Slave to sleeves
Sleeving is today the fastest-growing decorating option and has enjoyed double-digit growth around the world. Marketers adore sleeves for all their branding and communication possibilities but it's a love affair frequently not shared by those on the production floor – and this is where an outsource operation such as Jo'burg's QualiPak SA comes in.
QualiPak SA, with branches in Cape Town, Durban and Jo'burg, specialises in the sleeving decoration of all types of packs. The Jo'burg branch, part-owned and managed by Graham Hepburn, has come a long way since its humble beginnings five years ago in a small 300m² factory.
'Sleeving is valued as a product differentiator, as well as for its 360-degree graphic possibilities, its ability to cover almost any shape of container and its additional functional and security qualities,' says Graham. 'Shrink sleeves represent a tremendous development opportunity for all marketers and brand owners, with particularly strong growth prospects in the beverage, health and beauty, pharmaceutical, and household chemical segments, where they are gaining market share from other labelling methods.'
QualiPak, he adds, has been well placed and fortunate to leverage sleeving's popularity, particularly in the local beverage sector: 'QualiPak was founded not only on the basis that sleeves are very attractive for marketers, but in many instances, volumes don't warrant the investment in applicators and shrink tunnels. This is where our expertise and services have proven themselves,' he says. 'Furthermore, it's a tricky labelling format. The complexities of properly attaching a shrink sleeve to a container or cap make the decision to outsource sensible.'
With a bulging order book and no room to move in its original premises, QualiPak JHB last year took over a 1 200m² sleeving operation in Omnia Park, Aeroton, west of the city centre. Originally part of the Polyoak Packaging, this ready-made factory has suited QualiPak's purposes exactly. It comprises three semi-automated application lines and shrink tunnels, several other lines for manual work and relabelling, as well as plenty of all-important warehousing space.
'We cater for all volume ranges, and can easily manage smaller runs which many customers require. At full production, our output is around 20 to 30 thousand units per shift, which equates to 300 thousand units in a 24-hour period. Capacity has never been an issue,' comments Graham. 'Most importantly, we are geared to handle multiple contracts at any one time.'
QualiPak is a focused business, sticking to its core competencies of sleeving and the application of self-adhesive labels; for relabelling, corrective labelling, exports, alternate language labelling, barcoding and the likes. While it does not get involved in printing or filling, QualiPak works closely with all the container and bottle suppliers as well as directly with brand owners, and advises customers, designers and sleeve producers on the likes of specs and sizing.
Trial runs to ensure that a sleeve works optimally before a customer embarks on the main print run are a given.
'However difficult the application, we pride ourselves on working to a very small reject rate,' says Graham. 'We understand all the issues that go into ensuring undistorted decor after shrinkage – the likes of film elasticity, shrink curves, softening points, transparency and mechanical resistance.'
The correct choice of temperature-tolerant films is very important in successful sleeving (mostly PET-based these days for its recyclability), as is the time and temperature equation in the shrink tunnel. QualiPak utilises some simple but neat technology on its lines: rotating containers or bottles as they move through the tunnel is an application trick, explains Graham, that results in even heat distribution and a much better fit and finish.
While not denying the challenges of the current downturn, Graham prefers to look on the positive side of the economic coin. 'Recessionary times might see volumes under pressure, but there are always opportunities. For instance, many brand owners and marketers don’t have the money or resources to try out a new products within their own plants and instead outsource to save themselves money and to get things done more quickly. Speed to market is as important as ever and our specific services are still very much in demand.'
The recession has also given rise to an upsizing trend, with plenty of short-term promotional FMCG activity where marketers opt to use larger packages and bonus products to boost sales volumes. Many of these pack configurations require sleeving.
FMCG companies’ desire to nurture the bottom line in the current economic conditions also bodes well for outsource packaging services. Companies are seeking ideas for offsetting or counterbalancing rises in transportation, labour, downtime, transportation, inventory control and warehousing costs – working together with contract packagers they can reduce costs in all of these areas.
'We have the ability to do things quickly with the right equipment, labour, warehousing and experience at our disposal. We’re very committed to creating innovative solutions, to quickly responding to our customer’s needs,' notes Graham. 'We're feeling pretty bullish about the future – the economy has to begin improving at some stage and FMCG companies’ reliance on contract packaging services will increase. And, of course, the growth and development of shrink-sleeve labelling requires a company that understands all aspects of this labelling and its specialised application techniques,' he concludes.
QualiPak SA Jo'burg T+27 011 494 5858
First published in, August 2009