Packaging and Labelling
Special Feature 23 October 2014
Viva Healthcare Packaging

The Viva Healthcare Packaging management team with the company’s Gallus press. From left, Willy Thian, manufacturing director; May Chan, CEO; Darryl Laing, director, business development; Patrick Tsang, deputy CEO; Bruno Lebeault, marketing d irector; Arthur Yam, senior manager, operations and IT  

By John Zarwan
  • LOCATION Toronto; headquarters in Hong Kong; other facilities in Poland and China
  • SIZE Two Toronto locations, 300,000 sq. ft. each
  • EMPLOYEES 600 employees in Toronto
  • SALES $350 million worldwide
  • SERVICES Injection-molded plastic squeeze tubes with in-mold labels
  • CUSTOMERS Healthcare and pharmaceutical manufacturers, cosmetics companies
CHALLENGE Find a new niche
While many segments of the printing industry have been hard hit, imagine specializing in plastic packaging for cassette tapes. In 1973 Viva, a global plastic manufacturer established in Hong Kong, started to take advantage of what was then a rapidly growing market. As CDs, and later DVDs and other optical media, began to replace cassettes, Viva was able to transition and expand its lines to become a worldwide leader in manufacturing packaging for media products, with plants in Toronto, Poland, Hong Kong, and mainland China.

That market will likely start to slow down, as physical media continue to be replaced by digital distribution. (Cassette player sales peaked in 1994; CD players in 2000; DVD is still widely used especially in the game industry.)Despite Viva’s leading market position, the owners realized the media packaging industry was not sustainable; they needed to move beyond Viva’s core products—and fast.

STRATEGY Leverage existing strengths and know-how
Viva realized that its core competency was the injection molding capabilities it had developed over the years. After much research, the company decided to focus on injection-molded tubes for the health and beauty, personal care, and pharmaceutical industries, especially cosmetics. Once it identified its target industry, the hard work started. After three years of research and development, the team felt it was capable of manufacturing injection-molded tubes and were ready to go to market. Even though the manufacturing process for injection molding was similar to that of media packaging, the marketplace for cosmetics and health and beauty aids was completely different. Not only were customers different, but so were their purchasing requirements and processes.

Moreover, Viva (now Viva Healthcare) was completely unknown in this sphere. “We did our job,” says Bruno Lebeault, Viva’s marketing director for North America. “We analyzed the market, identified the major tube users, and we started to meet with them. We showed our technology and capabilities.”

Viva was able to manufacture both the tubes and the caps, which was advantageous.And while the majority of tubes sported graphics done through direct print, Lebeault says Viva saw a need for “better” graphics, especially when it came to high-impact products such as cosmetics. With its expertise in injection molding and cast polypropylene extrusion, Viva already had the in-mold label substrate capability.

“We saw there was interest; it got people to listen to us,” Lebeault says. In addition to better graphics, injection-molded tubes with in-mold labels shortened lead times and allowed for more sustainability (100% polypropylene). Initially, Viva outsourced the printing of labels. Soon, however, it realized that it would be more efficient to integrate printing in-house. Vertical integration fit well with the culture of the company, and with in-mold labels the polypropylene material used for the tubes would also be used as the label substrate. So Viva purchased a narrow web flexo press for labels and the appropriate prepress equipment and workflow software.

Printing is, of course, a different manufacturing process, so that required a learning curve. Many of the staff, including department manager Arthur Yam, were new to printing. But, Yam notes, “We brought in an experienced packaging printing team…The management methodology is the same: operations, troubleshooting, and workflow. It’s the same principles we used for the media packaging business.”

Artwork is typically supplied by the customer, either the brand owner or prepress companies that specialize in packaging and labels. The in-house team focuses on ensuring files are correct and that print quality will match customer expectations. This process is aided by Esko workflow software.

RESULTS Breaking the mold, breaking new ground
In less than three years, Viva has already seen a lot of success. “Our market is growing. We’re growing,” Lebeault notes. Viva started with smaller, local brands. “They can make quick decisions. We were new to the market, and there were so many things we had to learn. We learned together.” With this initial success, Viva was soon able to serve the needs of medium-sized companies. It was a bit more difficult making inroads into larger companies, where
the buying process is much more complicated.

However, Lebeault says the three main benefits Viva brings to the table are improved graphics, reduced lead times and sustainability. Though it has only been two years, “the bigger firms and global brands are interested and starting to place orders. Print manager Yam notes that having both the injection molding and the printing under the same roof allows for very quick turnaround. Plus, in-mold labels for HBA tubes is still relatively rare: “Not a lot of people have our expertise with injection molding for tubes and printing.”

John Zarwan is an internationally known consultant concentrating on business development, profit improvement, and marketing strategy.

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