The Evolution of Label Management for Dietary Supplements

February 4, 2011

How an automated system can help your company manage its product labels.

By Bill March, President, LabelArchive

Today, producers of nutritional products and dietary supplements face several daunting challenges. It takes constant education and planning to stay abreast of evolving science and trends. In addition, regulatory requirements over product contents and their labels are continually tightening. FDA’s crackdown on the nutritional products industry has focused to a large extent on label accuracy. Properly managing the information on your product labels can be as important as the quality of the ingredients going into the product. Failure to label a product correctly can result in expensive label and packaging spoilage, not to mention product liability and recall.

Managing Labels Manually: A Complicated Process

Imagine your company’s product line for a moment. Whether it comprises 50, 500, or 5000 products, each product’s label must be maintained and regularly updated, including identical products with different package sizes. Most nutritional product companies follow a traditional label-management process that may seem logical, practical, and effective, when in reality, that process can be easily compromised and depends on all interested parties participating at just the right time and in just the right way. Coordinating all of the steps required of label management is complicated and labor-intensive. Steps such as implementing text revisions, proofing, and order placement can quickly become unmanageable, with a likely chance of mistakes occurring anywhere in the process.

A typical label-management workflow can look something like this. Let’s say that the schedule calls for a Super Calcium product label to be printed and sent to the packager 30 days from today. The label manager will assemble a paper and/or electronic job ticket that contains all of the information needed for the Super Calcium print order, including the label’s physical specifications (size, quantity, colors, etc.), order history, and electronic version of the label image itself. For reference, it’s also very important that file include the current, “last run” version of the label to act as a basis. In addition, the file would include any notes on new regulations, or suggestions for new marketing verbiage.

The label manager would send this package to the various parties that need to be involved with the label-revision process, including marketing managers, purchasing agents, and regulatory-compliance officers. Outside of the company, interested parties may include attorneys, lab technicians, or consultants. The label manager would send the Super Calcium revision order package via e-mail to all of these parties, anticipating their forthcoming input. Some system of receipt confirmation and response tracking should be in place to let the label manager know that all parties have been alerted to the project and given the opportunity to respond and that their responses and suggestions have been duly recorded in the working file.

Now picture the complications that could be involved with such a project passing through the hands of many interested parties. Let’s say that four of the recipients responded with suggestions to revise the label’s text, perhaps regarding the product story, the product’s ingredients, dosage information, or the supplement facts. Another label-management team member might request a change to the order specifications in the form of a label quantity increase, to cover additional sample hand-outs at an upcoming trade show. Each of these team members would e-mail their change requests back to the label manager, who must judge the merits of the change requests, and if he or she accepts those changes, send the request on to the company’s graphic artist with an explanation of all of the changes, and where on the label the changes must be made. (For instance such a message might look something like this: “Third paragraph, line two of the product story, should read ‘Super Calcium builds strong bones in 12 ways when taken regularly.’”) The graphic artist would make the changes to the graphic file and within hours or a couple of days, issue an internal proof to the label manager, who has to reorient him or herself to that specific issue and must track any other changes.

At some point, when the label manager has dealt with all requests, he or she will issue a final proof of the amended label image, along with an explanation of any changes, compose a lengthy e-mail, and send this proof package to team members for final proof approval. Ideally, the entire list of team members would quickly examine, approve, and return the signed proof. However, if any team members reject the proof, or for some reason fail to treat the proof, the label manager would have to decide whether to follow up with them or proceed with the order.

As one can imagine, this can cause delays as the scheduled packaging due date looms. Any missed communication can complicate a label manager’s efforts as he or she juggles all of this information and attempts to correctly process and place multiple orders per day, on schedule.

Automated Label Management

If it’s not apparent by now, the label-management process, especially when handled manually, can become quite cumbersome and complicated, especially when involving multiple text-change requests for the same label. The risk of confusion and process failure can be great.

Now, imagine if you could take all of these label-management challenges and, with the help of technology, roll them into an efficient workflow program that automatically-and on schedule-alerts all interested parties to the tasks required to revise a label, within impending deadlines. What if this programmed label-management system allowed users to compose their own text-edit requests and see any changed or added text, highlighted on a .jpg preview of the label itself, in real-time? What if a busy label manager could then quickly check the edit-request previews and just as quickly decide whether to add them to the final proof or decline them? All this could be done without using the services of a graphic artist. And, the label image files for all sizes of labels for a particular product would be automatically updated when the order for any one size was placed.

Certainly, a system like this would drastically cut the time and risk involved in processing label orders. Label managers could do their work more efficiently and avoid costly mistakes. What if all of these features were blended together in an easy-to-learn and –operate, secure, Web-based environment? A system like this could greatly reduce the effort and time spent in label-management and avoid costly errors.