The importance of keeping up appearances

Jenny Roper
Wednesday, February 22, 2012

We all know the score: organic fare is better for us and, to most palates, tastier than food that has been processed within an inch of its life. But it also costs a lot more.

The challenge for the organic and whole-foods retailer and its printer, then, is to make sure the packaging is doing its bit to justify the extra expense. Preaching about ‘naturally sweetened’ products and ‘unrefined grains’ is all very well, but, as we all know, if packaging isn’t attractive it will be overlooked by all but a loyal few consumers.

Of course, another challenge is to make sure the packaging lives up to the virtuous credentials of the food inside. For many consumers, there’s no point dispensing with chemical fertilisers and pesticides if a food’s packaging isn’t also doing its bit for the planet. And so the substrate and inks used will be key. 

So how can packaging printers help whole-foods brands maximise their impact on the shelf, while, at the same time, minimising their impact on the environment? We talk to two companies to get an insight into their packaging needs.


Organix is a baby and toddler food retailer founded in 1992. The company is supplied by 20 organic food manufacturers around the world and so liaise with 60 different printers for packaging for their range of cereals, fruit purees, savoury pouches and steam-cooked ready-meals.

Producing food for young children, the company’s priority when it comes to packaging is to ensure that the quality of the food is preserved.

Packaging and artwork manager Kate Ware says: "With so many different suppliers, keeping our packaging consistent – and, of course, the brand’s colours uniform – is an ongoing battle. So we use a centralised reprographics house in the UK and make sure suppliers know that everything needs to be approved and go through those guys.

"We have set guidelines that all our printers have to adhere to, and most of these concern functionality. Our packaging has to reflect the ethos of our company, which is all about giving young children high-quality food made from natural ingredients. So my role is to make sure that the packaging’s primary function is to preserve the food’s quality and shelf life.

"Food safety is obviously paramount so we have very strict guidelines on plastics and films, for example. If a supplier wants to include something in the packaging that we’re not sure meets these standards, we will challenge them to go and find an alternative.

"For example, we’ve just launched a savoury cereal bar that will be wrapped in gravure-printed packaging. The supplier wanted us to use a new single mono-web film, but I was uncomfortable because we’ve always used multilayered films on our cereal bars to keep them in the best possible condition over their shelf life.

"The main problem with the mono-web film was that it didn’t meet our rigorous testing requirements. So we pushed back on that and said we would stick with multilayered packaging until the testing had been done. This is an example of how we can’t just do things because printers phone up and say they have a new process, which could cut costs and be more environmentally friendly – I have a technical department that I have to make sure are happy with changes.

"I would, however, welcome our printers being more proactive in suggesting new ideas for saving money and making our packaging more innovative. In the main, we work closely with printers at the start of contracts, but only have longer conversations about new substrates and processes about once a year.

"I think printers could play more of a role in that as there’s real potential for them to suggest something we won’t have thought of. Removing the tabs on some of our cereal bar cartons, for example, was a great suggestion from one of our printers as it allowed us to fit more boxes on one printing plate and so save money. But we wouldn’t have known to do that ourselves.

"I’d also welcome more input on how to make our packaging more eco-friendly. We have strict guidelines on only using recycled solid and corrugated board – unless it’s a huge contract in which case we’d use FSC or equivalent – and generally printers are very receptive to meeting these. They realise that, with sustainability becoming the focus of more and more companies, the sorts of substrates we’re after will also be popular with others. But what would really help us here is if printers came up with more ideas rather than just responding to our requests.

"Another way my life as packaging manager could be made easier is through the design side of things. We still find that some design agencies only think about what a design is going to look like on the computer screen and when they print it off on their printers, but not when actually functioning as packaging.

"Obviously, unsuitable designs make the initial design stage much more time-consuming. So the whole process could be sped up if designers thought more about what a design would look like on, for example, a shiny substrate and as a 3D product on the shelf."

Rude health

Rude Health was founded "around the kitchen table" six years ago by Camilla Barnard, her husband and two neighbours. The company’s aim is to produce healthy and tasty mueslis, porridges, granola, cereals and snacks that are either organic or contain only unprocessed, unrefined, naturally sweetened ingredients. Starting off in local delicatessens, the brand’s mueslis and porridges were picked up by Waitrose in 2008 and its seven-grain granolas are now being rolled-out in Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda.

Co-owner Camilla Barnard says: "For a small start-up company such as ours, with strong brand principles and new design ideas, it’s vital that we work with a printer who is flexible and prepared to talk things through with us in-depth. My husband, Nick, has a background in non-fiction publishing, so was familiar with printing processes, but it’s still been a real learning curve for us.

"The main challenge has been maintaining the quirky look of our packaging while making sure it stands out on the supermarket shelf. We started off selling our cereals in delicatessens where a simple, artisan brown bag worked well. But when we launched in Waitrose in 2008 we had to come up with a more commercially viable box design.

"For this we chose EcoKraft board, which has the right organic, unrefined look. But this substrate means we’re not printing onto the coated side of the board and so inevitably issues arise in achieving the right colours. Because we can’t simply select a Pantone, it’s a matter of trial and error, and so arriving at the right colour can be very time-consuming.

"Because of this it’s been really important to us to have a printer who is patient about the fact that we had designed our packaging without fully realising what the implications for the print process would be. It’s crucial that they welcome us on press each time a run is printed so we can make sure that the colour we have in mind is being achieved. 

"The real issue in terms of making the packaging stand out on the shelf is that we can’t achieve a brilliant white on EcoKraft without passing the board through the press twice. Obviously this is an extra cost – money we’d rather spend on the food.

"This became critical when designing the packaging for our new seven-grain granola. We wanted really good colour accuracy and intensity so we decided to use a new substrate, Hermiwhite, to ensure the white on our packaging was bright enough to compete with the colourful and busy designs of other cereal brands.

"We haven’t yet moved all of our packaging to Hermiwhite. All of our organic mueselis and porridges still use EcoKraft, because any change is always a nightmare in terms of the time and money spent on new artwork and plates.

"For us, environmental considerations are very important – these have to match our overall ethos of healthy and sustainable living. So one of the main reasons we went for EcoKraft was because it was recycled and undyed. We also use all water-based inks on our packaging.

"As we have become more knowledgeable about printing processes, however, we’ve discovered that environmental printing is an incredibly complicated area. There are all sorts of complexities to consider, such as the source and content of recycled board and the fact that it might well take more energy to produce recycled than sustainable virgin board. So you’re left with the quandary of whether it’s better to use virgin board that is FSC approved rather than recycled board.

"It does feel like a constant struggle to determine which substrate is most environmentally friendly as each supplier has its own standards that they’re communicating. Our printers are very helpful with this process, but there is only so much they can do. In an ideal world, they would be able to come to us with a portfolio saying which substrates are best for the planet in which particular circumstances. Then we could balance this information with the commercial pricing realities we face on shelf.


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