Brands Meeting RFID Label Mandates are Finding Support from Inovar

Published: April 3, 2024

The prime label manufacturer has leaned into the RFID retailer mandates by helping its customers select an RFID tag, gain approval and then embed and encode the tag within their existing labels.

When retailers such as Walmart began mandating RFID tags on the products received in stores, existing label companies had a choice to be part of that effort or not. Prime label manufacturing company Inovar Packaging Group has opted not only to embed RFID technology in the labels it sells to its customers, but to assist brands to select, certify and employ the labels to meet retailer needs.

Inovar provides customers with a branded prime label with RFID built in, to be applied to products in the same way the previous label was.

In the past two years the company has been offering RFID to its customers who sell products to RFID using retailers, using the technology in-house to manage its own raw materials and finished goods inventory as labels are produced, stored and shipped.

Since doing so, the company says it sees better efficiency and accuracy of the labels it produces and ships to customers.

RFID Journal Live

Helping Brands Address RFID Mandates

Numerous retailers in the U.S. are requiring, or requesting, suppliers of select products that they sell to provide UHF RFID tags on each item so that it can be uniquely identified. RFID enables stores to better manage inventory so that they can be sure they don’t run out of stock and can even prevent or address shrinkage.

The effort to help brands meet these retailer mandates has led Inovar—a label printing and packaging solutions company— to work closely with customers of all sizes who sell a wide variety of products, said Bill Kral, the company’s chief commercial officer.

Walmart’s latest deadline, for having RFID tags on select products shipped into their distribution network, passed on Feb. 1 of this year. Many companies met that deadline, while others are still catching up.

Aiding CPGs

Inovar official says they are there to help. Building RFID into product labels is easier for some companies than others. Many large consumer product companies (CPGs) already know how to deploy and even utilize RFID in other parts of their organizations. However, many companies have fewer resources, and the implementation of RFID technology has been daunting.

“The number of manufacturers that supply products to Walmart and other large retailers is extremely large, and it’s easy to underestimate how many national and regional brands are impacted by these mandates,” said Kral.

However, whether they are a small local brand or a global company, all must meet the same mandates.

“It’s been an undertaking to say the least,” said Kral.

Six Decades Serving Brands with Prime Labels

Inovar is a 60-year-old, Dallas-based, national hybrid printing technology company that provides prime labels (the primary printed label attached to a product or its packaging) as well as sleeves and pouches for many of the leading brands sold in the United States. Its customers include manufacturers of food and beverages; home and personal care; cosmetics; industrial products; beer, wine and spirits; pet care as well as private labels.

It also embeds NFC tags that have been used by some brands as part of marketing campaigns.

Labeling products, and solutions such as these, will be on display at RFID Journal LIVE! April 9-11 in Las Vegas.

In recent years, Inovar’s customers have asked how they can meet RFID mandates without applying a separate tag that could be costly and ruin the aesthetic of their existing product packaging.

“These mandates had a huge impact on how these brands were going to comply without impacting brand image and operational efficiency. The mandates pushed us to quickly develop a new service and product offering,” says Kral. The company had a choice to adopt this technology or continue only printing prime labels.

Choosing to Lean In with RFID

Inovar determined it could bring value to customers in terms of helping them meet retailer mandates as well as make their product identifiable digitally for a wide variety of benefits.

The label company typically first goes onsite and works with brands to determine what would be the best UHF RFID tag to build into a label that meets the specific spec being mandated.

They then help the companies prepare the samples and related content to send out for certification. For instance, Walmart requires that the tags used by its suppliers have completed testing and certification by the RFID Lab at Auburn University. That process requires online paperwork to be filled out, videos and pictures provided, along with samples of the tag.

If a company is not already an Inovar customer, they must provide the label company with their existing labels to help determine specifications of the product. Selecting a tag can take several days; sending the necessary information to Auburn can take another week or so.

Building an RFID Label

“Once we get approval for all intents and purposes, as long as we have artwork, we can go to manufacturing immediately and typically have finished product within a few weeks,” Kral said.

That label will have been encoded and tested before it is sent to the manufacturer.

Brands then can begin applying the labels, in most cases, the same way they always did, without modifying their production process.

Striving to Catch up to Mandates

The companies that got their RFID system in place early have been gaining benefits, “they got their products in their inventory and they were shipping appropriately as of February 1,” Kral said.

Other manufacturers needed extensions as their products require more time to tag due to the presence of liquids or metal packaging.

The benefits for retailers as well as brands are multifold, including providing the ability to increase sales by improving accurate inventory management so that customers can buy products online and pick them up in their nearest store without worrying about an out-of-stock event.

The RFID tags are, in some cases, being used by a few retailers for automated checkout.

RFID Readers for Quality Checks

If a brand wants to conduct quality checks on their products’ tags, before shipping to the retailer, Inovar can help them select the right RFID reader.

For instance, some companies are installing an RFID reader at the end of the assembly line or at the dock door to determine when tagged goods are shipped. Those tag reads can identify if a tag is inoperable, or if there is a wide-scale problem such as tags failing due to the brand’s manufacturing process.

“We believe we have developed a service and product offering that helps these organizations achieve the mandate,” Kral said, without having the invest capital or change their manufacturing process. Lastly, he said, the labels won’t impact the way the brand appears on the shelf.

A Future with RFID-based Benefits

When it comes to deploying RFID, for a mandate or even for internal product management, “it’s not as complicated as you think it is,” Kral said.

The problem is lack of knowledge and identified resources. “If a company is larger, they typically have a packaging engineer on staff,” who is tasked with adopting RFID, said Kral.

If a company doesn’t have packaging engineers, the task of meeting this project mandate could be routed to procurement or operations, whose personnel are forced to develop solutions for several products and possibly several brands.

The good news Inovar offers them, Kral said, is that the labels won’t disrupt production processes. The increase in label costs when RFID is built into prime labels averages several cents, depending on volumes and complexity, according to Inovar.

Leveraging the Technology in House

As Inovar builds its RFID prime labels for customers, it is now also reading those tags in their warehouses.

“We’re utilizing RFID to manage our inventory and doing all of our physical inventory counting,” said Kral. “(This) has transformed our warehouses, increased our accuracy and reduced our costs as part of learning this process.”

That has made inventory management for the printer more accurate and less labor intensive. By tracking the location of printed RFID tags with handheld readers, the company is able to conduct inventory checks more often, thereby reducing risks of loss.

Key Takeaways:

  • Inovar opted to support its customers with their adoption of RFID tagging by embedding the technology into printed prime labels.
  • The company’s services include selecting the right tags, preparing details for certification and working with operations to ensure seamless production.