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  • 22 Oct 2009

Labels for all climates

Despite Argentina’s economic instability, Buenos Aires-based label converter Achernar has flourished thanks to a philosophy of diversification. James Quirk reports

Diversification is frequently cited as advice to label converters for surviving in challenging times, but few companies can have successfully spread themselves across such a wide range of industries, products and technologies as Achernar, based in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

It is a philosophy born out of necessity. The problem is national, not regional: neighboring Chile and Brazil have enjoyed years of comparative economic and political stability. Argentina, meanwhile, suffered under a succession of volatile governments which culminated in the collapse of the economy in 2001. Today’s economic problems are more globally spread, and Argentina, like many others, has been hit hard. Inflation is rising; recent mid-term elections demonstrated the people’s lack of confidence in the government of Cristina Kirchner, wife of previous president Nestor.

To put these problems into the context of the label industry, in 2002, the year following the economic crisis, label consumption in Argentina plummeted by 40 percent. That same year, remarkably, Achernar showed only a 1 percent drop in sales. ‘It turned into an opportunity for us,’ says Maria Olcese, Achernar’s president. ‘We investigated which labels were being imported and targeted that business.’

Multiple baskets

The company was founded in 1971 by Haroldo Olcese and is now run by his daughters, Maria and Ana. Initially it sold manual applicators, and continues to do so, before moving into label printing with the purchase of Mark Andy presses in the 1980s. Since then, the company has continued to install latest-generation machinery for roll label printing, specializing in the production of high quality self-adhesive labels and in the development of security and variable information products.

Its fleet of UV flexo machines, some internally reconfigured for variable information printing, is now complemented by an HP Indigo ws2000 digital press, laser and thermal transfer printing capabilities, a host of stamping and finishing equipment, including Rotoflex and Newfoil machines, and, the most recent addition, a Nilpeter FA-3 8-color servo-driven press with cold stamping and a 13 inch print width. The company runs two shifts and employs 85 people.

The HP Indigo digital press was installed in 2004. ‘It was a big learning curve for us at the time,’ says Ana Olcese, ‘as we our main experience was in flexo. But it has allowed us to provide a more complete offering to our clients and has been particularly useful for short run work, of which we have a great deal.’

Between its two adjacent plants – the second was opened last year with the installation of the Nilpeter FA-3 – Achernar occupies 3,000 square meters and produces 300,000 square meters of labels per month, making it one of Argentina’s largest converters. An admin office is housed in central Buenos Aires, while distributors operate outside the capital in Córdoba, Tucumán and Rio Negro. The company exports less than 5 percent of its products, mainly specialty items such as scratch-off labels, with Mexico, Chile and Peru the main recipients.

‘In a country like Argentina, with its economic instability, we can’t put all our eggs into one basket,’ says Maria Olcese. ‘So we operate in many areas, with different products and technologies. The company has a very solid financial base, and this diversification helps us to overcome challenging situations.’

The company mainly devotes itself to short run work, reflective of both economic realities and general industry trends away from long runs. It deliberately maintains a customer base without many large clients, therefore not making it dependent on, and vulnerable to, the continued success of a small number of companies. A similar attitude is taken towards its suppliers, with materials and inks coming from multiple sources.

‘The majority of our orders are for short run work, which gives us the flexibility to react quickly to customer demands,’ says Ana Olcese. The company has a dedicated division for fast turnaround – between 24 and 48 hours – of text and barcode labels.

Aside from the ‘Ultra-quick’ service, Achernar caters to a variety of sectors. The Nilpeter press has allowed entry into the prime label market (and is also handling the recent surge in demand for labels for sanitizing alcoholic gel, sales of which are booming thanks to Swine Flu). Specialty self-adhesive labels for the food and beverage sectors have been a core business for some time. Barcode printing for the country’s mail service is also a large part of the company’s business. A technical service division offers manual applicators and thermal transfer printers. The company has invested in RFID technology, and has tag insertion capabilities, though reports that movement in Argentina, similarly to the rest of RFID label market, has been slow.

Production is varied. Achernar prints prime labels for food, cosmetics, wine and pharmaceutical applications; promotional labels with holograms and fluorescent inks; high performance industrial labels for outdoor applications and chemical drum labeling; informational labels such as barcoding; as well as flexible packaging.

Recent developments include working with GS1 to print a new series of barcodes – DataBar – which allow identification of smaller consumable products while also storing data about weight, date of sale and batch number. The applications are wide-ranging, from cosmetics to pharmaceuticals, but a key area has been fruit, which is a massive industry in Argentina. Achernar is the first Argentine printer of these barcodes, and also exports its fruit labels to neighboring Uruguay.

Security products, too, are a key area. Achernar works with various suppliers, including 3M and Avery Dennison, in the development of security materials, and can count on a wide range of capabilities – including reactive inks, tamper evident materials and coding and numbering. ‘There is currently a great deal of growth in this sector in Argentina,’ says Ana Olcese.

A recent print job which is a particular source of pride for Achernar is for labels for Otro Mundo, a beer company which recently launched its Art Series of labels designed by Argentine artists Hernan Salamanco, Max Gomez Canle and Dani Dan. The impressive artwork adorns the company’s Nut Brown Ale, Strong Red Ale and Golden Ale brands, which are also exported.

Indeed, the beverage market is considered by Achernar as a opportunity for further growth, and shrink sleeve label production, now possible thanks to the multi-substrate capabilities of the Nilpeter FA-4, is being studied as a potential next step. ‘In this industry there is so much innovation, you have to be aware of new developments,’ says Maria Olcese. ‘We attend Labelexpo Europe for this reason.’

Pictured: Achernar printed labels designed by Argentine artists for Otro Mundo beer

This article was published in L&L issue 4, 2009

James Quirk

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James Quirk is group managing editor of Labels & Labeling.

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