Attentive consumers

By Tom Kerchiss, RK Print Coat Instruments

Labels and packaging for food and beverage items and indeed for many other products contain an enormous amount of informational content. This information may be needed to comply with legislation or to meet consumer or food and drug association guidelines. Essentially it is there to ensure that the consumer is guided towards making an informed decision on matters linked to health and well being. This information, usually printed on the reverse of the pack includes details about potential allergens, salt, sugar, fat content, calorific, mineral and vitamin content and whether the product is organic, gluten free or suitable for the lactose intolerant. On-pack or label information varies greatly of course according to the product being sold; an item being distributed in more than one country may have the descriptive information printed in multiple languages.

Given the fact that many shoppers are pressed for time it is difficult to quantify with any certainty the percentage of consumers that scrutinise pack or label informational content in detail. What can be said with some certainty is that people of all ages are more health conscious than in the past, if they are concerned about chemicals in a face cream, interested in sports nutrition or have a family member that is allergic to nuts – then they will be the ones most likely to be seen examining the label or pack in a health food store or in the supermarket.   

It would be difficult to think of a more dynamic product segment at the present time than the category of products that come under the heading of  healthy lifestyle products that are marketed in health food stores and to an increasing extent in the mainstream high street and out-of-town supermarkets.
Consumers want to know more about the provenance of food and the ingredients, food scares over the past few decades including major livestock diseases such as foot and mouth have made consumers more cautious regarding what they purchase, more inclined to become involved in lobbying for change, and in ensuring what they purchase is as healthy for them as possible.

Shopping at a health food store has long since moved on from being a fashion or a fad; globally the health or well being industry is said to be worth in the region of a trillion dollars, the United States accounting for around 35 per cent of global sales at present but hot on their heels are China and Brazil. In addition to food and beverage products other product segments, many of which outperform food in terms of sales include vitamin and dietary supplements and herbal/traditional products. Herbal and traditional remedies are important product segments in China, Thailand, Vietnam and elsewhere in the Asia and is currently valued at $4 billion +.  Slimming products and sports nutrition each account for around $3 billion + of sales.  

Mainstream food groups and retailers who have seen a slide in their sales and have noted the healthy profits being generated by players in this sector now and almost without exception have their own well being or healthy option aisle and are endeavouring to reap some of the financial benefits from this dynamic market, at the same time offering consumers greater choice.
Given the limited labeling space on many packaged items and the competitive nature of the market product managers and their converting suppliers employ a variety of techniques, from 360 degree shrink labeling to the use of complex graphics and vibrant colours to get noticed and get the product message across.

 Bold colours, high-end graphics and easy to read fonts helps make for a label of distinction. Peel-back labels have been an important breakthrough in this market, providing manufacturers with the opportunity to display a relatively un-crowded front of label with much of the required legislative and ingredient content on the labeling reverse side.  In addition, the variety of substrates available for packaging purposes together with different print and finishing techniques extends decorative possibilities allowing for a degree of differentiation that was simply not available a decade or so ago.
For health drinks shrink sleeve now commands a growing percentage of the beverage and liquid dietary supplement market. It can combine the aesthetic qualities consumers admire with real, active, added functionality. By covering the container from top to bottom, it can act as a tamper-evident seal, and when applied to a glass container, also can provide shatter protection.

Players in this market, many of which are small entrepreneurial and new to mass marketing, nevertheless take a serious and professional approach to developing a strong brand identity with package and label colour critical elements. Colour is vital but adding special high gloss coatings and other techniques such as foil stamping and embossing the product logo, perhaps to give it a textured look can add even more pop. Creative opportunities seem almost limitless.

Not as conservative as many sectors, packaging professionals, designers and the print provider of many of the products associated with health food are perhaps subject to fewer creative constraints. Nevertheless, the need to maintain colour and other quality standards is the same as for any other packaging product sector. Failure to meet quality control standards has the potential for devastating commercial consequences all down the line. Apart from the embarrassment of customer returns, inconsistencies such as deviation in colour results in un-warranted machine downtime for ink and other adjustments, excessive waste (material, consumables, energy) and poor machine/man management.
Taking all of the variables into consideration and given the critical role colour plays in communication, in marketing products, shifting products off the shelf, it’s hardly surprising that printers, converters and others pay so much attention to getting it right.

The development of more advanced colour communication devices in recent years has played a critical role in ensuring that colour and graphic image representation remains accurate not only during the current run but when the job is set up again and on repeat. More than simply draw down devices many of the most recent devices that have come onto the market contribute to both process and commercial viability. For instance, the ability to adjust colour off-line using devices such as the FlexiProof 100 and variants FlexiProof UV and FlexiProof LED UV has resulted in a reduction of on-press waste; speedier product development and throughput; quicker production machine make ready and an ability to set standard tests and procedures that others in the supply chain can replicate for ISO or other accreditation purposes.                 

Many of the devices currently available are highly versatile and are designed to earn their keep, for example the K Printing Proofer. This compact device enables users to obtain high quality proofs in an instant using gravure, gravure-offset or flexo inks. In addition, both wet and dry laminated samples can be produced on the machine using the gravure print head with RK Print Coat Instruments own K-Lam laminating accessories.

Furthermore two or more inks can be printed simultaneously for comparison purposes and registration is included for overprinting.

If gravure is the chosen method of printing, the ink is transferred from an electronically engraved printing plate directly onto the substrate, which is attached to the rubber covered impression roller. Doctor blade and roller adjustments are made via micrometers allowing for repeatability of settings.

With the flexo head fitted, ink is transferred from the printing plate to a plain or patterned stereo roller and then onto the substrate. Micrometers are again provided for roller and doctor blade adjustment. Plain or step wedge plates are also available corresponding to the various densities required for printing. If gravure-offset is required the same flexo head is used, fitted though with a plain rubber covered offset roller to transfer ink from the plate to the substrate.   

RK Print Coat Instruments Ltd
Litlington, Royston, Hertfordshire SG8 0QZ

Source: RK Print Coat Instruments Ltd