Many food and beverage companies carry a variety of pre-printed packages for their packaging lines – including flexible film, paperboard cartons and cases. Different types of packaging can be used on the same line for various product flavors, different customers and different languages. As a result, the variety in packaging can lead to additional costs for companies. However, companies can reduce these costs with innovative technologies.

Pre-printed packaging challenges

With multiple types of pre-printed packages, managing inventory levels can be challenging. Most companies have to carry excess stock for each packaging type. More packaging on hand can lead to more money tied up in inventory, more storage space required and additional time and labor dedicated to inventory management. Additionally, any changes to the packaging may require disposal of the old packaging and significant time and money invested to create the new packaging.
The activities required to change over the packaging machine range from cleaning the machine to making adjustments based on the size of the new product. Changing the packaging requires identifying the packaging needed, bringing it to the machine and replacing it, and returning the old packaging to its original storage location. In addition, time must be spent to modify the printer message as part of the packaging changeover. Over the course of a year, the time to complete packaging changeovers can quickly add up (this can significantly impact smaller food and beverage companies and co-packers that conduct changeovers on packaging lines multiple times per day).

Uncovering a better solution to address printing & packaging needs

Given the challenges associated with pre-printed packaging, companies can benefit from using generic standard packaging and differentiating each product using the information printed with a digital printer. Companies can count on certain digital printing technologies to deliver high resolution printing of variable information such as ingredients, logos, marketing information, bar codes, pricing and expiration dates in different languages directly onto the packaging. 
Generic, standard packaging also helps reduce changeover times by simplifying the process. While many steps of the changeover may still be required, changing the packaging doesn’t require the same amount of time and effort. A simple code change on the printer can change the information that is printed. In addition, digital printers have the capability to store codes and other information for each product on a line.
Food and beverage companies can eliminate stock for multiple packages by using generic packaging on some or all of the products. In addition, by buying fewer types of packaging in larger quantities, a company can potentially receive volume discounts from its packaging suppliers.

Key considerations to keep in mind

Certain digital printers have the ability to print logos and other marketing information, however, these printers can only print in one color at a time. Therefore, it is important to carefully consider which content should be pre-printed on a package and which content should be printed on the packaging line. For example, it may make sense to pre-print standard marketing content on the packaging (such as the logo) and print product specific information (such as ingredients and nutritional information) on the packing line with a variable printing solution. Another important consideration is the actual print area. If the print area is not large enough for all of the content, it may be worthwhile to focus on a part of the package where the content varies the most from product to product and to pre-print the remaining information.

Snack food company reaps ROI with laser marking system 

A snack food company used to purchase pre-printed outer cases for its products, which meant a large number of different boxes were needed to cater to the company’s products and promotional offers. If boxes for a promotion were not entirely used, the unused boxes were discarded since they were no longer of any use. To eliminate waste, the company started buying standard generic boxes and applied a laser receptive material that reacts immediately to contact from a laser as it ‘writes’ the required data on the boxes. Adopting the laser marking system for case coding has enabled the company to put a variety of information on its boxes, including bar codes, graphics and special offers. The snack food company not only substantially reduced the amount of waste produced, decreased its number of SKUs and saved on warehouse space, but it has also recouped its printing investment in a short period of time.

Finding the right printing solution

There are a variety of options available for high resolution printing on different substrates and applications.
  • Thermal Transfer Overprinting (TTO) can be used for high resolution printing with no solvents and virtually no mess on flexible films.
  • Laser Marking Systems produce clear and permanent codes with virtually no consumables and limited maintenance on a number of substrates including rigid and flexible plastic and paperboard cartons. 
  • Thermal Ink Jet (TIJ) is a high quality ink-based printing solution that works best with either porous carton materials or in a print window that masks the aqueous overcoat. It prints at a high resolution and is ideal for printing multiple lines of text, bar codes and other complex data.
  • High resolution Large Character Marking (LCM) Systems print information directly to a case and can be very cost-effective and dependable printing solutions.

Choosing the right printing solution delivers peace of mind

Using a printer to print on generic packaging presents unique benefits and tradeoffs that should be carefully considered. Food and beverage companies can save money, improve inventory management, reduce changeover time and simplify packaging changes. Also, products can get to market faster and there is less reliance on third-party packaging designers and printers. In addition, companies can help eliminate variability across products within a brand and add cohesiveness to package designs. 
When printing more variable information directly on the packaging, it is crucial to use a solution that provides Code Assurance to simplify data entry and help prevent operator errors, both at code entry and job selection. The most useful Code Assurance solutions restrict operator input, automate messages, use authoritative data sources and simplify message selection so the operator selects the right message for the right job. 
It is important to understand the options available when evaluating printing and packaging solutions. Speak to a knowledgeable expert who has experience implementing various technologies and who has executed these applications numerous times. Investing the time up front can help minimize issues throughout the process.