The Fresh Foods Industry Guide to Evaluating Labeling Equipment

To meet consumer expectations, food and beverage manufacturing companies are upping their food label game.

Food marketing has a powerful effect on what people choose to buy. While consumer demand and expectations may drive some food and beverage manufacturers’ production and marketing choices, food and beverage industry players still need to meet federal and regional requirements and work within specified regulations.

With all this in mind, food manufacturing companies have to create in-brand packaging and marketing campaigns that will effectively meet consumer and government demands. While there is a lot to consider to address these challenges, one aspect that deserves attention is labeling.

Whether your food packaging is done concurrently with food production to streamline the process, or you work through as a separate packaging supplier, the labeling insights in this article are applicable to both.

Food Label Requirements

Food manufacturing companies and beverage manufacturing companies know that they’re responsible for developing food labels that meet the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) food labeling requirements. In addition to the FDA's requirements, food businesses are subject to other federal, state, and local requirements. These will vary depending on your product and the type of facility you operate.

FDA_NewLabel_WhatsDifferentFor guidance and resources such as Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, Regulations on Food Labeling (21 CFR 101), Food Labeling Guide, see FDA’s section on food labeling.

While there are many things to consider — determining ingredients, producing the product, choosing a packaging container, and deciding on the best label design — don't forget to evaluate your assembly line, particularly the one that packages and labels your food for distribution.

It's one thing to package food and drinks; it's quite another to make a label that meets legal requirements and captures the attention of shoppers.

Label Design Trends

There are several popular food industry trends right now. A couple of the hottest ones include health-conscious labels and clean labels.

Packaging and labels that communicate health and wellness have become exceedingly important. This driving trend has slowly but steadily changed the food and beverage industry worldwide, and it’s not slowing down. With the growth of organic and “better for you” offerings from major retailers, it may be necessary for your food brand to communicate this message, too. Your word choice, label design, and color palate should align with your target audience, ensuring that your product has appeal in the market.

PLDR_FreshFoodLabelingPillarPage_Content_Example (1)Another trend driving change in the food and beverage industry right now is transparency. Consumers want to know what ingredients are going into their food products, which is why we are seeing more products with shorter ingredient lists that you can pronounce. Consumers want simplicity in addition to quality foods. Over the past five years, this trend manifested itself in progressively cleaner labels. In fact, 73% of consumers say they are happy to pay a higher retail price for a food or drink product made with ingredients they recognize and trust.

You can choose any size for your food packaging label, though you need to consider the amount of required information that needs to be printed on it. Remember, the FDA and USDA require information such as brand name, product name, net weight, and other details to be placed on the principal display panel (the front of the label). The more information you need to include, the less space you have for creative freedom.

When choosing colors for a food packaging label, it is important to remember that the letters need to be clearly typed, readable, and the barcode has to be scannable.

As for label styles and adhesives, there are many options. Some traditional choices are hot stamp printing and labeling, thermal transfer, shrink sleeve, front-and-back labels, and wrap-around labels. 

PLDR_FreshFoodExpirationDatePrinterAddOnHot stamp imprinting is favored for its versatility and ability to put barcodes, lot codes, expiration dates, and other important information on smooth, rigid, and semi-rigid packaging material. Hot stamp labeling machines are known for their ability to work on nearly any application from film packaging and clamshell to-go containers to blister packs and clear lid boxes.

Another common method of labeling foods is thermal transfer. Thermal transfer involves printing labels on ribbons of film, which are then slit and rolled directly onto the intended packaging. This includes foil, film bags, and other packaging materials that can be easily run through a conveyor for printing.

Both cold and hot glue labels are still prominent in the food industry. Print and cut labels are still being used with inline machines for cans, bottles, and rectangular cartons that are easy to feed and rotate through a labeling machine while the glue is applied. 

For more food industry trends that may impact your labeling process, check out CB Insights’s Food and Beverage Industry Trends research report.

Choosing the Right Labeling Equipment

The first step in determining which labeling equipment is best for your food or beverage packaging is deciding how you want them to be presented to the customer in the store and before unpacking at home. This will narrow down your choice between film-based technologies and print and glue technologies. Your packaging will influence your food label design and the way food product labels fit into the bigger picture. Whether you are using boxes, cartons, bags, or clamshell containers, there are numerous labeling equipment options available for any scale operation.

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Choosing the right labeling equipment for your production line will have a considerable impact on your overall productivity and your costs. In addition, the proper equipment will provide a boost in quality and consistency so you ca

n spend less time worrying about what your products look like when they head out the door. 

Efficiency

The most substantial impact that labeling equipment has on food manufacturing companies and beverage manufacturing companies is productivity. In general, most people are only able to hand label up to one hundred products per hour, and these labels tend to vary in quality, moving around on the product and not fully adhering. Semi and fully-automatic labeling machines take the guesswork out of the equation and feed your packaged foods through at a constant rate, increasing your productivity to nearly five hundred items per hour. As you ramp up your production line to meet the higher threshold set by your labeling equipment, you will get more product out the door faster. The right label applicator machine will pay for itself in a short amount of time as you sell more each month.

Speed and Productivity

When food products are manually labeled, most workers can only hand label up to one hundred products per hour and tend to vary in placement. Semi and fully-automatic labeling machines take the guesswork out of the equation and feed food containers through at a constant rate, increasing productivity to nearly five hundred items per hour. As you ramp up your production line to meet the higher threshold set by your labeling equipment, you will get more out the door faster. The right label applicator machine will pay for itself in a short amount of time as you sell more each month. 

Cost and Quality

While a full-size automatic labeling machine may seem like a substantial investment upfront, it can save you a significant amount of money in the long run and improve your overall brand appearance. You will spend fewer staff-hours on your labeling operations and should be able to reduce your labor costs at the labeling stage by having a single operator on hand to manage your new machine. Also, with the improved accuracy and reliability of a professional-grade labeler, you will have fewer defective products and will see a reduction in waste. The cost of purchasing an automatic labeling machine will pale in comparison to the actual value it provides to your operation as a whole.

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With the newest printing and label application technology at your fingertips, you will have fewer labeling errors and consistent label placement — no more torn food product labels or corners pulling away from containers. This reduces waste and products the integrity of your product and its packaging.

The right labeling machine will push label quality to the next level, help speed up your packaging line, and cut operating costs. More will be leaving your production line and reaching customers faster, giving them the absolute best in freshness with your name proudly stamped across it.

Evaluating Your Setup

The first step in choosing new labeling equipment for your food manufacturing line or beverage packaging line is evaluating the equipment you already have in place and determining which upgrades or additions will best serve your needs. You will also have to determine how much space and time you have available to make these changes and what your long term goals will be.

Production and Growth

Before you begin shopping for a new labeling machine, you must know how your production run is going to scale. You'll want your new equipment to be versatile enough to grow with you. This means deciding how much product you can reasonably expect to move and finding the machine that best fits that range. A fully automatic labeling machine can boost your production capabilities by up to 500%, but only if your existing equipment is up for the challenge.

In addition, increasing production may mean that you need to allow time and space for the addition of a pack-off table, redesign of labels, or a change of packaging materials. Your goal should be to minimize downtime while these changes are taking place to keep things running smoothly and avoid costly mistakes.

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Existing Equipment and Space

When your brand takes off and products are flying off the shelf, it may seem exciting to run out and buy the newest labeling machine on the market, but take a minute to think through your next investment before committing.

A new label applicator machine will need to fit inline with your other equipment. Take measurements, and note how a modern label machine would work with the current lineup. Stand-alone machines can be a good investment, adding up to 300% increases in your productivity, but they require special considerations — like the additional staff hours — that inline machines do not necessarily need. Finding an automatic, inline labeling machine is the best way to improve your labeling process.

If you already have machines like a filler and a capper, the same manufacturer likely offers a labeling machine designed for that purpose. Equipment that's meant to be integrated will have less downtime and higher quality output than mismatched options paired together to save money.

Take time to decide how big of a machine you need based on your current run's production capabilities and space available. If a new machine will cost you a significant amount of downtime or will be burdensome in your production space, try to find an option that fits your overall workflow.

Container and Label Options

Now that you've taken time to evaluate available space for a new food labeling machine, and how you could integrate that machine into your current production line, it is time to take a look at the different types of containers and labels used.

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Depending on the specific food or beverages you’re packaging, finding the right container can be a challenge. Depending on budget, goals, and availability, packaging materials range from paperboard, cardboard, plastic, and bags to glass bottles, aluminum cans, corrugated cartons, and styrofoam trays. You can choose a custom solution or a stock container in standard sizes. In both cases, always look through the batches you receive to ensure products are consistent. A warped container or damaged bottle could cause a problem on the line.

The type of packaging that you choose can impact your food’s flavor and appearance. Science matters here. The material of a container interacting with food chemicals can cause unpleasant reactions. In addition to chemical reactions and preserving optimal freshness, consider how long the food will be in the packaging from production to transport through shelf life.

If it’s possible, consider creating a sample batch of your products in several different packages and monitor them throughout the anticipated delivery time to see how well they hold up.

Labels

The labels you choose will have to fit the container dimensions that you selected. Labeling machines can apply wrap-around labels as well as top, bottom, front, back, and side labels. In many cases, labels can be placed across the edges of containers to create a seal, creating a tamper-evident safety measure.

Your label will need to accommodate any unusual features on the outside of the packaging. Tapers, ridges, or other uneven spots can cause labels to adhere poorly. Keep this in mind when choosing labeling equipment. You don't want your labels peeling before making it off the line.

Purchasing quality containers and labels is the only way to produce high-quality products consistently. Whichever type of container you decide to use, be sure to regularly spot check them for size and shape consistency. Your label applicator machine will depend on consistent sizing and sealing to correctly place the label in the same spot every time.

The labels you use will also affect the appearance of your product on the shelf. There are many name-brand packages that taut high-quality labels that are both resistant to water and tearing. When dealing with food products, it always pays to be cautious about spills and leaks that could cause labels to slough off or look dingy. In most cases, synthetic labels combat these issues and are far more durable than paper options. Customers are quick to identify cheap labels — and that will impact their purchasing decision.

Labeling Equipment Partners

Choosing the right labeling equipment is the first step in creating a more efficient and cost-friendly production line. The second is ensuring that you are building a positive life-long relationship with your labeling equipment manufacturer and service team. 

Make sure you take the time to learn the ins and outs of the company you will be working with and ask plenty of questions about how their machines will add value to your operation.

Here's what you need to know about your new labeling equipment partner before making a purchase.

Parts

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Naturally, service scheduling only does so much if you don't have the right parts on hand. Ask your equipment manufacturer about their parts catalog and how well-stocked they are on the most common parts. Things like rollers, springs, and other small parts that take heavy wear during the food labeling process will likely need to be replaced regularly. Your partner should have them on hand and ready to go when you need them. Specialty parts that need to be custom ordered will shut your line down and cause inconvenient delays unnecessarily. It is also essential to ask about the source of those parts. Some parts may be universal, but many will be specific to each machine, and you want to know that they are all made to meet the minimum standards for quality that the original manufacturer set forth.

Service

FreshFoodManufacturingGuideToLabeling_Pillar_ServiceNo machine is impervious to regular maintenance. Even your new labeling equipment will need some check-ups and lubrication to keep it running smoothly. Ask your equipment manufacturer about their service plans, how quickly their service team can respond to calls, and whether or not they will be able to assist with equipment upgrades in the future. You want to know that if your machine breaks down, it can be back in service quickly with as little downtime as possible. Ask for references from other companies in the industry to see if they’ve had positive experiences and if their service team is trustworthy when it comes to making repairs. After all, you don't want a company that cuts corners and misdiagnoses issues only to come back out a few weeks later.

Quality Control

Before you make your purchase, ask your equipment provider about their quality assurance processes. Ideally, they will test your machine rigorously before shipping it to you to ensure that it meets expectations. Since each labeler will be set up specifically to fit your labels and packaging, the machine manufacturer will need samples of each to test. This will show what your final products will look like once labeled and ensures the machine is producing a consistent and high-quality product at all speeds.

Labeling equipment manufacturers are aware that you are making a big commitment by purchasing their products. As a result, they should be happy to answer all of your questions concerning quality and service procedures. If they are unable to give satisfactory answers about how they will support you down the road, they are not the right fit for your business.

Conclusion

Choosing the perfect labeling equipment for your food manufacturing companies and beverage manufacturing companies will impact the overall quality of the products leaving your store or warehouse. If you are poised to increase your production by automating your labeling process, you must start by asking the right questions about the different types of labeling machines on the market and how they will interact with your current product line. Whether you are using clamshell containers, plastic tubs, or cardboard bakery trays, the labels you use need to fit your container well and present a positive image of your brand. High-quality containers and labels with great images are the key to successful shelf marketing for your foods.

It is also important to remember that your investment in labeling equipment does not stop when the machine is delivered. You are investing in the support and customer service of your labeling equipment manufacturer long term as you maintain your machinery and continue to grow your brand over time. Whichever partner you choose, they should be ready to assist when an upgrade is in order, or another machine needs to be added to your production line. Make sure you take the time to learn the ins and outs of the company you will be working with and ask plenty of questions about how their machines will add value to your operation.

About Pack Leader USA: Your Food & Beverage Partner

CannabisManufacturingGuideToLabeling_Pillar_AboutUsAs our name suggests, Pack Leader USA is a leader of the pack in the labeling industry. Built on the research and development of Pack Leader Machinery, Inc., we entered the North American market with high-quality products, modernized labeling technologies, and an excellent customer service reputation. We have taken the labeling industry to the next level by designing easy-to-use and cost-effective labeling machines that serve the growing food and beverage industry.

We are committed to providing our customers with reliable machinery, quick service, and readily available parts to ensure uptime and eliminate costly downtime. Before you purchase, we are happy to offer a free consultation. If you’re ready to buy, we’ll walk you through the purchasing process step by step from price quote and delivery to set up ongoing customer support and training. 

We promise to provide more than just a piece of equipment for your production line — we’ll come alongside you as your partner. 

Set up a free labeling equipment consultation with our team today to learn which of our labelers can help your food manufacturing or beverage manufacturing operation improve productivity and efficiency and fit your budget.

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