A “perfect storm” of converging factors has transformed previously plentiful raw materials into rare commodities. Combined with shipping bottlenecks and labor shortages, these material shortfalls have caused delays and disappointment in nearly every conceivable industry and now threaten the holiday shopping season.
As you may have already discovered, label materials are not immune to global supply chain volatility.
Where your label materials are concerned, do you have a plan B?
Global Supply Chain Update: Impact on Label Materials
Marketplace recently told the story of a California winemaker that has had to push its plans for a New Year’s Eve bubbly release back to at least Valentine’s Day.
The problem? It’s not a lack of glass for the bottles or the wine itself.
Rather, “the printer can’t get the paper,” the label designer told Marketplace.
The worldwide paper shortage has less to do with people hoarding toilet paper than understaffed pulp mills and the high demand for lumber. Regardless of the cause, everything from book publishing to label printing is affected.
And it’s not just paper that’s hard to come by.
The plastic used to manufacture polypropylene — a popular synthetic label material — has also become increasingly difficult to obtain over the past year. The pandemic is only partially to blame for that one, though: Natural disasters such as the deep freeze in Texas and a hurricane this summer have sent plastic prices skyward.
On top of the paper and plastic shortages, many adhesive components are in short supply, too.
Integrating Label Materials Into Your Business Continuity Plan
Very few businesses were ready to respond to the COVID pandemic, because such a calamity was inconceivable just a few years ago. But even the “normal” natural disasters we mentioned above are reminders of how fragile the global supply chain can be.
While your business can’t always predict the future (if only!), you can learn from your experiences and take another look at your business continuity planning.
Now is the perfect time to think about how to keep your business moving forward if (or when) you encounter label material shortages in the future. Some of these strategies may also help you address the current situation.
Consider Alternate Label Materials and Adhesives
Business continuity planning is all about making sure backups are in place if something goes wrong (for example, duplicating all your data in a second location should your servers go offline).
When it comes to label materials and adhesives, your backup plan can come in the form of a second material or adhesive that has been fully tested and qualified to swap in for your original.
There are countless types of label materials available for most applications. “Paper” and “film” are just two broad categories; within those categories are sub-types. For example, there are literally thousands of paper label material options on the market, some of which may be easier to source during a shortage.
Why Testing Is Important
However, it’s important to remember that different types of label material have varying performance characteristics: Before deciding on a backup label material, you should test that material to ensure it holds up to the same environmental and usage conditions as your original label.
We recommend putting your backup label material through the actual application process:
- If you apply your labels by machine, get a roll of die-cut labels from your printer and put it on your machine to verify that it dispenses and adheres to your containers properly.
- If your product is typically refrigerated, test your label in cold conditions to make sure it remains fixed to your product.
Depending on availability, you may also need to adjust some of your label components, such as the adhesive and ink. (Fortunately, you don’t have to do this all on your own: A good label printer will help you set these experiments up or test different label materials for you.)
Note: In certain industries, such as pharmaceuticals and medical devices, switching on a dime to a new material — for labels or anything else — is impossible. Regulations in these fields require a lengthy and costly qualification process.
Choosing and qualifying an alternate label material or adhesive before it becomes an emergency can help businesses in heavily regulated industries avoid disruption.
Speak With Your Label Printer About a Safety Stock Agreement
A safety stock is a sort of insurance policy against shortages. By keeping a certain amount of extra material on hand, you can reduce the impact of unexpected events.
Your label printer should be willing to discuss maintaining a safety stock of your label material. This discussion may include projecting your future needs by assessing your current usage. You will also have to balance the costs of sourcing and storing unused material against the potential cost of being caught flat-footed. Be aware, however, that because of the severe constraints, many raw material suppliers have placed customers on volume allocation or, in some cases, not accepting material orders from new customers for specific products.
An experienced label printer can help you make these calculations.
Can a Label Material Shortage Be an Opportunity?
It’s strange to think that there may be any benefits to a pandemic and subsequent globe-spanning supply chain crisis.
But for companies with big sustainability goals, this supply chain shortage may provide an opportunity to rethink how they approach sustainable product packaging.
After all, the more materials we use, the more we need, which makes us perpetually dependent on the creation of new materials. Instead, we can use this opportunity to strive toward a circular economy, with less waste, less extraction of new resources – and fewer shortages. If package re-design isn’t an option, consider more sustainable options when evaluating alternatives to your current material.
Plan Now to Avoid Future Bumps
Even a label printer with our experience can’t forecast when the next shortage of paper or plastic is going to hit. Unfortunately, in our complex, chaotic world, some things are just impossible to predict.
But by reexamining your processes, strategies and partnerships now, you can position your business to roll with the punches, no matter what the future holds.