The Fresh Foods Industry Guide to Evaluating Labeling Equipment

Choosing Labeling Equipment for Baked Goods, Deli Food & Prepared Meals To-Go

If you are in the business of creating and selling baked goods, prepared foods, or take home meals, you may be looking for a solution for your labeling woes. It’s one thing to package preserved food, it’s another to label it. 

The truth is, there are many different options available for food labeling, but it is up to you to find the packaging medium that works best for your items. The materials and packaging you choose will impact how much money you spend on materials and food product labels. It will also have a significant impact on the overall appearance of your packaging and branding once it’s on the shelf.

Following Labeling Trends for Fresh Foods

There are several popular trends in packaged food labeling right now. One is hot stamp imprinting. It’s 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. 

Following Labeling Trends for Fresh Foods

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. 

As more companies are looking for ways to preserve food and keep it fresher longer, there’s been an increased interest in clamshell labelers. Clamshell containers are lightweight and can fit a variety of size requirements. The use of a labeler to seal the clamshell ensures that it remains closed during transport and that the food inside is sealed for freshness and quality. The technology for efficiently labeling clamshells has improved in recent years, allowing for faster production times and less manual labor. 

One of the more interesting aspects of food labels is that almost all of the labeling machines are designed for use either as stand-alone units or as inline components of an assembly line. This means that they can be used manually or semi-automatically for small batch packaging, or they can be ramped up to full speed production as your output increases over time. This means less money spent on new equipment if you do your research and choose the right machine from the outset. 


The first step in determining which labeling equipment will be best for your deli packaging, bakery packaging, produce packaging, and other prepared foods 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 small cardboard cartons, foil bags, or clamshell containers, there are numerous labeling equipment options available for any scale operation. 

Choosing the Right Labeling Equipment

Choosing the right labeling equipment for your prepared food production line will have a considerable impact on your overall productivity and your costs. In addition, the proper equipment will provide you a boost in quality and consistency so you can spend less time worrying about what your products look like when they head out the door. 

Choosing the Right Labeling Equipment

Speed and Productivity

The most substantial impact that labeling equipment has on bakery, deli, and fresh foods 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. 


While a full-size automatic labeling machine for your fresh food, deli, and bakery products 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 your new packaged food labeling machine will pale in comparison to the actual value it provides to your operation as a whole. 


The latest in fresh foods labeling equipment comes with several other assets as well. You will have the ability to design labels that meet industry standards and create brand awareness for your products. With the newest printing and application technology at your fingertips, you will have fewer labeling errors and consistent label placement — no more torn labels or corners pulling away from the container. 

The right labeling machine will provide you and your team with the tools you need to expand your production, cut operating costs, and push quality to the next level. More products will be leaving your production line and reaching customers faster, giving them the absolute best in freshness with your name proudly stamped across it. 

Labeling Fresh Foods for maximum quality

Evaluating Your Setup

The first step in choosing new labeling equipment for your prepared food 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. 


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.

Existing Equipment and Space

It may seem like an exciting prospect to run out and buy the biggest and baddest labeling machine on the market when your brand is growing, but take a minute to think through your next investment clearly before committing. If you are working in a limited space, you will need to ensure that your new label applicator machine will fit in line with your other equipment to take full advantage of its self-feeding properties. Otherwise, you will be stuck with manual feed options that require extra labor and time. Stand-alone machines can still be a good investment, adding up to 300% increases in your productivity, but they require special considerations for the additional staff hours that inline machines do not necessarily need. 

One of the biggest determinants of which machine you choose will be compatibility. If you already have a filler or other packaging machine that you are using for your operations, 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 better. 

Considering Your Container and Label Types

Now that you've taken time to evaluate available space for a new labeling machine, and how you are going to integrate that machine into your current production line, it is time to take a look at the different types of containers and labels used. Packaged fresh foods can be stored in a wide variety of ways for preservation while also being presentable on the store shelf. 

Consider Your Container and Label Types


Depending on the specific fresh food items you are packaging, finding the right container can be a challenge. On the one hand, foods that include fruits and vegetables usually do best when stored in plastic tubs or clamshell containers that can be tightly sealed for the best food preservation. There are also wax paper options, bags, trays, and more that provide you with many different ways to package and display your freshly preserved food. The type of packaging that you choose can impact the final flavor of the foods once they reach the customer, depending on how long the production and transport process takes. This is something to keep in mind to prevent quality issues at the end of the line. Consider creating a sample batch of your products in several different packages and watch them throughout your anticipated delivery time to see how well they hold up before they go to the shelf.

Label Types 

The type of label you choose will ultimately have to match the kind of container you are using. In many cases, labels are placed across the edges of containers to create an unbroken seal at the store. For instance, a clamshell container with a label placed across the top and bottom lips will keep the package securely closed until it is purchased. This is also typically done with wax paper and other plastic tubs as a tamper-proof seal. On the other hand, you can also choose to place a simple label on the top, front, or sides of the container that doesn't cover the seal. If you are using sturdy plastic containers that do not tend to pop open on their own, this may be the simplest answer. 

The label you choose 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 your new labeling equipment to make sure that your labels won't begin peeling before making it off the line. 


Making sure you purchase quality containers and labels is the only way to produce high-quality products consistently. Whichever type of container you decide to use, make sure you are doing regular spot checks to find irregularities in the container shape. 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 labels out there that provide high-quality prints while being 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 will be able to identify cheap labels because they won't be able to identify your foods in the store clearly. 

Finding the Right Labeling Equipment Partner

Choosing the right labeling equipment is only the first step in fighting for a more efficient and cost-friendly production line. The other half of the battle is ensuring that you are building a positive life-long relationship with your labeling equipment manufacturer and service team. Here's what you need to know about your new labeling equipment partner before making a purchase.

Finding the Right Labeling Equipment Partner


No 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. 

Parts Availability

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.

Parts Availability

Quality Control

Before you make your purchase, ask about your equipment provider about their quality assurance processes. Ideally, they will test your machine rigorously before shipping it to you to ensure that it is performing up to 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. 


Choosing the perfect labeling equipment for your deli, bakery, packaged meals, prepared foods, and food to-go 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

About Pack Leader USA

Who We Are

As 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 fresh food industry.

Our Commitment

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 fresh prepared foods industry operation improve productivity and efficiency and fit your budget.

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Check out the following case studies to see how Pack Leader USA helped other small businesses find the perfect labeling solutions for their fresh food needs.

Herb Company