Solutions for the wine industry’s fiddlier labelling jobs

Professional experience: Phoenix - established in 1958

By Sonya Logan

This article first appeared in the January/February 2010 issue of The Australian and New Zealand Wine Industry Journal.

When it comes to wine labelling, there are some jobs - such as relabelling wines for export markets or adding medals to bottles to highlight a recent wine show success - that can be rather fiddly for traditional, high throughput bottling lines.
But Adelaide-based, not-for-profit organisation Phoenix Society has made these sorts of tasks somewhat of a speciality over the last eight years and in doing so provides meaningful employment for its disabled employees.
Phoenix was established in 1958 to provide work for adults with physical disabilities and in the following year snared its first contract for its then 16 employees who repaired wooden drinks crates for seventeen cents each for SA Brewing. From its humble beginnings in a small cottage in the Adelaide CBD, the organisation has grown considerably and today boasts four commercial operations in the metropolitan area and a fifth in the South Australian township of Whyalla that offer a range of services to businesses. These services include assembly and packaging, light engineering and component assembly and, from its facility at Elizabeth in Adelaide's northern suburbs, wine labelling, packaging and short-term storage.
Stressing its operations have evolved from being sheltered workshops to disability enterprises, Phoenix's general manager - industrial services Geoff Brogan explained how the company's foray into the wine industry began in 1998 with workers at its Torrensville plant in Adelaide's western suburbs manually removing labels from wines redirected from domestic to overseas markets. Due to the labour-intensive nature of the job, which involved staff scraping off labels after bottles were soaked in baths, it would take around two weeks to complete 50 pallets.
The company subsequently acquired automatic labelling machines to add to the services it could offer wineries and in 2006, Phoenix's wine services were transferred to its Elizabeth facility - a stone's throw from Holden's automotive plant in Adelaide's northern suburbs - to accommodate the amount of business it was now attracting from the wine industry.
A machine was developed to remove wine labels and soon after a second machine added, both of which are capable of removing a wine label in 10 seconds without removing the all-important outer coating on the bottle that protects it from being scratched. Most labels can be removed using these machines, the only exception being some plastic-backed labels which still have to be manually removed using the old method.
The labelling machines have also been modified so that they can perform accurate over-labelling and medal labelling. With the acquisition of additional labelling and bottling lines, Phoenix now has the flexibility and capacity to produce runs of just a few cartons of wine to as much as 50-60 pallets per day.
In addition to labelling and delabelling, the list of services that Phoenix now offers extends to boxing, capping, hooding, neck tag application and short-term storage with the latter being geared up for expansion.
'In short, Phoenix has the skills and resources to do the non-core activities that are required by wineries to help in their marketing needs,' Brogan said.
The wine industry currently represents 30% of business for Phoenix's Elizabeth facility and its 150 employees, with almost all of its contracts involving production destined for export markets. Among Phoenix's current clients is Foster's Group which has been utilising its services for around six years. Eddy Hadley, Foster's contract packaging controller based at Nuriootpa, said Phoenix had undertaken a variety of jobs for the company including relabelling of wine for export, packing of gift wine bottles, over-labelling, applying neck hangers and promotional packaging.
Phoenix's 50-odd wine industry clients also include Rymill Wines, Geoff Merrill, Pernod Ricard, Mollydooker, Nepenthe, Cockatoo Ridge, Hungerford Hill and Kingston Estate. The company is hoping to grow its wine services to represent 50% of its commercial activities, although the global financial crisis and the wine industry's over-supply troubles have impacted on its labelling contracts in recent times.
Brogan said that although Phoenix was by no means the only organisation of its type that had turned to the wine industry for employment for its staff, he maintained the services the company offered were currently the most extensive and, therefore, it had the greatest ability to meet the higher and more flexible demands of the wine industry. 'We pride ourself on being a solution provider to our customers,' he said.
'Our charter is to provide meaningful employment for people with disabilities to give them a sense of worth. Our wine services department provides that outcome for many of our people and we are grateful for the opportunities provided by our many varied customers that have used the services,' Brogan said, adding that internationally-accredited quality systems established across Phoenix's commercial operations ensured that customers could be confident that their needs were in good hands.

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