition is fierce in the pharmaceutical industry, especially among over-the-counter (OTC) drug products. Capturing consumer attention is key to success, and drug manufacturers understand that buyers are typically attracted by one of two things—labeling or price. Consequently, manufacturers are choosing eye-catching graphics, colors, and materials for their labeling, but they are pressuring their suppliers—the label converters—to provide such sophisticated labeling at costs that enable them to offer competitive pricing.

In response, converters are turning to label material manufacturers for help. Their partnership has yielded streamlined product portfolios with new cost-saving materials that can be customized to end-user requests.


Logic dictates that drug manufacturers may be asking for the impossible: sophisticated labeling that grabs shoppers' attention at costs equal to or lower than that of older, conventional labeling. But converters are defying logic—not only listening to drug manufacturers' demands, but also satisfying them.

"Once a drug goes OTC, the pricing pressures on the packaging are tremendous," says Dmitris Moschonas, director of research and development and quality assurance for H. S. Crocker's Pharmaceutical Label Division (Exton, PA), a converter of pressure-sensitive pharmaceutical and medical labels. "We have to be prepared to offer [drug manufacturers] great graphics on lower cost materials, in high volumes. It's easy to get [their] attention if you can find a way of reducing their packaging expense while increasing shelf appeal."

Bill Mitchell has also noticed an increased demand for high impact graphics at affordable prices. President of the Printing Components division (Morristown, NJ) of contract packager and printer PCI Services, a division of Cardinal Health, Mitchell says that "the days of black type and one color are rapidly disappearing." For example, he says, PCI is producing multiple-color labels with hot-stamped graphics.


Offering more for less isn't easy, and it certainly can't happen overnight. Such innovation requires research and experimentation, and label converters have enlisted the help of material manufacturers. "Converters are being asked to be increasingly creative in designing labels that do more," says Ernie Chaplin, vice president of sales, marketing, and product licensing for Pharmagraphics (Itasca, IL). "As more labels change from pure identification to actual function—closure or hanging display, for example—the involvement of the material suppliers is increasing. They have to work hand in hand with us and package-design personnel at the pharmaceutical or medical device manufacturer."

Avery Dennison's Fasson Roll Div. (Painesville, OH) and other suppliers are now providing increased support to converters and end-users. When 3M scaled back an aggressive pharmaceutical end-user specification program in 1996, other label material manufacturers stepped in to serve the pharmaceutical industry. "This changed the market quite a bit," says Lance VandenBrook, sales and marketing manager for New Jersey Packaging (Fairfield, NJ). "We have increased our reliance on suppliers like Avery Dennison and Flexcon (Spencer, MA) and will readily bring them in to our customers."

Label Express Inc. (Fremont, CA), part of the Impaxx Labels and Packaging Network, knows what such partnerships are all about, having worked closely with Avery Dennison to create a highly functional, lower-cost solution for external content labeling needs. Avery supplied a polyolefin film called Fasson Primax that served as the base labelstock material for Label Express's Reveal Estate labeling technology, which uses the back of the label to expand label space by 66% or more. The product enables pharmaceutical packagers to use the prime front panel for eye-catching graphics and to push increasing text requirements to the bottom of the label.

Such teamwork is also in high gear at Flexcon's on-site product development facility, where the material provider works closely with label converters to satisfy specific end-user requests. "The one-product-fits-all approach doesn't always work," explains Rick Harris, manager, packaging sales and marketing. "Customers have problems that can't be solved by off-the-shelf products. Over the course of one year we may create 10,000 unique products."

Avery Dennison is also supporting the custom side of label specification. Customers can customize label materials by mixing and matching label material capabilities. Experts at Avery Dennison will then produce the labels for evaluation. Daryl Madeira, pharmaceutical market manager for Avery Dennison, says, "We have dedicated equipment to run short runs of highly specialized materials like film facestocks and unique adhesives. And we have begun offering this mix-and-match feature on-line for key customers. In the pharmaceutical business, we believe this will make higher-value, unique label applications faster and easier to specify."

Moschonas of H. S. Crocker notes that material suppliers today are more willing to fund technical studies that are key to the specification process. "For example," he says, "Suppliers will pay for migration studies to determine whether the label adhesive is safe to use on an LDPE plastic bottle containing a liquid solution. [Such support] was not as common a few years ago."

Alcon's Opti-Free labels are converted by Diversco Inc. using Fasson-brand pressure-sensitive film stock supplied by Avery Dennison.


Suppliers like Avery Dennison are grouping their products specifically for pharmaceuticals and introducing new adhesives to simplify stock material selection. Its portfolio highlights 15 Fasson-brand pharmaceutical stocks.

To meet the stringent requirements of both OTC and ethical pharmaceutical labeling applications, Flexcon has designed a line of pressure-sensitive films that deliver a powerful shelf presence and brand differentiation. Says Harris: "Labels must conform to a wide variety of container shapes and surfaces. We've developed polyethylene, polypropylene, and styrene films for full-squeeze, semisqueeze, and rigid containers, respectively. They are available in a range of calipers, as well as gloss and matte finishes, providing the no-label-look on clear and colored containers." Flexcon's Pharmcal polypropylene and polyester films can be topcoated for flexographic, rotary screen, and rotary letterpress inks.

To help drug makers reduce or contain costs, label material makers and converters may be able to find a family of materials that can meet all of a customer's labeling needs. Says PCI's Bill Mitchell, "The biggest change I see in specification and production of labels is the drive to standardize materials. The push for cost reduction in both ethical and OTC is very real. Most drug makers feel that if they limit their choices of label materials, they can streamline the entire specification process."

Harris says that Flexcon often designs a film that will be used for all the products in a particular brand family. "For instance, a drug manufacturer will use the same film for its cold remedy, its flu remedy, and its expectorant product. The specifications for each label are the same but with different printing and graphics."


Technology will ease the partnership of label specifications, says Chaplin of Pharmagraphics. "I am convinced," he says, "that collaboration among machine provider, material provider, converter, and end-user is the wave of the future. We already see structural designs and PDF files being exchanged, which allows us to soft-proof or digitally proof packaging. This way of working together is really important and destined to grow."

On the production side, Mitchell of PCI feels that digital production—both prepress and printing—will change the pharmaceutical packaging business. "I see the entire workflow eventually going digital. We have seen, for example, a typical ethical label run under 60,000 impressions. That's small. So the fit with digital production is really perfect."

New Jersey Packaging is preparing by beefing up the training and technical expertise of its salespeople. "In the future, pharmaceutical and medical companies will want highly skilled people and strong package design experience," says VandenBrook. "We are recruiting more technical salespeople and aggressively training our people. Even our sales tools are different today—CD ROMs, for example—and the next few years should bring more technically rich tools."

Photo Courtesy of Pharmagraphics (Itasca, IL)

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