Global cosmetics and fragrances manufacturer Yardley of London deals in a wide range of high quality labels.

When William Yardley of London formed a business in 1770, based upon the manufacturer of toiletries, soaps and lotions, he could not have foreseen that over two centuries later it would still be trading as an enterprise with an international reputation, catering for world markets and employing thousands of people.

Today, 40 per cent of the company’s global turnover is generated in the UK, the rest being made overseas. Tim Whiteley is technical director these days, a member of the team responsible for product manufacture at Yardley’s world HQ and factory at Basildon in Essex.

‘We have over 800 permanent workers on site here, plus a lot more who join us for the period of greatest demand, such as Christmas and Easter. There are other, smaller manufacturing sites in Colombia and Malaysia, and we also have a royalty agreement with Yardley in South Africa.’

Yardley manufacturers around 2,500 SKU’s (Stock Keeping units), 95 per cent of the actual products being mixed at Basildon. By far the greatest proportion of turnover is generated by cosmetics and fragrances, the business lying fourth in the UK colour cosmetics sector and being well-positioned also for fragrances in the upper mass market, selling from gondola and display rather than across the counter.

The toiletry business is built around Yardley Lavender range, the majority of which is sold outside the UK.

‘So far as product labels are concerned, we’ve not used any wet glue product for the last fifteen years or so. Everything we make use of today is strictly self-adhesive,’ explained merchandise controller Mike Stewart.

‘There are three main categories of label. The first of these I’d call the ‘aesthetic’, whereby he or she’s about to buy. It’s all a matter of creating associations and anticipation.’

‘For example, our world number one single best seller is the classic Yardley Lavender Water – still the best-known product the company has ever made.’

‘The way it’s labelled is therefore absolutely critical. Although we’re currently engaged in modernising our market appeal and doing a lot of re-packaging to give a new image of sophisticated London chic to many of our products, we still feel it’s important to keep with the way we’ve presented some of our most successful lines. That being so, there are only minor modifications to the way we market our toilet waters, and the way we use the label to help in that,’ continued Stewart.

It is this blend of the go-ahead with the conservative which today characterises Yardley labelling and packaging. The famed ‘Cries of London’ label has consistently appeared on Yardley products for over a long period, such aspects as the framing having been changed and modified to suit passing taste, but the essential subject remaining the same.

‘We don’t want to change labelling style so much that we frighten away a loyal customer base of people who’ve been buying our products for many years, so we’re treading carefully,’ said Tim Whiteley.

‘For instance, with our ‘Fragrant Gardens’ moisturising shower creams in bottles we intend to continue using the creative feeling of country freshness by fairly conservative labelling. We’ll use tried and tested lily-of-the-valley designs on polypropylene labels in the traditional vertical shape which echoes the bottles themselves.’

‘On the other hand, if we’re packaging lily-of-the-valley soap into presentation tins we find it’s preferable to print the same design directly onto them because of their curved surfaces, which make labelling much more difficult. In a sense it’s far preferable for us to bring in certain components such as cartons and tins already printed and dispense with external labelling. We prefer to use labels creatively only when we need to, because they imply another in-line process, which can be costly in terms of both time and materials.’

‘For efficiency’s sake we tend to keep to our one label shape, carrying the relevant wording and designs to fit on to our standard shape of plastic bottle. We then use the standard bottle for a wide variety of products such as talc, foam bath, body lotion, shower-gel and so on’ he added.

There is a large body of Yardley products, however, which are not container-labelled at all. Their spray products information, for instance, is printed directly onto the metal containers themselves. The same applies to the plastic cases used in most of their cosmetics such as mascaras and lipsticks, while their new perfumes such as ‘So?’ and ‘Baroque’ are packed in glass bottles, the name and logo of the former being printed directly on to the glass, the latter being completely plain.

‘In many cases we print directly onto the products’ outer cartons, but we do actually use two other categories of labels which aren’t of the ‘aesthetic’ type I spoke about earlier. In fact, we use many more of the other two types of labels than we do of the ‘aesthetic’ ones.’

One of the other principal label categories is that used for promotional purposes and bar coding. The other category is that used to carry legally-required information on such things as contents, shade, weight, directions of use, plus name and address.

‘I suppose the labels used in the greatest numbers are those attached to the bases of our lipsticks. Their plastic containers are the same blue colour and the way we differentiate between them is by a small self-adhesive label carrying the shade name in lettering, plus the stock code number, which we attach to the base of the sticks.’

It is quite noticeable on the Yardley filling and assembly lines just how much of this on-line labelling work is still carried out manually rather than by automation. This is explained by the fact that many production and packaging runs are for 5,000 units or fewer, which means that it is often quicker to label by hand rather than spend a long time preparing machines for only a relatively short work period, and the soon after having to get them ready for a different small run. The issue does not arise with longer runs.

‘We have, though, recently installed a lot of new in-line machines to improve the production of such things as aerosols, cosmetic and fragrance filling, cartooning and wrapping for final presentation. Labelling doesn’t tend to throw up many difficulties.’

‘You could say that we call about three main label suppliers or ‘preferred vendors’ to cover all our needs. The fall into what you might call two main divisions. We use the first division to supply us with our top-of-the-range labels such as Lavender and ‘Fragrant Gardens’, which contain a lot of ‘aesthetic’ art work and more intricacy of design which has to be produced on top grade papers, to the highest specification, and remain permanently in place.’

‘The second division is that supplying us with simpler labelling products such as a small ‘offer’ label designed with peelability in mind.’

‘The point is that both division are made up of business who are top class in their own particular sphere of production. In other words, they tend to be specialists in their own fields. We approach the supplier who produces labels of ‘Fragrant Gardens’ quality in six colours to provide us with a few thousand small peelable offer labels for a body spray retailing at £1.99 each!’

‘Some suppliers also work at different paces, too. If we want an up-market paper label designed and made for us we know that it could take four to five weeks between the art work being approved by us to the actual delivery of the labels here at the factory. That’s a very different proposition from the production period needed for the small peelable sale labels, which we can obtain within 48 hours from approval of artwork to production and delivery.’

The third label category in use at Yardley is that concerned with the statutory provision of information and it is here that recent EU legislation on packaging and labelling has had a major impact. The latest Cosmetics Directive states that all ingredients must be clearly shown for every product. This has come about because of the increasing realisation that a growing number of people are becoming sensitive to the effects of certain materials.

However, a continental market with many languages spoken by its members will, by its very nature, lead to difficulties.

‘We supply our products worldwide as well as across the EU. It’s clearly impossible to print labels which cover all languages, so a compromise was reached by the legislators in which the ingredients have to be listed under their Latin names. We also have to print some label information in the language of the country where the product’s going to be sold. That requirement comes in when active claims such as ‘moisturising’ are being made from the product.’

‘This has meant re-designing every label on every carton in order to ensure we’re complying with regulations. The current legislation came into effect in January 1997, but at least we’ve been given dispensation to sell our non-complying stock until January 1998. After that, though, we must conform, but we could end up with two-thirds of an external carton being covered with obligatory information on its labelling.’

Ironically, another difficulty encountered with the language of labelling comes with goods sold on the US market. This time it’s the opposite problem, same language but different regulations! For products sent across the Atlantic the label must also bear the English version of all ingredients. ‘The result of this requirement is a ‘dual ingredients list’ with English names followed by the Latin equivalent in brackets, but apart from that our problems with labelling are minimal,’ said Mike.

So far as the designing of their labels is concerned, Yardley rely upon outside resources. They have no design studio or design team of their own, but the strategic way forward is charted by an in-house design consultant in co-operation with a design management team.

‘Beyond that, we sometimes use the services of independent design studios to create any new labelling we may need. Our three main label designers and suppliers are Freshwing Industries and Harlands of Hull in the UK and Source in Denmark.

‘As for the future, we’re definitely looking towards making use of more auto-labelling to augment the semi-auto system and manual working methods we’re using at the moment. It makes a lot of sense as production rises.

‘We’ll need machines with a really fast changeover facility, though, because of the large number of our short runs and we also want brief setting-up times as well. That’s because we’ll not save on time and hence costs, if the staff on-line are waiting for new work to come on stream.’

Yardley London then, is committed to constructive change and development both in the products themselves and in the packager and label presentation of them.

As Tim Whiteley so aptly says, ‘There’ s always something new happening in this business. No time for standing still!’

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