There are many factors that dictate a good food label. Not only must the label jump off the shelf – a very crowded shelf – but it also must convey a host of nutrition facts, cooking instructions and ingredients. Additionally, the packaging must remain safe when interacting with the food product. Substrates, adhesives and inks are all paramount, as the slightest mistake could result in a major lawsuit and damage to a brand’s reputation.
“When it comes to ‘popping off the shelf,’ it is all about communicating the brand’s story, as well as capturing the consumer’s attention,” explains Alex Kidd, creative design manager, Avery Dennison. “This is unique for every industry, as well as each brand. Brands that have a strong identity and use color, typography and form within the packaging often times will pop off the shelf.”
Similar to the wine and beverage markets, Avery Dennison has seen more food brands explore packaging design and alternative materials that help products stand out in a retail environment.
UPM Raflatac emphasizes label shape as a critical element of brand messaging. “One part of the appearance is designing the shape of the label with which you can play with, highlighting parts of your message or adding foodstuff visibility to stand out at the retailers’ shelves,” notes Pascal Oliveira, director of global business development, Food, UPM Raflatac. “One solution to maximize shelf visibility and branding area on food packaging is to use D-shape full wrap PS labels.”
At Hub Labels, president Thomas Dahbura has noticed foils as a key differentiator on the shelf. Dahbura will frequently embark on grocery store field trips to analyze the shelves, and observe what’s new and what works. “Labels needs to be more than a billboard in today’s competitive environment,” he says. “They can be dynamic – meaning they can change often if the package isn’t making sales. They can be interactive, too. I call it portals to other information, whether its education or entertainment.
“They say you have eight seconds to catch someone’s attention as they’re walking down the aisle,” Dahbura adds. “The only thing that will grab someone’s attention is foil. I swear, it works.”
Papers and films are both used in the food space, with prime films emerging as a popular choice. Films are advantageous for those companies seeking clear-on-clear or no-label looks on their products. Avery Dennison has identified paper as a popular material for meal kits, especially with All-Temp or cold-temp adhesives.
UPM Raflatac points to a host of sustainable label materials that can support a circular economy. The company’s Vanish PCR clear labels, made from 90% PCR in both the face and liner, and wash-off film labels with RW85C adhesive are suitable for labeling PET containers. Forest Positive RAFNXT+ material options for full wrap and other paper lables are carbon positive, as well.
Creative Labels of Vermont (CLOV) utilizes certain materials for specific food products. “Dry goods, for example, typically use paper labels with general purpose permanent adhesives,” explains Lee Lachance, vice president of CLOV. “Many don’t require a protective top-coat. Labels for the beverage industry are typically a film label with an aggressive adhesive suitable for cold, wet conditions and protected with a laminating film. Most will be machine applied. If labeling squeezable containers, or plastic containers that may be hot-filled, labels must be able to conform to the container and/or expand and contract with it. Labels used in thermal printers or scale printers may require specially coated (direct thermal/thermal transfer) materials.”
Lachance adds that the wide range of specialty substrates, inks and top coatings have only enhanced the aesthetics of food labels. Graphic design should include crisp images relevant to the products or brands, and the label will incorporate statements necessary to be in compliance with food labeling laws. The label must be user friendly, while also accounting for exposure to moisture, wide temperature ranges, protection from contamination and/or abrasion, and other environmental factors.
Flexible packaging and meal kits are just two of a number of recent developments in the food sector. According to Avery Dennison, flexible packaging is an area of growth in the food market, where more than 50% of all applications reside. Hub Labels’ Dahbura says, “I love flexible packaging. I think the possibilities for brands using flexible packaging are pretty amazing.”
Laura Noll, market research manager at Avery Dennison, has spotted several current food packaging trends. “These trends include smaller packages that are either single serving or can be easily resealed for future use, as well as grab-and-go features, including shapes and fitments,” she says. “Small runs of many flavors and markets, such as lean, organic, no sugar added, gluten free, etc., are also quite popular.”
For Noll, the two biggest trends in food are healthy alternatives and convenience. In fact, she cites 88% of consumers in a recent poll would be willing to pay more for healthier food options. “This is causing tremendous growth in categories such as produce, which saw 4,000 new products launched in 2018,” she says.
The drive for convenience has sparked the rise of on-the-go food options and meal kits. “Meal kits are one of the hottest trends in the food industry today,” Noll says. “The concept was made popular by online giants such as Hello Fresh and Blue Apron, but is now being widely adopted by in-store retailers. In-store meal kits are up 51% from 2017 and have sold 7.3 million units. This growth isn’t without challenges, as both online giants and in-store retailers are looking for ways to add functionality to meal kit packaging all while reducing costs.”
Dahbura notes that many brands are shifting toward matte materials. In an effort to promote their products, brands have recognized that matte substrates photograph better, making them more enticing for Instagram pictures, as well as other social media channels.
“In general, there’s an ongoing movement away from traditional types of rigid food containers like cans, cartons and bottles, which were extremely effective in protecting the contents and eliminating any risk of contamination from the printed label or outer surface,” explains Ed Dedman, flexo technical support/product manager at Zeller+Gmelin. “The increasing use of flexible packaging like bags and pouches require all parties involved in the design and production process to be aware of the package end-use requirements and the potential for risk at the consumer level.”
From changing FDA regulations to proposed alterations of the nutrition facts label, food products undergo intense scrutiny before they can hit the shelves.
According to CLOV’s Lachance, food regulations are a constant challenge impacting label design. “The increasing amount of information needed for compliance, such as nutritional information, allergen statements, disclaimers, contents, bar codes, etc. occupies more real estate on labels than ever before,” he notes. “This reduces the amount of space available for graphics or marketing information. In many cases, supplemental labels are required in order to provide all of the information desired.”
For UPM Raflatac, the complexity of food labels is greater than ever before. “Nutrition fact labels on food packaging are now required to contain more information than ever before. This may prompt converters and end users to reevaluate packaging and subsequent label design to include required nutritional information at the point-of-sale to consumers,” explains Seth Holling, product safety coordinator, UPM Raflatac. “Any change in the information on a standard label is typically associated with cost. New plates, the time and effort in approvals of any new layout, and simple inventory management are just a few of those costs associated with this type of change. Since cost will have to be born, we believe many may take this as an opportunity to look at their whole label design and lifecycle analysis for their packaging.”
Converters, such as CLOV and Hub Labels, have prepared themselves for any possible changes that come their way. “CLOV is well positioned to respond to changing labeling requirements,” states Lachance. “Digital technology is well suited for frequent changes, as costs are reduced and lead times considerably shortened.”
Interestingly enough, Holling explains that the terms “indirect food contact” and “direct food contact” are widely used in the pressure sensitive label industry, however, the terms are not found in FDA regulations. The FDA does differentiate between “direct” and “indirect” food additives, though.
“Direct food additives are substances deliberately added to food, like preservatives, and indirect food additives are materials that come in contact with food due to their use as part of packaging, holding or processing food, but are not intended to be added directly to, become a component of, or have a technical effect in or on food,” he says. “Key distinctions that converters and brand owners must navigate are raw material selection, packaging design and intended end use for their business segment. All should be addressed to established that applicable regulatory requirements are addressed.”
Specific FDA indirect food additive regulations that may apply to a label based on its construction and end use include: 21 CFR 175.105 – Adhesives, 21 CFR 175.125 – Pressure sensitive adhesives, as well as many others. Holling adds that the FDA’s regulation at 21 CFR 175.105 – Adhesives establishes the concept of, “a functional barrier that prevents any migration of substances from the adhesive to the food. Glass and aluminum are always considered functional barriers, but in the case of plastics and paper carton material, a simple definition has not yet been provided by the FDA.
“In a specific food packaging application, if a functional barrier prevents migration of substances from the adhesive to the food, then no indirect food additive situation exists, and the FDA regulations are not actually applicable,” says Holling. “However, our experience is that end users continue to require compliance with this regulation. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the party placing the food or food packaging on the market to understand and comply with applicable FDA regulations. Here at UPM Raflatac, we assist converters and end users with determining compliance by knowing these regulations and guiding customers in asking the right questions with respect to their desired packaging design and end use when asked to supply an FDA-compliant product.”
Materials, such as inks, adhesives and substrates, are perhaps the most critical when dealing with food packaging. The materials must make the label and package stand out on a crowded shelf, but they also must not contaminate the food itself. Research and development in low-migration inks continues, but Zeller+Gmelin’s Dedman says adoption remains low. “Unfortunately, there’s a perception within our industry that if a job is simply printed using low migration (LM) inks, coatings and/or adhesives, it qualifies as a LM product, when there is much, much more to be considered when producing low migration products.” (See sidebar on page 68 for Dedman’s Low Migration checklist)
Zeller+Gmelin predominantly sells UV flexo inks which are specifically formulated with raw materials that meet guidelines established by companies like Nestle, Hershey and other major CPC’s, along with meeting the requirements of the Swiss food ordinance. These inks might be used to print a vast array of products, ranging from yogurt lids and food pouches, to bags and cartons.
“Substrates vary by end application, but most contain some form of functional barrier layer that helps block migratable components to protect the package contents,” says Dedman. “Our flagship UV flexo product for the Americas is our 30 Series low migration system, designed for high strength, high speed printing on a variety of substrates, and which – when used properly – meets all current applicable guidelines and regulations for consumer food packaging and labeling.”
By Ed Dedman
The narrow web label and package printing industry has seen a growing interest in labels and packaging for food, beverage, cosmetic, and other potentially odor- and migratable-sensitive product applications. Printers of these types of materials are increasingly seeking options for low odor and low migration inks, coatings and adhesives, but they also need to be aware of all the other areas within their print operations that should be carefully controlled to minimize the risk of potential contamination. Here’s a very basic checklist as a starting point:
Package Design & Production
Minimize ink coverage/ink film thickness to ensure adequate drying/curing of the ink film.
Substrates should be sourced from a trusted vendor who can assure proper chain of custody. Avoid questionable low-cost sources as these could contain unknown recycled content.
Inks, Coatings & Adhesives – Use confirmed low migration products from a reputable supplier, and keep all LM products segregated from non-LM products to prevent cross-contamination. Some printers who run both LM and non-LM jobs have chosen to switch completely to all LM products to minimize the risk of contamination or incorrect product use.
Any additives used for LM products should also be confirmed as suitable for LM use and stored in a segregated location.
Use only cleaners/press washes designed for LM applications. If in doubt, don’t use. Make sure your cleaners and wipes don’t leave a residue on printing surfaces that could contaminate the printed material.
Store soiled rags and wipes away from the press area.
For litho printing, make sure the fountain solution is suitable for LM printing. Avoid excess emulsification and be cautious when using alcohol substitutes.
When spray powder is needed, use only a food grade product. In mixed pressroom environments, keep spray powder accumulation around the LM print areas at a minimum.
Traceability is very important when running LM work. It is vital that all products and lot numbers are tracked and recorded to ensure the ability to track down and isolate any issues that may occur. Consider ISO certification, which would fulfill those needed traceability aspects.
Maintenance chemicals (cleaners, disinfectants, etc.) must be suitable for LM applications, and not used or stored near the press while a LM job is being run.
Diesel, gas and LP fumes are a potential source for contamination. Keep print materials well wrapped and stored away from forklift and vehicle traffic areas.
Dust, oils and lubricants are also a potential source of contamination. Take the necessary steps to minimize their presence where LM materials will be stored and printed.
Use only pallets and skids that are free from anti-rot and biocide materials.
Cleanliness is the rule – studies have shown that presses and components may need up to three washups between a non-LM job and the subsequent LM run to fully eliminate any migratables.
Ink knives, paddles, stirrers, mixer blades, pails, etc. should be cleaned and used separately, only for LM jobs.
Rollers, plates, blankets and anilox rolls are all by nature somewhat porous and can retain traces from previous use. Consider a dedicated, segregated supply for all LM work, as well as separate cleaning and storage processes.
Pans, chambers, lines, hoses and pumps can also retain potential contaminants. As above, consider separate cleaning and storage or use dedicated items for LM jobs.
Assure that all drying and curing systems are operating at peak efficiency to minimize the risk of undried and/or uncured components that can be retained in the ink film.
Cross contamination is the single biggest risk in the pressroom. Gang all LM jobs together, run all LM work in one area or on dedicated presses, or as previously mentioned, consider making your print operation completely LM-ready.
As a printer of low migration labels and packaging, the main thing to know is that simply using “Low Odor” and/or “Low Migration” inks, coatings and adhesives DOES NOT equate to producing LM products. You must control all aspects of your print operation to assure that the finished printed material meets or exceeds the requirements of the end user.
Ed Dedman is Technical Support Manager for Zeller+Gmelin Printing Inks. Ed treats flexo printing as a “controllable manufacturing process, not a black art!”