Stop the Presses
by Shonda Talerico Dudlicek
Printers and labelers keep up with dairy’s packaging demands.
When it comes to dairy product packaging, colors bloom brighter, metallics pop and photographs of food look so realistic you could pluck them off the label and eat ‘em.
Take that, soft drinks.
Dairy processors continue to realize that packaging sells as much as what’s inside, and they’re dressing up products with all the trimmings.
“Processors are increasingly recognizing that labeling is a type of decoration that enables them to differentiate their products,” says Roman Eckols, president of B&H Labeling Systems, Ceres, Calif. “They are asking for more flexible labeling equipment that can accommodate a wide range of label materials and a wide range of container sizes while better handling shorter production runs with faster changeovers.”
B&H introduced the Marathon U Series of labelers, which feature a 180-degree U-shaped conveyor and a servo-driven infeed feedscrew. The Marathon Series of labelers were designed to handle the wide range of label material substrates and can handle containers ranging in size from 8 ounces to 3 liters. Label changes can be accomplished on a Marathon labeler in less than two minutes, and a container size change can be achieved in less than 15 minutes, from full production speed to the next, Eckols says.
“Everyone is looking to stand out at retail and be noticed by consumers more than their competitors,” says Mark Strobel, vice president of sales and marketing at Primera Technology, Plymouth, Minn.
Primera manufactures the LX810 Color Label Printer to print full-color, photo-quality labels that are highly water- and scratch-resistant. Strobel says photography use is gaining popularity as digital printers are used.
“Previously, most labels — especially those produced in short runs — used flexo printing, which was typically limited to just a few spot colors and quite expensive,” Strobel says. “With the LX810, users can print labels with real photos that are bright in color and can even include bar codes. Full-color printing seems to make a huge difference in off-the-shelf sales.”
Osio International’s 10-color gravure presses allows four-process colors for photographs and illustrations, and still have color stations left for background colors, logos, custom blends and colored text, says vice president Rick Whipple. Anaheim, Calif.-based Osio imports shrink-sleeve labels from Asia and works with domestic and international suppliers of shrink application equipment as a broker/distributor.
“Gravure metallic inks are very high in metal content, and we have literally hundreds of very reflective metallic hues to choose from,” Whipple says. “Shamrock Foods in Phoenix is making excellent use of the wide range of metallic inks we offer.”
Shrink Expands
Shrink labels continue to be the labeling growth leader, with annual increases of more than 20 percent per year projected through 2010, Whipple predicts. “Our $400 million industry will be over $1 billion by 2010. Off-shore sourcing is growing at an even higher rate,” he says.
“Computer-to-engraving technology has enabled gravure cylinder engravers to eliminate film, and allow them to control the shape, width, depth, and angle of the engraved dots. The result is a lower cost, but higher-quality cylinder. That results in perfect execution of our customers’ images.”
Sharon Lobel, president and chief executive officer of Seal-It Inc., Farmingdale, N.Y., says she sees more coordination in branding milk to their colors, such as red labels for whole milk and blue labels for 2% milk. “That way the consumer will know by looking at the label what they’re buying,” she says, adding that metallics and splashes are big. “Dairy processors like to see lots of fruits and vivid colors — very mouthwatering and elaborate artwork. The usage of fruit has increased, as much as they’re using the background to fill with strawberries on strawberries. The art is more vivid and realistic looking, not as cartoony, although there are still some cartoons out there being used. A splash looks like a splash of milk.”
Seal-It is a manufacturer, converter and printer of heat-shrink PVC, PETG and OPS films are used for shrink labels and tamper-evident bands. Shrink labels have become popular, Lobel says, and when dairy processors turned to single-serve bottles, shrink labels became the label of choice.
Chuck Ravetto, product manager of Videojet Technologies Inc., Wood Dale, Ill., also notes an increase in sleeve-wrap containers in the dairy industry. “Videojet has been very successful in providing coding products to meet new packaging,” Ravetto says. “For example, Videojet’s 16-4530 ink performs excellently when printing on dairy sleeve wrappers.”
Videojet manufactures variable data marking and coding equipment, including continuous inkjet, laser, thermal transfer overprinting and print-and-apply labeling. For the dairy industry, Videojet also developed traversing systems that use a single printhead to print across a row of products, like yogurt cups or cottage cheese containers.
“We have added remote control capability to our printers to allow dairy customers to network with them,” Ravetto says. “Further, we have provided a product called SureShot™ with our printers to maximize the customer’s uptime. SureShot allows two printers to alternate printing on a production line. If one printer stops for any reason, the other printer will take over, preventing downtime.”
Ravetto says processors want to print more on little products, so the area for placing the code is small, requiring a switch from single- to multiple-line messages.
“Messages now include production line, filler and batch information in addition to production date codes and expiration date codes,” Ravetto says. “In general, there is also a requirement for more traceability so they can track their product back to the farm.”
Hot Off the Presses
One of the biggest trends in labeling technology is production monitoring, Eckols says. “Processors are increasingly interested in collecting and analyzing the data that can be captured with all-electronic machinery,” he says.
Marathon labelers feature B&H’s ProWatchTM, a productivity monitoring software system that tracks labeler productivity and scrap by container type, operator, shift, day and week. Screen and hard-copy summary reports provide data for process and operational improvements, while optional Ethernet connectivity allows access to labeling machine data from plant-wide host computers.
“Monitoring and reporting critical data in real time enables packagers to maximize the productivity and the efficiency of the labeling operation,” Eckols says. “Processors have also asked us to simplify the labeling operation, which has historically been the cause of many headaches on the plant floor since labelers have traditionally been complex machines that are difficult to operate. With Marathon, we’ve reduced operator decision-making through the use of an advanced user interface and a high degree of automation.”
Short-run, on-demand color label printing is hot right now, Primera’s Strobel says. “Instead of ordering from an outside supplier,” he says, “the LX810 Color label Printer allows users to produce labels in-house when they need them and in the quantities companies can really use.”
Making a Splash
Graphics quality has improved dramatically, Eckols says. “Cutting-edge processors are even tying their product promotions into important sporting events,” he says. “For example, we’ve seen processors apply a clear label material over a specially designed coupon or sticker that coincides with the Olympics or World Cup Soccer.”
Seal-It can print to 10 colors in rotogravure or modified flexographic and also offers digital flexo. Lobel notes, “The questions dairies most often ask are, ‘How many colors can I do? Can I have more?’”
Bottles with a curved silhouette are taking over, Lobel says. “It’s a tremendously growing market by far, moving away from the carton,” she says. “Nobody wants the straight cylinders anymore.”  
Shonda Talerico Dudlicek is a freelance journalist and a former managing editor of Dairy Field.