The primary function of labeling remains the same – to catch the consumer’s eye and tell them all they need to know about a product. But labels also have a role to play as issues like food safety and sustainability gain importance.

We reached out to several suppliers of labeling systems to ask them about the key issues facing them and their customers. Here are their responses (edited for space):

Q: What are dairy processors expecting out of their labels and labeling systems?

Stacy Santos, marketing manager, Dion Label Printing Inc., Westfield, Mass.: Dairy processors are labeling their products with colorful labels instead of one or two colors on white. These four-color labels are helping processors stand out from competing companies on their product shelves. We have also seen a growing trend in the number of SKUs or flavors being offered on the shelves. Yogurt is a prime example of the growing flavors and SKUs that processors are offering. Even cheeses have grown to include multiple flavors. We have also noticed the debut of shrink sleeves in the dairy market, especially with drinkable yogurt.

Kendal Malstrom, vice president of sales, Integrated Packaging Machinery, Grand Rapids, Mich.: We’ve noticed in the past couple of years in the dairy industry an initiative regarding “right product, right package,” or label verification. More and more processors are being required to confirm that the label or package matches the product inside.

We’ve had to develop different models for the blow-molding room and washdown for the filling room. Also, most operations have space constraints. Another [issue] is server-based systems. Our system can be integrated into the processors current Wonderware system, so the operator can pick the label or package from his filler control station.

Jim Mallon, VP sales and marketing, MRI Flexible Packaging, Newtown, Pa.: Dairy customers’ expectations for labels include increased graphic/print requirements, shorter lead times, inventory management systems, on-site technical support for plants, cost containment/reduction efforts and sustainability.

Neal Konstantin, president, PDC International Corp., Norwalk, Conn.: Labels need to not only deliver mandated consumer information, they need to build the brand and leverage the shelf space. This is one of the main reasons shrink-sleeve labeling has grown in popularity the way it has. Every inch of a container is a billboard of color and graphics that sells product. End users are looking for compact, simple, robust systems that operate at high efficiencies.

Paul Pritchett, sales and marketing manager, Printpack Inc., Atlanta: In order to differentiate their package from competitors, dairy processors are seeking label graphics that will stand out on the shelf or refrigerated case.  In addition, they want graphic elements that will be unique for their brand. Printpack offers metallic inks which provide a striking shimmer quality to its graphics. Our newest film, Neo Affinia PETG, has a unique light barrier, a matte finish and a velvet touch. We expect dairy processors will be interested in this film for its many features.

Jyl Gryder, marketing director, SleeveCo Inc., Dawsonville, Ga.: Like most businesses in today’s economy, the ultimate goal is to help the bottom line. Companies are looking for the most economical way to get the maximum shelf appeal while modifying production lines to be more efficient. Processors want to increase line speeds, have dependable equipment and get more bang for their buck with their labeling. Fortunately, we are able help them achieve these objectives: Both stretch and shrink labels give 360 degrees of marketing space as well as vital shelf appeal while meeting the demands of plant managers with the introduction of the SL-5400, a high-speed label applicator.

Tom Linz, president, Tripack, Milford, Ohio: Dairy processors want their products and their labels to be differentiated in a crowded marketplace, so their products will stand out on shelf. We at Tripack create affordable systems to allow all levels within the dairy industry to take advantage of this new decorating medium. We make it easy to bring this innovative technology onto the manufacturing floor and deliver the quality look that the marketing department often requires with a highly efficient process that’s “manufacturing friendly.” As a result of our years of experience working with film and equipment, we know that any new technology is often not easy to integrate.

Q: What new technologies has your company developed to meet these needs?

Santos: Digital printing has allowed our company to offer a solution to dairy processors that want to have colorful labels on their products for varying SKUs without the high initial costs of plates or each color located in each SKU. Digital printing does not require plates. Our newest HP WS 6000 has expanded our capabilities to print whiteboard boxes up to 18pt stock as well provide more film options. Dion is able to offer digital and flexographic printing for short- and long-run orders. We are able to print labels, tags, tickets, boxes and shrink sleeves.

Malstrom: Filling rooms now have NEMA4X washdown control panels and NEMA4X stainless-steel cameras, and round container or tapered container (lid to tub/cup) vision systems specifically for the dairy industry.

Mallon: MRI has invested to meet these needs via pre-press upgrades on software and direct-to-plate technology; added press capacity and state-of-the-art seaming; new bar code-driven stocking programs for managing multiple SKUs; director of technical support on staff with 20-plus years of industry experience; and continuous improvement regarding film sourcing and gauge reduction.

Konstantin: PDC continuously invests in R&D and has developed machinery and shrink tunnels that are user friendly, heavy duty and easy to work with. Tool-less, quick changeover and touchscreen recipes are part of customer expectations and have become standard.

Pritchett: Dairy processors are always seeking to reduce costs and we have been successful converting a number of our customers to lower-gauge film. The result is source reduction through less material weight, which then lowers product and transportation costs. In addition, Neo Affinia PETG film, with its light-barrier properties, enables bottlers to replace multilayer and barrier bottles, which will produce savings.

Gryder: We have developed a stretch-label applicator, the SL-5400, designed for faster line speeds – 90 bottles per minute, or 150 with dual heads – to apply stretch labels. The use of line speeds commonly used in the dairy market was a key factor during the creation of this latest equipment model.

Linz: Our film-delivery technology provides positive placement of shrink sleeves to all shapes of products. We can register the label on the most difficult of applications, not just simple rounds, but also unique shapes such as dairy scrounds, squares and rectangles. This film-delivery technology also enables the customer to use the thinnest film, which provides them the lowest cost in packaging while still maintaining a superior product presentation. If desired, shrink sleeves can also provide an all-in-one form of packaging that combines both a primary label and tamper-evident solution ensuring customer safety while keeping a great-looking package.

Q: How is sustainability continuing to play a role in the development of new labeling systems?

Santos: Our suppliers are introducing sustainable material and ink options all the time. For this reason, we now carry an array of sustainable paper and film materials as well as water-based inks, soy inks and eco-friendly varnishes. The use of shrink sleeves is also allowing product containers and packaging to be easily recycled at the same time.

Konstantin: Sustainability is apparent as far as eco-friendly label materials, such as PLA and those films that are easily recycled, and also in the economizing of utilities, such as PDC’s ultra-efficient steam shrink tunnels.

Pritchett: Sustainable options are becoming more popular. Printpack offers eco-friendly bio-films such as Earthfirst PLA and R*PLA (recycled PLA), both made from plants, a renewable resource. The future will bring about newer bio-based films to challenge PLA, and this will make for a dynamic market.

Linz: Sustainability is a way of life when designing best-in-class manufacturing systems – everything from reduced energy consumption to designing systems that take advantage of thinner films, as well as new greener films available in the market.

Q: How are food-safety concerns impacting development?

Santos: Product ingredients are always changing, so new packaging is constantly being printed to keep up with dairy guidelines and standards. Organic is still a hot topic in the dairy market. 

Malstrom: I think that food safety is the primary push for “right product/right package” initiatives for us. Now we offer a solution that will confirm and prove to consumers that the processor did in fact put the correct product in the correct package.

Mallon: Even though our labels are not in direct contact with food, our emphasis on safety (e.g., AIB annual certification) has a positive effect on development as well as ongoing operations.

Konstantin: Food safety is addressed through the use of tamper-evident shrink labels that are perforated and extend up over the closure, as well as in the use of culinary grade steam in PDC steam tunnels, to insure the shrink environment is as clean as possible.

Linz: Tamper-evident packaging has continued to gain importance in the dairy industry. Shrink films can provide a visible format of tamper evidence that the consumer can see on the shelf and trust. Furthermore, printed shrink bands can create a branding opportunity that non-visible formats of tamper evidence do not provide. One area of notable growth within the dairy industry for this type of consumer safety packaging is ice cream. We have developed a low-cost solution enabling dairies to offer this form of consumer safety through a highly efficient technology that can be integrated in their existing line.

Q: What’s the “next big thing” coming in the realm of labeling?

Santos: We are seeing a growing trend in shrink sleeves and sustainability options. I believe these two packaging segments will strengthen over the next couple years.

Malstrom: Label verification and vision or scanning inspection.

Mallon: From MRI’s perspective our new C-FiT Sleeve product is the next big thing. This innovative film is being introduced as an alternative to traditional shrink sleeves for single-serves. C-FiT Sleeve has several advantages over shrink with respect to cost savings, application simplicity and sustainability (lower carbon footprint, better design for recycling, less energy required to apply).

Konstantin: Thinner gauge materials that are eco-friendly and equipment that is increasingly flexible and energy efficient.

Pritchett: Printpack offers both flexo and rotogravure printing. Recently we introduced Colorpack, a new printing technology that Printpack developed, designed to provide enhanced, more vibrant graphics and dramatic shelf appeal. It effectively manages and controls color and is designed to reduce variability in the printing process. The extended gamut of Colorpack establishes a new benchmark in high-end graphics, resulting in extraordinary color printing, which will enhance sales.

Gryder: We are seeing more and more private label brands utilizing shrink labels and high-end graphics.

Linz: We continue to look at developing solutions that are simple but answer the customer’s needs. We pride ourselves in developing single-line systems that can handle the largest range of SKUs in the marketplace today.

Dion Label Printing Inc.
Integrated Packaging Machinery
MRI Flexible Packaging
PDC International Corp.
Printpack Inc.
SleeveCo Inc.