Suppliers respond to our Q&A about the latest advancements in graphics and labeling.

DFR: What are dairy processors demanding from their graphics and labeling?

Michael Corrigan, vice president of sales and marketing, Airlite Plastics Co.: Most dairy processors are requiring eight-color print, particularly on yogurt packages. Process printing is the norm on most retail sizes. Artwork is becoming more complex, requiring tighter tolerances and color control within our printing processes.

Barbara Drillings, marketing communications manager, Seal-It Division of Printpack Inc.: It’s always going to be about shelf appeal. How do we best grab the customer’s attention? At Seal-It, our shrink-sleeve labels or tamper-evident bands will demand this type of attention because of our ability to print exceptional graphics using either the rotogravure or flexographic printing process. This enables the processor to use up to 10 spectacular colors and, because it is printed on film, the glossiness will further enhance the graphics. In addition, we offer a variety of special effects obtained through ink technology.

Ron Giordano, chairman/CEO, H.S. Crocker Co. Inc.: The demand for high-profile process printing with images that enhance the point of purchase sale has become an even greater demand then it had been in the past.

Rich Keenan, sales manager, PDC International Corp.: For some time, dairy companies have been looking for eye-catching labels for their given market. Examples: McDonald’s kids’ chocolate milk still continue to grow sales; at the same time, 10- and 12-ounce orange juice, flavored milks and drinks also continue to grow.     

Brian Metzger, director of business development, SleeveCo Inc.: National dairy brands such as Nestlé, Hershey, Dean Foods and Yoplait have utilized upscale packaging, featuring rotogravure printed shrink-sleeve labels, for years. The regional dairies are now investing money to follow suit. Bottles decorated with rotogravure-printed shrink-sleeve labels have become the great equalizer on the dairy shelf.

Chuck Ravetto, director of small character marking, Videojet Technologies Inc.: Consumers want safe products with information on the freshness date of a product, which means dairy processors must take that into consideration when choosing a variable data marking/coding solution. Today, consumers are more concerned about both product safety and freshness (i.e. “best before” or expiration dates). As a result, variable data codes are becoming more readable to the customer, instead of just the manufacturer, along with containing more information for product traceability.

Marcia Wenski, graphics manager, Huhtamaki: Dairy processors want their packaging to have the “wow factor” to make their package stand out on the shelf against the competition. They also want the graphics to look fresh and modern as opposed to homey and comfortable. Overall package designs today are “busier” because the dairy processor needs to have the active graphics along with the increased amount of copy to satisfy the federal labeling laws.

DFR: What special needs have arisen as marketers explore new ways of positioning products in the marketplace?

Corrigan:  The fight to be noticed on the store shelf drives much of the requirement for enhanced graphics. The superior package decoration options connote higher-quality product contents driving purchase decisions. In addition to graphics, more and more non-round package shapes and unique shapes are being used to draw attention to the product.

Drillings: The emphasis on sustainability is very prominent right now. Consumers are looking for products that have a more sustainable impact on the environment. Using Earthfirst® PLA film, made from corn, is one way that Seal-It is addressing this market need.  In addition, Printpack offers a wide range of sustainable packaging through its Natura family of products.

Giordano: Several years ago, process graphics were common and then costs became an issue. However, the ability to process lidding on faster, more efficient equipment allows for process to return without a significant penalty for graphics, along with digital plates and STC screen values.

Keenan: There is a constant shifting of flavors, texture, aroma, container shape/size and graphics to find that one combination. It is not uncommon to see one brand-name product go through a number of changes.       

Metzger: Marketing to children, preteens and teenagers through new flavors, colorful labels with contemporary characters, healthier formulations and convenience has driven many changes in product positioning. Special or limited-edition flavors during holiday seasons, tie-ins with movies and other entertainment events, couponing and other promotions have necessitated shorter lead times and required printers to reduce turnaround times to meet tighter schedules on a more frequent basis.

Ravetto: One growing trend is the use of variable data marking/coding technologies to print logos on milk and other dairy containers, in order to differentiate a brand in retail outlets. Continuous ink jet technology, for example, has developed to the point where crisp, clear logos and graphics can be printed at today’s line speeds, meaning the ability to incorporate that data can be done while also printing bar codes, lot codes and expiration dates. Another good example is the use of marking/coding equipment to print variable data for promotions like games, which can help increase buyer loyalty.

Wenski: Because of the changes in product positioning within the marketplace, we are experiencing more requests for varying shapes and sizes of packaging. Generally, dairy processors are downsizing their packaging, but they are trying to do so with shapes and sizes that may somewhat conceal the fact that the package is smaller. Also, to lower cost and to be ecologically responsible, packaging is being engineered to be more fundamental and less elaborate.

DFR: What new technologies have developed to meet these needs?

Corrigan: Our development efforts support several of our processes. We are focusing significant product development efforts in support of our IML products. These provide our customer with improved graphics, ability to texture, full package coverage, ability to decorate non-round packages and lids, and full recyclability. Additionally, we are improving our printing options by offering digital plates and improved color separations.  And we offer improvements in shrink sleeves and pressure-sensitive label applications.

Drillings: We offer multiple alternatives to PVC film including PETG, OPS and PLA so the customer can choose the one that best meets its needs.

Giordano: The elimination of the over cap for reduced costs as well as greater exposure to high-line graphics.

Keenan: Not as much new technologies, but the wiliness to change products, container shapes and graphics to your expected customer base.  

Metzger: Graphic professionals have long favored the rotogravure printing process for its unparalleled representation of artwork. Historically, most of the rotogravure presses were “wide web,” necessitating extremely long print runs. Progressive packaging converters are now investing in narrow-web rotogravure presses, which are able to accommodate shorter print runs economically and provide the same unparalleled graphics with shorter minimum run quantities. Special promotions, limited-addition flavors and regional brands can now enjoy the benefits of rotogravure printing.

Ravetto: Variable data marking/coding solutions are being expected to facilitate more lines of print at higher production speeds. For example, the Videojet Excel DN small-character continuous ink jet printer is ideal for customers who want to print multi-line variable codes and messages at high speeds, up to 916 feet per minute, and print up to a total of eight lines of information. It also easily handles complex codes, such as those that combine text, logos and even bar codes into a single message.

Another good example is large-character continuous ink jet printing, which is used to mark corrugated containers in which product is shipped. For example, the Videojet 2330/2310 large-character ink jet printers feature a patented automatic self-cleaning and self-maintenance system that continuously keeps print heads free of dust and debris throughout production, thus eliminating the need for manual cleaning. That means workers assigned to that task can be reassigned elsewhere in a dairy processing facility.

Wenski: I can’t speak to specific technologies. I can only say that it is imperative that companies, through both internal and external resources, stay current with ecological trends as well as government-imposed regulations. More and more consumers are both aware and concerned about our changing environment and, therefore, feel obligated to patronize those products/packaging that are sustainable. So, in addition to providing a well-engineered package and dynamic graphics, packaging companies need to utilize materials that are environmentally friendly.

DFR: How are new guidelines for product security and ingredient disclosure impacting the business?

Corrigan: Our customers continue to make us a better product development and manufacturing company by demanding the products noted above and continuously stringent quality standards. We are concentrating efforts around tighter lot control and greater use of vision systems to assure the product quality required.

Drillings: Seal-It is seeing an increase in the need for either our tamper-evident bands or for full-sleeve combination labels that include a tamper-evident feature. This all-in-one shrink label includes a horizontal perforation at the cap so that the tamper-evident band can be removed while the label stays on the product. We also offer enhancements to our shrink bands like holographic tear strips which are visible security devices that cannot be copied or simulated. Thermochromatic inks that indicate temperature change could be used with dairy products to indicate spoilage.

Giordano: The security issue also lends itself to more non-foil lidding for use with metal detectors. There are non-foil lids in the marketplace that are just adequate but not the most desirable. We have worked on perfecting non-foil lidding for more than 16 years and believe we have the answer.

Metzger: Many companies are reviewing labels to ensure that they meet these new requirements, and have been redesigning labels to incorporate security features into existing designs. Some producers must create several versions of a label to disclose country of origin or plant locations. Extending shrink-sleeve labels above a twist-off cap are one simple means to achieve product security through tamper evidence. Selecting full-service printers, who know how to implement the guidelines and can advise processors throughout the process, becomes crucial in overall labeling cost.

Ravetto: The ability to track product both upstream and downstream in the supply chain has become critically important during this decade, primarily due to the federal Bioterrorism Act. Thus, the demand to add further information to a variable data code for increased traceability has grown.

Wenski: Even though nutritional labeling, allergen statements, legal product descriptors and 2D matrix take up valuable “real estate” on all types of packaging, the consumer has grown to accept these as a graphic necessity and actually appreciate their value. As far as graphics are concerned, the new ingredient/allergen disclaimers have lengthened the graphics approval process since there is more “fine copy” to obtain and proof. In regards to the 2D matrix, the placement of this item is critical to its scanability; therefore, it is necessary to work closely with the process engineers at the very beginning of the design project, thus adding time and complexity to the project.

DFR: What’s the “next big thing” coming for graphics and labeling?

Corrigan: We will continue our efforts to support multiple decoration offerings to the marketplace as the economics of various products require different price points. A significant focus of these efforts will continue to be in IML packages as we look not only to improved graphics, but also longer shelf life and O2 barriers with labels. Additionally, we will continue to develop package alternatives that support retailers move to better shelf utilization sustainability initiatives.

Drillings: We are seeing much more emphasis on graphics that highlight realistic products. Whether it is real fruit or a splash of milk, it needs to be mouthwatering in order to entice the consumer. It all returns to shelf appeal. The customer must be attracted to the product in order to purchase it.

Giordano: For us it will be the non-embossed or patterned lid lending even greater reflective image and high gloss to the lid, and more eye-catching to the consumer.

Keenan: Regarding material, PLA - a compostable corn biopolymer - has been introduced to the shrink-sleeve arena. At some point, we would expect the “green movement” to hit preschool up to universities, which could drive this grade of film as the film of choice. With graphics, there are a number of products (inks and print methods) available that are not currently used in the dairy market. Examples: luminescent (day and night glow inks), rub ’n’ smell, color-shifting inks, tactile finishes (soft to rough) embossed shrink films and glitter pigment. We expect at some point these will be one of the new technologies tried.

Metzger: The food, beverage, nutraceutical and health/beauty industries are all moving toward specialized products. In turn, they are turning to their packaging suppliers to help their products appear specialized on the shelves. We are seeing a trend towards metalized, thermochromatic and even glow-in-the-dark inks on shrink-sleeve labels.

Ravetto: We are seeing more 2D (i.e., data matrix) bar codes being printed on milk containers to aid in traceability and, ultimately, consumer safety. Dairy processors desire the ability to print more “real time” information without impacting production efficiencies. Added information within a variable data code allows processors to track a product’s ingredients all the way back to the farm.

Wenski: “Computer to press” -  no printing plates. This is already done in the commercial printing world, but I believe that it will soon be a possibility in the packaging world.