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It’s on the label: You are what you eat
By Barry Hunt
Changes in social habits and increased legislation obviously have a big impact on the labeling of consumer goods. It is particularly apparent in the groceries and food sectors. Over the years the amount of information about ingredients and nutritional values displayed on labels has greatly increased. This is partly due to various international laws, but nowadays many more people have a genuine interest in knowing more about the food they eat and where it comes from.
This trend prompted IGD, a London based food and grocery retail specialist, to see how it affected British shoppers. It found that nearly one third of the 1,000 supermarket shoppers surveyed said their buying decisions were influenced by what a product contains, which in turn depended on how well they could access this information. Somehow this sounds unrealistically low, but at least the response is 5 percent higher that it was three years ago.
The desire for more information follows a recent spate of health scares concerning the global spread of viral infections of livestock and poultry that might — or might not — be transmitted to humans. Media hype and just bad science are given as reasons for these scares, although many feel they are irrational. Growing disquiet about food processing methods is also encouraging consumer interest in more detailed labeling. The various effects of intensive farming, or agribusiness, is another cause of concern. It has led to rising consumption of organically produced grocery products. Despite higher prices, IGD’s feedback suggests a doubling in the number of UK consumers who seek out organic products since 2004. However, it represents only 11 percent of respondents. Price remains the most important driver in other areas, but its importance is falling at the expense of a rising awareness of salt and sugar content and their effects on a person’s well being. A fifth of shoppers surveyed now say that these ingredients have become a key consideration in what they buy.
On the overall results of the survey, Julie Starck, IGD’s senior consumer insight analyst, says: “Enhanced awareness of nutritional value and an aging population concerned about health and well being mean we can expect the trend to continue. Shoppers are becoming more engaged with their food and make decisions based on greater levels of detail.”
On a practical level, this factor obviously effects the appearance and demand for primary and secondary labeling. Combining typographically messy bits of information with the all-important graphics associated with the product name is a difficult but important task. Brand name recognition among shoppers has become even more important. “While price and value for money remain important for finalizing purchasing decisions, the primary factors are more likely to be the familiarity of a brand name, knowing all of the ingredients of a product and the country of origin,” concludes Starck.
Packaging plays catch-up with PDF standards
After two years of consultation, the Packaging Subcommittee of the Ghent PDF Workgroup (GWG) has released its long awaited specifications. They have been adapted from the Portable Data Format workflow standards already adopted by certain commercial and publication printers. The fact that packaging — and labeling by implication — needs far more specialized controls accounts for the longer development time.
The GWG defines PDF as the ultimate exchangeable graphic file format for packaging — and labeling by association — based on industry standards and market demands and needs. Besides manufacturers, the workgroup also included some major brand owners who are keen to see their suppliers take the guidelines seriously.
The definition criteria are generic to the packaging industry and are applied indiscriminately throughout the design and printing stages. Importantly they apply equally to flexo and offset and other print processes. PDF-X/Plus — built on top of PDF/X standards — forms their basis, but the Packaging Specifications do not always conform to PDF/X because these ISO standards do not necessarily apply to packaging environments. The ISO says it plans to release PDF/X-4 later this year as part of the next version of its packaging workflow specifications.
Members of the Packaging Subcommittee represent more than 30 companies in Europe and the USA. They include prepress, converting and repro organizations, as well as brand owners, vendors, consultants and educational institutions. The final version of the packaging specifications is downloadable free at www.gwg.org.
In the USA, initial field tests for PDF file exchange between designers and brand owners involved Kraft Foods and Southern Graphic Systems. Square, a French graphic production company based in Lyon, worked with the GWG as the European test and development site for the new packaging specifications.
Applying laser engraving to high volume screen output
As is widely known, UV rotary screen is one of the prime processes for printing cosmetic and toiletries labels on flexo or offset combination presses. One of Europe’s largest users of the process is Rako Etiketten of Witzhave, near Hamburg, Germany. In fact, it markets primary labels under the High & Clear brand name that features screen’s ability to produce tactile varnish effects. Today it produces 12,000 rotary screens (Stork’s nickel RotaMesh), every year, up from 3,700 in 2003. With such a workload the risk of prepress bottlenecks and unwanted downtime at certain periods is obviously high. However, Rako believes it has licked the problem by adopting the latest direct laser engraving technology.
The company recently installed Stork’s new RotaLEN 5511 system. It has certainly impressed Stefan Behrens, prepress manager: “Engraving takes between 15 and 20 minutes on average, which is significantly less than the 90 minutes needed with the conventional exposure process. We can maintain fast turnarounds in a hectic prepress room, where sometimes we need up to 40 screens in a single day.” He adds that it is also a simpler and cleaner imaging process. Instead of films, chemicals, UV exposure, washing, and drying, the process involves the thermal decomposition of the positive area of the emulsion, leaving behind the stencil’s open areas.
The digital process is said to offer consistent quality. In the first month of production, no image defects occurred on any of the 400 screen cylinders that passed under the engraver’s laser beam. Behrens adds that conventional exposures would have resulted in reimaging some 5 to 8 percent of screens because of some defect. Now, all of Rako’s labels printed with laser engraved screens meet the high levels of consistency demanded by its international customer. In quality terms, the new method achieves a very high contrast — ideal for reproducing clear, small text and fine linework — with a wider range of angles than is possible by UV exposure.
FINAT launches info drive to improve members’ trade
FINAT is targeting end users as part of a marketing initiative to help them increase their knowledge of self-adhesive labeling. The international trade body says the scheme should help its member companies win more business. It includes a 76-page internet presentation on the benefits and flexibility of labeling. By promoting wider usage of labels it will also help members with their individual sales drives and training projects.
“This is just one of the ways we are ensuring that 2007 will be a good year for our members as we increase the exclusive benefits that we bring to them through their membership,” says David Harrisson, president. Compiled by senior members of the association, the finished scheme is due to be rolled out on FINAT’s site in this first quarter of the year. It forms part of a wider emphasis on education — both for printers and for their customers — through tutorials and presentations.
One of the first will be at FINAT’s annual World Congress conference, held in Berlin May 31 through June 1. It will examine the state of Germany’s economy and its implications for the self-adhesive label printing industry. Norbert Walter, head of the Deutsche Bank Research bureau, will lead the debate. He believes that while Germany’s business confidence has returned, corporate and political decision makers still face challenges.
Supporting this viewpoint is Helmut Schreiner, the president of VskE, the German label trade association. He will review what is happening in the German sector in the face of global consolidations, technological innovations and the impact of trading links with Germany’s eastern European neighbors.