Fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) manufacturers in South Africa run the risk of being heavily fined for inconsistent and unreadable product packaging barcodes, warns labelling solutions company Labelpak director Mark Sherriff.
He points out that in-house barcode veri- fication is important in today’s consumer- focused economy, and that companies that are not in compliance with the stringent rules can face a fine of up to R100 for each product that contains an unreadable barcode.
“Barcode printing can significantly vary with the slightest changes in the substrate, ink or the humidity and temperature levels in the printing room. It is, therefore, important to use an in-house verification system on the first print off the press and on the intermittent production cycles throughout the job, to ensure that the barcode meets all necessary quality requirements set out by the South African Numbering Association and the Consumer Council of South Africa,” he explains.
Besides a heavy penalty, Sherriff notes that a faulty barcode may also lead to the demise of a brand.
“A product which jams the scanner at a supermarket checkout causes embarrass- ment to the client and the teller and causes delays in the queue. Further, this negative experience may prompt the client not to return to that particular store or to avoid that product in the future. This can result in serious consequences for the shop and for the manufacturer of the brand,” he says.
Manufacturers of aesthetically pleasing products, such as liquor and cosmetics, are particularly prone to neglecting barcode quality. He points out that the two most common barcode errors in the South African industry are as a result of truncation – where the recommended size of the barcode is diminished – and incorrect spacing used in the quiet zone, which is the empty space between the first and last bar in the barcode. This can result in scanning failure.
“Owing to the fact that the barcode is the least attractive part of the label, many manufacturers diminish the barcode down to 70% of its recommended size to occupy less space on the label. This is a dangerous mistake, as reduced barcodes are prone to failure.
“Secondly, printers and packaging designers often make the mistake of not allocating the required space for the quiet zone area of the barcode. This also results in poor or unreadable barcodes.”
Both the label printer and the product manufacturer are liable for the quality of the barcode, he notes.
“It is the responsibility of the label printer to inform the client if the barcode is not compliant. Following this recommendation, it is then the responsibility of the manufacturer to ensure that the correction is implemented.”
Sherriff notes that Labelpak can assist clients to meet their barcode requirements, because the company manufactures its own printing plates, thereby ensuring complete in-house control and responsibility.
“We have implemented systems and protocols for testing before and during production. The verification system used by Labelpak is highly critical and only accepts the highest-quality barcodes. This means that products put through the test will be successfully scanned,” he continues.
Further challenges facing the barcode printing industry include print gain – a process where the bars become too thick, and spacing between the bars becomes too small – positioning of the barcode, creasing in packaging and contrast.
“There are limitations to what can be achieved on a particular label and Labelpak aims to ensure that all clients are made aware that they must increase their barcoding contrast and reduce print gain, which varies according to ink and substrates. The com- pany tests and calibrates for each substrate, and advises the client on the best process for their particular product,” he explains.
Meanwhile, colour combinations are another important consideration to take into account, he says.
“The barcode must be distinctly identifiable against the colours of the labelling and black or blue colours are the best option. Red is the only colour that should never be used because infrared scanners will not be able to read the barcode.”
Barcode quality is as important to the printer as it is to the product manufacturer.
“Competitors scan each other’s barcode to test overall quality because the print of a barcode illustrates the quality of an entire label. It is, therefore, important that priority is given to what is too often regarded as an insignificant portion of the label,” he concludes.