Guest Column | October 3, 2016

Why Demand For Color Labeling In The Supply Chain Is On The Rise

Supply Chain

By Josh Roffman, VP Product Management, Loftware

In today’s global supply chain, the colors used in labeling can be just as communicative and as important as the words or the label data. It’s no longer just important to show a pretty label on a finished product — demand for color labeling has moved beyond finished goods and businesses are beginning to see the importance of using color labeling throughout the entire supply chain.

The need to support color label printing is becoming more prevalent across all industries in order to meet evolving customer and corporate branding requirements. Also, new government regulations requiring the use of color are leading businesses to completely overhaul the way they identify and label products. These evolving mandates are further driving investments in color labeling.

With these impending changes it’s becoming increasingly important to have a solution in place that allow companies to quickly and easily add color to their labels and adjust to shifting circumstances. Therefore, as customers’ demands change, companies must evolve their labeling strategies right alongside their products and processes to avoid any disruptions in their supply chain.

Enterprise Labeling Solutions that support color label printing in an automated fashion have proven to be indispensable for doing business in today’s global supply chain. Implementing an Enterprise Labeling approach, which offers the power and flexibility to support complex, global, and high volume labeling, allows firms to quickly and easily create color labels to improve usability and brand recognition and most important, safety without all the effort, cost, and waste associated with using pre-printed stock. In this paper, we will take a closer look at some of the reasons why color labeling is increasingly in demand, and how the right Enterprise Labeling Solution can provide everything your business needs to meet this rising demand.

Enabling Regulatory Compliance

A wide range of industries have seen regulators make a steady push to increase safety through the use of better warning labels. While long chunks of text or black-and-white images can be easily missed or ignored, color labels stand out and demand attention. As such, new global rules are calling for colored symbols on labels which can more clearly indicate any crucial information that both handlers and customers in the supply chain need to know. A recent Top 5 Trends in Enterprise Labeling survey (which polled over 600 supply chain and IT professionals) by Loftware found over 45 percent of respondents identified regulatory demands as a business driver for color labeling.  

Also, in the paper Meta-Analyses of the Effectiveness of Warning Labels, published in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, researchers Jennifer Argo of the University of Alberta and Kelley Main of the University of British Columbia concluded warning labels are effective in attracting consumer attention and labels using color or symbols noticeably boosted that effectiveness. Color labels can also solve other, less obvious problems associated with shipping dangerous goods. One example of this would be the advantage color offers for language barriers. It’s easier to convey a flammable hazard by creating a picture of bright red flames than writing about the danger in a dozen different languages. Following are just a couple of examples of how new regulatory standards are quickly increasing the demand for color label printing in specific industries.

  • The Chemical Industry

    Obviously, chemical manufacturers regularly deal with dangerous materials. Some are highly toxic if accidentally consumed or inhaled. Others may cause burns if spilled on exposed skin. In order to maintain safety standards in the workplace and help ensure that that product can move through the supply chain safely — and of course so that customers understand what they are handling — the industry is now required to adopt clearer labeling rules.

The most notable example of this is the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). Created by the United Nations in 1992, governments around the world have steadily rolled out this system in the subsequent decades. In the U.S., OHSA revised the Hazard Communication Standard in 2012 to comply with the new global regulations.

Among the requirements of GHS is the need for hazard pictograms, which require at least two colors. For example, flammable solids, liquids or gasses must be marked with a picture of a flame surrounded by a red, diamond-shaped border.

  • The Food And Beverage Industry

Both the U.S. and the European Union (EU) have rules requiring manufacturers to plainly state possible allergens on food and beverage packaging. Some evidence suggests that food allergies — or, at least, awareness of them — are on the rise. Food Allergy Research & Education estimates that as many as 15 million Americans suffer from food allergies and the rate of allergies among children increased by about 50 percent between 1997 and 2011. In response, demand for product labels that clearly state potentially harmful allergens is increasing. One way this can be done is through color labeling.

Taking it one step further to ensure consumers can make informed purchases, the European Union has initiated EU1169, which increases the amount of mandatory information required to sell food. This mandate represents a significant change to what and how information is displayed on food and beverage packaging. It requires treating a certain set of text with colors, bolding, italics, minimum font size and underlines to provide better legibility for consumers. Although initiated as an EU standard, this directive is far-reaching in impacting suppliers, food service operators, retailers and food business operators at all stages of the food supply chain within Europe, and any global suppliers who import or distribute to Europe.

Advantages Over Pre-Printed Label Stock

One would think pre-printing label stock in large quantities is the best way to ensure a business always has enough labels on hand. But what happens when those labels are no longer needed? What if the information on those labels becomes outdated or is no longer applicable due to regulatory changes? What if you need to quickly respond to a customer’s demands for a shift in color or a new requirement? What about the rising costs to maintain multiple levels of different label stock?

There are substantial inefficiencies and significant costs associated with using pre-printed stock for color labeling. Being able to rapidly fix a problem with a label, without having to re-print an entire batch, is an important advantage for any business. Many industries are learning that this type of on-demand printing is a preferable solution to pre-printed stock.

Also, pre-printing labels with pictograms can pose a particular challenge. Businesses that use multiple pictograms must print empty stock labels which then need to be filled in — often a time-consuming process. Alternatively, they might choose to print multiple types of stock labels. In either case, pre-printing leads to inefficiency and waste, as it requires the printers to predict their needs far in the future while giving them little room for flexibility.

Using pre-printed stock for color labeling also requires companies to anticipate their needs and store vast amounts of labels. Some companies have reported they require up to 40,000 square feet of space simply to store label stock. There’s also significant waste associated with stored labels when changes are made and the existing stock becomes obsolete. This can easily happen when a warehouse full of old labels display an outdated logo or no longer comply with evolving regulations. It is a costly waste, and an avoidable one.

It’s clear using pre-printed label stock can be time consuming and costly, yet in a recent Loftware survey one third of the respondents claimed they are still using pre-printed stock but many are seeking alternative solutions to manage their color labeling. Implementing a solution that supports color labeling removes the need for pre-printed stock and allows companies to dynamically make changes to labels while enabling them to print specific labels at the time they are required. A centralized, on-demand Enterprise Labeling Solution is well suited for dynamic color labeling, allowing companies to respond quickly to any customer or regulatory requirements.

Meeting Customer Branding And Use Requirements

Companies today are placing even more importance on the value of their brand. As a result, they are demanding more than ever that labels reflect the colors fundamental to that brand. But placement of the brand doesn’t stop at the product — it’s also important that it’s represented properly throughout the supply chain on shipping labels, cartons, and crates. This practice enhances brand awareness on multiple levels and reminds customers who they are working with, which is useful for drumming up repeat business.

Of course, brand logos often consist of specific designs and colors. Color is an important aspect of most brand names and color labeling provides companies with a better chance to represent the full brand. In fact, a growing body of research suggests the color of your logo can actually say more about your company than you think. If you’ve found your logo’s specific look has a particular resonance with people, you shouldn’t alter it. Instead, standardize it across all corporate labels and documents. Enlisting this practice also can provide a simple anti-counterfeit measure. Counterfeiting can damage a brand’s image resulting in lost revenues and most importantly can lead to significant health and safety concerns. Companies can work to combat counterfeiting with color consistency providing a key attribute for identifying a specific brand.

The demand for color printing doesn’t stop at branding requirements. The use of color labeling has become critically important for grouping and identifying product and managing inventory for large global enterprises. In many industries such as medical device and food and beverage, labels that include color are becoming increasingly important in helping to identify variations of product. These labels commonly contain color codes and graphics that make it easier to distinguish between brands, sizes, and product models, ultimately offering substantial time saving and safety measures for storing and identifying proper inventory.

Also, as technology advances and more viable hardware solutions become available for color printing, it’s clear customers will want to benefit from these improved capabilities. Loftware’s Annual Top 5 Trends survey shows today’s global companies are outlining plans to increase the purchasing of enterprise software and color print technology sufficient to meet their color labeling requirements. Nearly 60 percent of respondents claimed they would purchase additional color printers this year and 57 percent of those surveyed identified branding as a business driver for color labeling.

Growing Demand For Software Solutions That Can Handle Color Printing

The need for color printing is becoming more pervasive as companies look to meet the challenges of the GHS and other regulations, reduce their dependence on pre-printed label stock, and adhere to evolving brand standards and customer requirements. Printers that accommodate color labeling are important, but they alone cannot help businesses be more responsive with labeling. It’s important to have a standardized and centralized labeling solution that supports high-volume, automated printing, as well as the capability to support rapid change for color labeling. Using an Enterprise Labeling Solution, which leverages native print drivers, offers unrivaled performance, allowing users to minimize network traffic and bandwidth, and reduce overall maintenance. This approach simplifies printer deployments so customers can drive color label printing without requiring an install of Windows drivers across multiple environments.

Native print drivers offer substantial time and cost savings for color label printing. These drivers, which reduce the size of print streams to dramatically increase print speed, simplify the printing process with fewer moving parts enabling companies to manage and support a broad set of printers across locations. This ultimately reduces maintenance and management of the printer network, increasing control and ensuring consistency. It also makes it easier to scale your labeling solution as demand increases, which can result in significant cost savings.

The right Enterprise Labeling Solution offers extensive native color print capabilities to support all types of color printing across a global enterprise. This approach empowers companies to deal with all of the nuances of today’s complex labeling requirements and regulations, providing the ability to support high levels of variability with unprecedented speed, agility and scalability to support all forms of regulatory and customer requirements.

For more information on how your company can streamline color labeling for the supply chain contact Loftware at 603-766-3630.