Crown Vantage may still be the ‘new kid on the block’ of the international labelling business, but it is quickly becoming the paper company of choice for label converters and end users around the world – the ‘new kid’ everybody wants to meet. And it’s doing so with a combination of innovative products and customer partnering that’s hard to beat.

Founded in 1995, Crown Vantage is head-quartered in Oakland, California, and operates nine paper mills – seven in the U.S. and two in Scotland. Revenues in 1998 totalled $851 million from two business units, Specialty Papers and Printing and Publishing Papers.

Papers for labels is one of six market segments in the Specialty Papers unit. Crown Vantage’s primary label paper mills are located in Parchment and Port Huron, Michigan; Adams, Massachusetts, and Richmond, Virginia. From these bases it serves customers throughout North and South America, Europe, South Africa, China, Australia and the Pacific Rim.

‘We like to say that Crown Vantage is ‘a new name for experience.’ Said Edward A. Fusakio, senior vice president, Specialty Papers. Our incorporation brought together a system of paper mills whose family tree reads like a Who’s Who of papermaking – names such as Crown Zellerbach, Curtis, American Can, Peninsular and Riegel in the U.S., as well as GB Papers and Wiliam Sommerville in Scotland.

Many of Crown Vantage’s 3,500 employees bring that ‘family history’ with them. The company has numerous second-generation – and in some cases third-generation – paper-makers in its mills.

‘We’re proud of our heritage, and we’re building on that heritage for the future,’ Fusakio said. ‘We’re committed to the ongoing development of value-added products to meet the emerging needs of our customers.’

Crown Vantage demonstrates leadership through technological innovation and a commitment to its customers, who generally become long-term ‘partners.’ Its strategic direction is to build those long-term partnering relationships with customers who have similar philosophies and commitments to excellence and leadership.

Crown Vantage made label papers a key element of its corporate strategy, which focuses on specialty paper riches, after a careful review of its mill capabilities and market opportunities. ‘We knew we couldn’t be all things to all people – and we didn’t want to be,’ Fusakio explained. ‘So we started with the capabilities we had and looked for ways to maximize their value by combining them for specific end-use applications.’ The label business is an area that fits this model particularly well. For a single beverage application, for example, the end user might require a self adhesive label with a high quality printing surface and high wet strength, coupled with a release backing that runs smoothly through both the label converters and the end user’s processing equipment. Crown Vantage has the technology and the expertise to meet and exceed all those specifications.

The company also sees labels as a business with excellent growth potential. For example, the demand is growing around the world for wet-strength labels for beers, bottled waters and other cold beverages. It’s a huge market that’s changing rapidly, and it represents great opportunity.

‘Finally, because label papers are produced and sold in relatively small quantities, they’re far less subject to the volatility of commodity supply-demand cycles,’ Fusakio explained. ‘The initial process of acquiring a customer and qualifying the sheet can be long and arduous; but in the end we’ve established a true partnering relationship with the customer, and we can remain the primary supplier for a long time – as long as we deliver consistent quality product and service.’

A Comprehensive Product Line

Part of Crown Vantage’s plan is to build on what the company believes is the widest array of label papers in the industry.

‘We can supply the right label paper for virtually any type of application you can imagine,’ said Business manager Rick Voss. Those products include:

Self-adhesive facestocks – uncoated, cast-coated, and matte or semi-gloss day-coated;

CIS (coated one-side) papers for silicone release bases specially formulated to create optimum-performance ‘sandwiches’ with the facestocks. Together they provide outstanding dimensional stability throughout the conversion and application processes;

Clay-coated thermal transfer papers, which provide a surface that doesn’t mottle when printed by flexography. Their consistently high tensile strength lets converting equipment operate faster (when stripping) away the non-label areas than with other stocks. Label Converters also report extended life from the die they use due to the papers’ non-abrasive coating;

Wet-strength papers – high-bulk clay-coated labels for superior performance on all types of bottling lines;

Wine label papers – in a variety of colour shades and embossed patterns to support marketing image, wet-strength and non-wet-strength;

Water/Oil/Grease-Resistant (WOGR) papers – approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration;

Metallising papers – high-gloss papers specially formulated to accept the thin film metal coatings that have become popular among marketers who need a high-impact presence on store shelves.

Technical Superiority

Crown Vantage is one of the largest specialty paper manufacturers in the world with soft calendaring capability and experience – a capability that, according to Voss, gives many of the company’s label papers distinct advantages over competitors’ products.

‘Soft calendaring has enabled us to develop a family of lighter-weight products that offer substantial savings on a square-foot or square-meter basis – without sacrificing physical properties,’ Voss explained. ‘These label papers deliver performance that meets or exceeds customers’ and end users’ most stringent traditional specifications for papers of much higher weights. The yield is greater, but the sheet delivers excellent printability, dimensional stability, tensile strength, lay-flat characteristics, or whatever combination of properties the application demands.’

Voss cited the example of a major U.S. brewer that had been using 43lb. stock for the neck labels on its beer bottles and 50lb. stock for the body labels. ‘We’re now able to supply 36lb. label stock for both the neck and body labels,’ Voss said. ‘The performance is equal to or better than that of the heavier stock. When you consider the millions of labels that brewer uses every year, the savings per square foot of label paper adds up to a substantial bottom-line benefit.’

Another example of Crown Vantage’s technical edge can be seen in the makeup of its thermal transfer papers. ‘Typically,’ Voss said, ‘a 45lb. clay-coated thermal-transfer paper includes a 30lb. paper base and a 15lb. clay coat. Our 45lb. sheet has a 40lb. paper base and a 51lb. clay coat. The result is a stronger product that label converters can run faster. And the clay coat is less abrasive, so the converters’ cutting dies last longer. We’ve had major converters document die life three to four times greater than with conventional papers.’

Partnering for Success

But product technology is only part of the Crown Vantage story. The second half of its corporate strategy is to build long-term partnering relationships with customers who have similar business philosophies and commitments to excellence and leader ship.

‘We’re not an off-the-shelf label company,’ said Jeff Feinstein, label market sales manager. ‘We’ve structured ourselves to constantly seek to add value for our customers. Sales executives, customer service representatives, business managers and technical experts all work together in highly focused teams. And the team works closely with our customers to develop products that help each customer differentiate its finished products throughout the product consumption chain.

‘Through our partnering process, we work with our customers – and often with their customers, the end users – to identify key performance criteria, in both product and processes.’

The company uses statistical analysis to develop product specifications. This assures that processes operate in a normal condition and are under statistical control.

From initial lab work to short-run develop-mental trials and customer process-development trials, through initial production runs and final commercialization of the product, the Crown Vantage team works closely with the customer to ensure the highest quality results.

‘Our team of technical experts isn’t hidden in the laboratory,’ said Mike Chiborak, product line manager at the company’s Port Huron mill. ‘More often you’ll find them working with customers – probing their needs, then translating the end-use into the proper formula on our paper machines. Most of that development happens in our mills, where our chemists, paper makers and marketing people collaborate to create a paper that meets the specialized requirements of a specific end use.’

Production specifications can be customized to the degree that only one customer is supplied, with a specific product, which allows Crown Vantage to provide unique, performance-enhancing product attributes for each customer.

Feinstein summed up the company’s partnering philosophy in a simple statement: ‘We deliver solutions and value, not just paper.’

And that value is assured through ISO 9002 certification, the internationally recognized standard for manufacturing quality control. ‘Six of our mills have achieved this certification,’ said vice president Fusakio. ‘It’s particularly important to customers in the international area, and it positions us a quality producer.’

Putting It All Together

Crown Vantage’s team-oriented, customer-partnering philosophy doesn’t produce overnight results. But the company is confident that the results are worth the effort. Feinstein illustrated this confidence with an example of the Crown Vantage philosophy and process from the fast-growing beverage industry.

‘The growth in popularity of bottled beverages internationally has been phenomenal. It’s not just beer and soda, but iced teas, wine coolers, fruit juices and mineral waters that keep consumers sipping. Where there’s a bottle, there’s inevitably a label. And that label requires paper – but not just any paper.’

Consumers expect a lot of an ‘ordinary’ label. First, it has to look good as its bottle aligns on the shelf among dozens of competing products. That means the paper must print well and trim cleanly, creating eye appeal to the consumer. If it passes that test, there are other functionality challenges. For example, the bottle could wind up in a picnic cooler with melting ice and an assortment of other bottled beverages. Will the label withstand the jostling and moisture so consumers will know whether they’re getting iced tea or root beer, or whether the drink has vitamins or is loaded with calories?

Or perhaps a bottle of mineral water needs to reflect the refreshing nature of the product by using a silvery label. To accelerate the product’s speed to market, Crown Vantage works simultaneously with its customer, the converter, and with the end user, in this case the marketing arm of the mineral water company.

The label converter will use a special metallising process to achieve the silvery look the end user wants. That calls for a special smooth surface on the paper, so that the metal particles will adhere evenly, and the highest gloss Crown Vantage can produce to enhance the metallic reflective gloss.

The end user has also told Crown Vantage that the bottles will be redeemable. The means partial wet strength is needed. There must be paper integrity so consumers will know what they’re drinking, but the label must peel off with relative ease when the bottle is returned.

At this stage of the process, no two people are more important than Crown Vantage’s ‘wet end’ chemistry expert and the coating expert. They’re the ones who will translate the customer requirements into the value-added product that will confirm Crown Vantage’s partnership with the converter and the end user.

The wet-end chemist provides the technical know-how in mixing up that batch of paper, while the coating experts determines the special processes and treatments the formed paper will receive at the other end of the paper machine to achieve the necessary characteristics.

Then, throughout production, ISO 9002 certification means the mill adheres to the stringent specifications established jointly by the converter, the end user and Crown Vantage.

‘This is not a traditional sales effort,’ Feinstein emphasized. ‘But it leads to a level of customer satisfaction and loyalty that defines long-term success for us.’

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