The Art Of Produce Labeling And Bag Printing

Photos courtesy of Dole, Maglio Produce, Melissa's and Frieda's

‘They’re like a billboard in the fridge or pantry.’

Years ago, when most produce was sold from bulk bins, labeling and packaging rarely were associated with fresh fruits and vegetables. Today’s produce departments demonstrate the creative and effective ways that produce labels and packaging are helping to sell more fruits and vegetables.

“Nielsen data shows fixed-weight packaged produce accounts for more than half of produce sales,” observes Kristin Yerecic Scott, marketing director, Yerecic Label, New Kinsington, PA. “Packaged produce allows the grower to communicate more information to the customer from point of purchase through final portion consumption. Labels and packages offer the longest lasting marketing; they’re like a billboard in the fridge or pantry.”

The Food Marketing Institute’s Power of Produce 2019 notes that packaged and branded produce, organics, greenhouse, and value-added all are growing, and shoppers demand being able to see the items in the package.

A recent survey by Culinary Visions, Chicago, similarly found value in produce visibility. “When determining freshness, 85 percent of consumers we polled believe transparent packaging is moderately or extremely important,” says Sharon Olson, executive director. “This can be significant in produce departments, where packaging that allows consumers to see the fruits or vegetables can help sell one brand over another.”

The Packaging Process

“Produce is a competitive market,” says Lisa Hansen, executive vice president of marketing and communications company McDill Associates, Soquel, CA. “Effective packaging communicates your position and the factors that differentiate you from the competition ­— not just freshness but also flavor, function and format. Messaging should be clear, concise, compelling and unique, and designed in a way that strengthens and markets your brand. Your brands need to do their job well. Physically, consider how the package will fit and support the product without being too snug or tight.

“For labels, make sure your files are clean and crisp, and work closely with your printer to get the most out of the printing process. Then set up your team with print-ready templates and a brand-style guide.” Hansen also encourages fun, seasonal, thematic packaging such as spring graphics or a red “ribbon” for the winter holidays.

Labeling and packaging require careful planning. “Many factors need to be considered, including where a product is being sold, costs, environmental impact, handling, and, of course, the consumer,” advises Glenn Sagon, chief executive at brand strategy specialist Sagon-Phior, Los Angeles. “Then look at your brand in comparison to competitors in terms of colors, graphics, logos and proof points. If you can, test a new label or package for usability, recognizability and ability to reach your target customer. It also is important to develop a relationship with key retailers since you need retailer buy-in for securing shelf space.”

Sagon adds that produce packaging and labeling need to clearly communicate what’s inside. “Storytelling is remarkably important because it reveals information that differentiates one product from another. Talking about a locally grown farm, for example, matters to certain shoppers. Color is extremely important. For example, yellow lettering is highly visible and induces appetite, while green connotes fresh, safe, environmentally friendly and possibly organic.” 

Aaron Fox, executive vice president, Fox Packaging, McAllen, TX, notes the package development process begins with a vision, along with the reality of bag and label dimensions. “Once the design is complete, that vision gets sent to our art department to adjust the client’s existing art to the style of its bag. The final rendering is sent to the client for approval, and then plates are created for printing the label. The label goes into production, undergoes conversion, and is shipped to the packing location.”

Produce Packaging Evolves

Mesh bags and stand-up pouches both enjoy popularity for produce packaging. Fox Packaging has combined the best of each into its Stand-Up Combo bag that offers breathability and function. “Ultimately, the aesthetic of the bag captures the eyes of the consumer, and the consumer also benefits from the protection and expanded shelf life offered by the breathable bag,” says Fox.

Fox describes another innovative product, the Fox Combo Ultra Shield bag. “This bag greatly minimizes potato greening caused by light, averted water and gas accumulation in the dehydrating process, and successfully prevents the growth of mold and bacteria to reduce spoilage and unnecessary food waste.”

Sev-Rend’s Netting + Tag packaging type is an ideal and flexible solution for items such as onions and mini potatoes,” says Jeff Watkin, director of marketing, St. Louis. “The netting keeps the items together while allowing the product to breathe, and the tag offers space for branding and marketing. Often, film is used in place of a tag for even more real estate for branding and marketing.”

Maglio Produce, Glendale, WI, developed a Readyripe watermelon pouch that offers benefits for retailers and consumers. “Our pouch technology regulates oxygen, carbon dioxide and water vapor transmission rates, resulting in the quartered watermelon staying fresh for a longer period of time,” explains Sam Maglio, president. “The Readyripe pouch saves retailer time compared to overwrap, and consumers appreciate the convenience and freshness.”

Success Strategies

Labeling has evolved beyond basic branding and into other features of increased importance to consumers, namely nutrition, flavor and use. “We simplify meal planning with recipe tips on an Easy Fresh Cooking label that has been shown to increase sales up to 7 percent,” says Yerecic. “Consumers want recipes to help spice up their usual recipe rotations, as well as key storage information and nutrition. Call-outs such as “High in Vitamin A” draw attention to health benefits. You also can alternate recipes on packages or offer a bilingual recipe label to pull consumers out of their usual recipe rut with fresh new ideas.”

The Wonderful Company stands out for branding to build iconic brands. Adam Cooper, senior vice president marketing, The Wonderful Company, Los Angeles, attributes the company’s achievements to innovating packaging in a way that effectively communicates brand values and helps retail partners to merchandise produce. “The one key theme you will find across The Wonderful Company brands is that our packaging features clean lines, clear messaging and transparency about how our products nourish, naturally.”

Frieda’s combines humor with other label features. “Frieda’s labels are witty and fun, which makes it easier and more delightful to include more fruits and veggies in your diet,” says Alex Berkley, sales manager, Frieda’s Specialty Produce, Los Alamitos, CA. “Our wording makes produce a lot more approachable and less scary for shoppers. We show consumers what products look like when cut. For example, our jackfruit tag shows the cut fruit and describes how to go about cutting and eating it. A watermelon radish stand-up pouch shows that these odd, green, turnip-like radishes have a stunningly bright pink interior.”

“We package and market some of our popular-size items at a consistent price through a UPC scan rather than a PLU label,” explains Robert Schueller, director, public relations, Melissa’s, Los Angeles. “The customer knows the price, and the items are quicker to scan.”

Keeping Causes Top-Of-Mind

Companies are looking for ways to balance consumer desire for packaged produce with concern about the environmental impact. Yerecic Label became aware of an issue with labels and packaging contaminating rPET at recycling plants. Its SustainLabel! easily comes off during the recycling process, allowing more food-grade rPET to re-enter the system.

 “Consumers are more aware and committed to environmental responsibility,” says Lori Taylor, chief executive of education media company The Produce Moms, Indianapolis. “Labels like EFI’s Farmworker Approved, or Naturipe Farms’ new logo and branding are great examples of labels that indicate sustainability and social responsibility. Plastic-reduction solutions like Wada Farms’ potato starch bags and Rockit Apple’s recently-launched biodegradable paper packaging garner positive feedback and sales.”

Melissa’s strongly supports the environment with its packaging. “We use recyclable labels, food-grade stickers, recyclable plastics and cardboards,” says Schueller. “We offer everything from bulk to select package sizing, whatever retailers ask of us to fit their department.” 

Produce for Kids encourages marketing for a cause with information on the label. “When comparing similar products, today’s shopper tends to purchase the item that gives back in some way or showcases corporate responsibility,” says Amanda Keefer, managing director.

Packaging To Attract

Power of Produce 2019 examines the appeal of label and package features to specific demographic groups. Millennials, particularly those with children, prefer packaged produce more than pick-your-own displays. Health-focused label callouts resonate with shoppers in higher-income households, particularly when children are present. Origin information, whether the country, region or even farm, rises with age.

“For kids, character branding is not a trend; it’s a proven strategy,” says Taylor. “From traditional licensing with properties from media giants like Nickelodeon and Disney to propriety properties like Sun Pacific’s Mighties kiwi character, character packaging draws in parents and children and most definitely drives sales. A great example is a recent private label product, Kroger’s new Adorbs mandarins, that leverages kid-friendly vernacular in the brand name and an inviting character on the package.”

Dole is well-recognized in the industry for its character-based partnerships. “Dole strives to improve America’s nutritional health through increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables,” says Bil Goldfield, director, corporate communications. “Putting favorite characters on fresh produce is an incredibly effective way of boosting affinity for and consumption, particularly to kids. Research has shown that favorite characters influence acceptance and behavior among children. In fact, when kids see favorite characters promoting fruit and vegetable consumption and healthier eating, they are more likely to choose fresh fruits and vegetables themselves.”

Time For A Change?

How often should a company change the look of its packaging? “Competition has shortened the cycle for labeling and packaging,” observes McDill’s Hansen. “Any dip in sales could mean that packaging is not doing its job; labeling and packaging need to evolve and grow over time.” Hansen encourages testing new concepts with consumers using online surveys and other simple tools, and then sharing positive consumer reaction with retailers. 

“Refresh your packaging if it looks old and outdated, or you face competitors who are trying to emulate and steal your equity,” advises Sagon. “If your audience no longer is as receptive, communicate flavor, taste, and texture on the packaging, or change graphics and copy to bring out the personality of the brand.”

A Difference For Retailers

“Packaged produce provides solutions for shoppers and retailers,” says Berkley, of Frieda’s. “Shoppers say packaged produce is safer, while for the retailer, packaging helps extend the shelf life of specialty products, reduces miss-rings for items with no PLU, and increases basket rings.”

Dole encourages produce managers to extend its healthy-living messages via price cards, produce signs and promotional materials. Goldfield notes “this can grab the attention of even more kids and their parents, and lead to increased sales year-round. Constantly changing stickers, tags and packaging creates a sense of freshness in the campaigns.”

Ultimately, packaging and labeling need to move produce for the retailer. “Many consumer buying decisions are made at the point of purchase, so package design and label information can influence whether or not a product goes in the cart,” says Shari Steinbach, MS RD, retail consultant, Grand Rapids, MI. In today’s world of transparency, shoppers want to quickly assess the quality of the product and identify where the product was grown. In addition, callouts such as organic are important to many consumers, and nutritional attributes and/or product usage tips can also help drive sales.”

“One of the biggest factors is being able to see the product,” says Mike Roberts, Harps Food Stores, Springdale, AR. “Pretty labels are fine, but products and quality have to shine through the package. I also look for biodegradable packing that is environmentally friendly. And don’t overpower the package with one bright color. I am a big brand guy, so a consistent brand and label build confidence and keep the department looking cleaner. I don’t want to feel like I am at a garage sale.”