How Does That Grab You?
by Shonda Talerico Dudlicek

Processors continue to depend on distinctive graphics and labeling to attract consumer attention.
Someday, in the not-too-distant future, dairy products may leap out of the coolers, land in consumers’ hands and yell, “BUY ME!”
But for now, dairy processors will have to rely on graphics and labeling to showcase their products. Bold, eye-catching and revealing graphics and labels that can both show off a product and keep it safe from tampering are what dairy processors are asking of manufacturers.  
Vast improvements in computers, graphic programs and direct-to-engraving technology have enabled gravure printing to reach levels of quality not previously possible.
“The competition for consumers’ attention is intense and relentless, so brand owners are constantly striving to build their brands and capture the consumers’ eyes at the point-of-sale through labeling,” says Roman Eckols, chief executive officer, B&H Labeling Systems, Ceres, Calif. “The demand for vibrant colors, exciting designs and superior graphics has never been greater.”
Full-body shrink sleeves, some with tamper-evident features over the cap area, continue be very strong trends in dairy labeling, says Neal Konstantin, president, PDC International Corp., Norwalk, Conn.
“More and more products, positioned as high value-added products rather than commodities, are utilizing the 360-degree, top-to-bottom graphic potential of shrink sleeves,” Konstantin says. “New materials, such as PLA from corn, and PETG-LV, with preferable shrink characteristics, continue to make this technology very attractive.”
Because the dairy industry continues to realize the importance of shelf impact, particularly for single-serve containers and flavored milk products, there is additional growth of shrink-sleeve labels to respond to the demand for high visibility on the shelf or refrigerated dairy case, says Terry Copenhaver, marketing manager, Alcoa Packaging, Richmond, Va.
“We realize the true benefit of premium print is that it makes our customers’ packaging stand out on the crowded store shelf,” says Copenhaver, who points to Alcoa’s shrink-sleeve printing on Neilson Dairy Ultimate Chocolate Milk. “The rich chocolate colors are accurately reproduced with the gravure printing process and the PET shrink film conforms tightly to the curves of the container. The entire packaging presentation entices the shopper to purchase the container for instant chocoholic satisfaction.”
Label Evolution
New labeling systems may bring new equipment, expenses and challenges. One of the ways dairies can reduce their cost is to maximize their return on inventory, says Rick Whipple, vice president, Osio International Inc., Anaheim, Calif. Osio, which facilitates off-shore sourcing of flexible packaging materials and specializes in shrink labeling, offers a vendor-managed inventory program using local warehousing that enables dairies to keep as little as one or two weeks’ worth of labels on hand with weekly label deliveries.
“Due to his former supplier’s eight-to-nine-week lead time, a dairy customer we now supply used to carry $250,000 to $350,000 of labels on his floor at all times,” Whipple says. “His inventory turnover was about three times per year. Today, his inventory averages less than $50,000 and he turns his inventory more than 25 times per year.”  
Processors can reduce costs by designing labels to minimize pre-press cost. Whipple says Osio’s gravure cylinders are just a fraction of the cost of domestic cylinders, but the company still looks for ways to save, such as using common cylinders or ganging multiple labels on the same cylinder sets.
Running lightweight or thin labels is a serious handling issue, and not all labeling applicators can efficiently accommodate this requirement, Eckols says. “In order to be cost-effective, the processors need to strike a balance between the high-impact graphics, label materials and thickness, manufacturing efficiency and total cost of ownership.”
PDC provides machinery and shrink tunnels for the application of heat-shrinkable sleeve labels, as well as services related to package design and contract decorating in the shrink label field and recently introduced the next generation of this type of labeler, the R-Evolution Series shrink-sleeving machine. It runs both tamper-evident neckbands and shrink-sleeve labels and PDC’s product handling system accommodates virtually any product size and shape, including round, oval and square packages. PVC, PETG, and OPS labels, in gauges as thin as 40 micron, are all compatible.
“PDC has been very successful at fitting labeling systems into tight spaces onto production lines that weren’t originally designed with this equipment in mind,” Konstantin says. “Our engineers have been very creative assisting customers with line layouts that meet their needs in very tight quarters. We have also made advancements in the various types of shrink systems to best fit a customer’s needs, typically steam for optimal graphics as well as infrared radiant and hot air convection.”
Processors want barcoding and graphics to be printed directly onto cases. ID Technology, a division of Pro Mach, offers new high-resolution case coders that produce highly scannable barcodes. Often the cost per print is less expensive than some older bulk-ink systems, says Alan Shipman, vice president of sales, at the Fort Worth, Texas-based company.
Shipman says dairy processors are requesting the capabilities to print a lot code onto bottles and jugs as they exit the blow-molding department, which tracks any bad batches of bottles back to the time of manufacture and improving the process.
They also want higher-resolution print on cases and cartons. “After production, cases are stored in a cold-warehousing facility until shipment. Older inkjet equipment did not provide a dark, crisp print on the cases so forklift drivers were having problems picking the correct product if it was stored high on a shelf. By providing clear, dark print and a barcode, the problem was solved,” Shipman says.
He says processors also wanted printers on the bottling line to print an expiration date on glass, HDPE and PET bottles. ID Technology’s ciSeries printers were easily and quickly adjustable for different products when changeovers were made.
Axon, also a division of Pro Mach, provides application machinery for heat shrinkable sleeves and bands. The Raleigh, N.C.-based company developed systems to sleeve and shrink empty containers utilizing hot air/infrared shrink systems that provide steam tunnel quality results. Axon’s new EZ-Seal 400SL heat-shrinkable sleeve-labeling system applies both tamper-evident bands and full-body sleeves to round and circular containers ranging from 11¼4 inches to 43¼4 inches in diameter at speeds in the 400 packages per minute range, says George Albrecht, vice president of sales.
Multivac Inc. created a fully integrated advanced packaging and labeling system customized for a cheesemaker’s thermoform-fill-seal vacuum-packaging system. The programmable labeler allows for quick changeover to accommodate the Wisconsin cheesemaker’s full product range. Multivac’s newest equipment is the FormShrink inline shrink packaging systems, ideal for a variety of cheese applications, says Jerry Hirsh, advertising and public relations manager for the Kansas City, Mo.-based company.
“Processors are seeking efficiency, reliability, cost savings, increased production capability,” Hirsh says. “Automated packaging and labeling systems are designed to satisfy this market demand.
KHS USA Inc. offers complete packaging lines and developed modular labeling equipment that allows change-of-labeling processes via plug and pack. “R&D is supporting these processes via diagnostic service over the Internet,” says Mike Scheitinger, labeling technologies product manager at KHS, Waukesha, Wis. He says the latest trend is the “‘no-label look’ achieved with various curing activation processes.”
The high gloss of a shrink-sleeve label can make a huge impact on shelf presence, Copenhaver says. “Plus, bright, colorful inks will catch the consumers’ eye as they use just a few seconds to make their decision on product choice. Improved ink technologies with fluorescent and metallic pigments allow graphic designers a wider array of possibilities for label design.”
It’s Magic
Seal-It Inc. has introduced thermochromatic inks, a new way to print shrink labels with the “magic” of color change, according to Sharon Lobel, president and chief executive officer at the Farmingdale, N.Y.-based company. The temperature-sensitive ink changes color when it’s subjected to either hot or cold.
Seal-It is also introducing scented inks with a rub-in smell. “So, if you have chocolate or strawberry milk, you can smell it before you open it,” Lobel says. “If you have a specific scent, like cookies and cream, we can make a scent to match that. It’s exciting. We also have new inks that are thermochromatic that change color from hot to cold from cold to hot. You can have something that says, ‘I’m hot, refrigerate me, put me back.’”
Eckols says the trend is toward thinner label materials and label graphics with “see-through” panels that display more of the product. “Both of these trends create handling problems in terms of control and placement of the labels onto the final containers.”
B&H’s latest offering is the Endura Sleeve System, a fully automatic shrink-sleeve labeling system that can apply and shrink sleeve labels at up to 400 containers per minute. “As the requirements for decoration of retail products intensifies, dairy processors are looking for more assistance in making certain that they are selecting the correct label material, graphics design and placement of the label on the end product,” Eckols says.
Konstantin says processors continue to ask for highly rugged, extremely flexible and easy-to-maintain systems that provide maximum uptime. “Lighter-duty or overly complex systems just aren’t reliable enough to meet the 24/7 needs of most mid to large dairy processors,” he says.
Shrink labeling continues to be the fastest growing type of labeling, growing at an annual rate of more than 20 percent, Whipple says, adding that in 2007, there will be more than $100 million in new shrink-label projects in the United States.
Shonda Talerico Dudlicek is a freelance journalist and a former managing editor of Dairy Field.