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May 2013 Issue of Wines & Vines

Over-Labeling Simplified

Restyle wine bottles to meet changing markets

by Jane Firstenfeld
In a world where wine packaging options are limitless and still growing, the term “over-labeling” might provoke bemusement. When you can envelop a bottle in flashy shrink wrap, embellish it 360° with etching or screen print or apply die-cut embossed, foil-stamped labels on front, back and neck, excessive labeling doesn’t seem possible.

Lower that skeptical eyebrow: Over-labeling, as WS Packaging demonstrated in its booth at January’s Unified Wine & Grape Symposium, accurately describes a practical solution to a problem many wineries have faced: It simply means the application of new labels atop previously applied labels.

Water-resistant label stocks and grippier adhesives effectively have answered the distinct challenges of wine bottle labeling: Most labels, if thoughtfully designed and properly applied, are virtually impossible to remove cleanly.

But what does a winery do when it suddenly gains access to a foreign export market that requires different language? What if a retailer places an order for the current vintage but wants it under a private label? What if a current vintage wears an outdated labeling because of changes in state or federal requirements (ex., Sonoma County, Calif.’s, conjunctive labeling order, which became fully effective Jan. 1)?

Marketing decisions including redesigns also may demand relabeling, but slapping a larger label over the first is unsightly and difficult to achieve accurately. “Accolade” labels—say a double-gold medal at a prestigious competition—are another reason to consider over-labeling.

Enter WS Packaging Group Inc., the Green Bay, Wis.-based equipment and printing supplier that showed off its “print-and-apply” system at the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium. The system does not have a “proper” name because of the personalized variations devised for the end-users, according to Sean Watson, western sales representative for WS.

“It depends on the configurations,” he said. Prices and options start at set-ups in the $25,000-$30,000 range for the mobile, semi-automatic system shown at trade shows, topping out at about $32,000. Higher speed, in-line, automated systems can exceed $50,000. Kendall-Jackson’s 4.5 million-case wine empire, Watson stated in an earlier case study, uses its machine “for all the above applications.”

The investment is significant, and the target market has moved from smaller wineries to larger operations. Mobile bottlers, beloved by small production wineries with limited budgets for their ability to bring in the most current equipment, are another obvious market for this gear, and Watson has been talking with several, he said.

Watson described the chief benefit to the WS print-and-apply system: “Without automation, applying labels in orientation to other labels on a bottle is a very slow, manual and expensive proposition for winery operations.

“The technology is compelling,” he pointed out. “It fits a good niche. People in processing get it immediately.”

How it works for Trinchero
Scott Childers, assistant production manager at 18 million-case Trinchero Family Estates, is already a seasoned user of the WS system. “We purchased our first single-labeling head unit in 2006, and then a two-head unit in 2008. Both units are stand-alone, inline applicators that are manually fed, running slow speed (25-30 bottles per minute), and are fully automatic labeling systems.”

Trinchero’s thriving export market motivated the installations. “We purchased these units for the primary purpose of adding export labels to previously bottled and labeled finished goods,” Childers said.

Trinchero also applies the equipment to another purpose. “We occasionally use the two-head unit to label ‘shiners’ (bottled and unlabeled product) in the rare occasion when we intentionally bottle small quantities of unlabeled product. A typical run could be anywhere from 50 to 1,500 cases. We can label approximately 1,000 cases of 12 750ml bottles per machine per shift. “Prior to these machines, we would do this by hand.”

Childers recommended the equipment. “We have found it relatively easy to use. Like any piece of new equipment, we quickly learn the machines’ strengths, weaknesses and sweet spots. We worked with WS to include improvements in the design of the second machine we felt would make the system easier to operate, more consistent in terms of application quality and more versatile in terms of the type of products we can run on it.

He cited “a more intuitive HMI panel that was easier for operators to use, an additional indexing sensor that helps to locate a dark-colored label on a dark-colored bottle, an adjustable applicator and wipe-down modules to label reverse-tapered bottles.”

Although Trinchero primarily re-labels just in time to meet order requirements, Childers said, “If the customer wants something specific that is not included in our standard packaging, we’ll put it on for them through the re-labeling process.”

Labels of the same dimension can be applied precisely in the footprint of the existing label, Watson noted, but he recommends, if possible, including about a one-eighth inch margin for best coverage.

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