PD_Packaging Digest

Packaging Digest, Fall 2015

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Page 27 of 39

28 BEST PRACTICES // FALL 2015 www.PackagingDigest.com Looking for the best date code? Exclusive poll results show best practices for date coding on packaging lines, as well as current and future challenges for food and beverage companies. Lisa McTigue Pierce, Executive Editor When it comes to food and beverage safety and waste, consumers often rely on the package's date code to help them decide whether to consume the product or not. Are date codes helping or hurting in this regard? "Best by." "Sell by." "Use by." Consumers throw away so much food that still might be safe to eat because the current date codes are confusing to them. Without a better system, they fgure it's better to be safe than sorry. No one wants to get sick—or even die—from bad food or drinks, right? How can date codes on foods and beverages help improve safety and prevent waste? To fnd out, Packaging Digest conducted an exclusive online poll on this topic. By the time the poll had closed, 367 respondents had shared opinions and best practices on their preferred date coding phrase, favorite coding technology and production challenges, as well as potential code replacements and future changes. preferred phrase Date codes on food and beverage packages continue to be a source of confusion for consumers as they try to balance minimizing product waste with safe consumption. Tere are many ways to explain when a product should be used by but our survey revealed which phrase packaging professionals prefer to use. Te vast majority (91%) of food and beverage companies answering our poll currently print a date code on their product packaging. For the 9% that don't, the reasons varied, from "Our product is direct retail for immediate consumption today" and "Very high product turnover rate. We do use batch coding for QC" to "Not needed" and "Our products are 'thaw then sell.' Date codes are applied at store level." A couple respondents admitted that packaging department hold-ups were at fault: "Don't have coding machine" and "Still fguring packaging out." When we asked which phrase was preferred to use, "Best by" won out at 59% (See "Which phrase do you prefer to use?" pie below at left). Surprisingly, the next highest option was "Other" at 19%. Tese survey takers wrote in the "Other" phrase they prefer to use and we see a lot of variety in the way companies indicate freshness, some quite creative. Such as: "Guaranteed fresh until printed date" "Discard after" "Best served before" "Expiration date" Several respondents said they simply use the production or packed date, which is not necessarily decipherable by consumers. And others were on either end of the spectrum: None: "We don't like any of them. Currently it is just a Julian date for our resellers to use. We would use Best By and are still considering it." All: "We use all three depending on product and where it is produced at. Most of our product is co- packed so it can vary." By nearly two to one, respondents said they think customers/consumers understand how these phrases are diferent from each other. 65% selected positive responses "Always," "Usually" and "Sometimes" versus 35% choosing "Rarely" or "Never." (See "Do you think consumers understand how these are diferent?" bar chart on the opposite page at top.) Tis might indicate that current date coding practices and consumer education in the U.S. is adequate. However, according to the September 2013 Natural Resources Defense Council report Te Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America (pdlinks. com/DatingGame), "Misinterpretation of the date labels on foods is a key factor leading to this waste." Te report goes on to say, "It is alarming how much [food] Americans throw away, despite the serious ethical, environmental and fnancial implications of this waste. An estimated 40% of food in the United States goes uneaten, and according to even the most conservative estimates, Americans waste 160 billion pounds of food each year." favorite coding technology For the most part, packaging operations are pretty satisfed with the coding technology they are using to apply date codes to packages, with inkjet leading competitive options. But will existing capabilities serve future expectations? Respondents identifed the various coding technologies they are currently using to add date codes to their packages (see "Which coding technology are you using to add date codes to your package(s)?" chart at the top left on p.30). Te frontrunner, inkjet, scored a healthy 63%. Next up at 37% is print-and-apply labeling, which is somewhat surprising when you think that the vast majority of date codes are added to primary packages and p/a labeling is typically seen more on shippers. Laser wins a respectable third place at 28% but is up-and-coming as a replacement (more on this in a bit). Less-used technologies of thermal/thermal transfer and embossing are fourth and ffth at 16% and 10%, respectively. And only 8% selected "Other," as identifed as hand or rubber stamps and manual date wheels on one end of the spectrum, and as pre-printed codes when the package is printed on the other end. Te majority (61%) do not plan to change the type of coding technology in the next year (see "Do you plan on changing the coding technology you're using now anytime in the next year?" chart on p.30). For participants currently using inkjet, though, 69% say they do not plan on changing in the next year. However, nearly 40% say, yes, they do (16%) or they don't know (23%). Tat's a hefty chunk of the pie. Yet inkjet still comes out on top as the go-to replacement, with 40% of poll participants leaning Food and beverage companies have many ways to clearly explain to consumers when the product is safe to be consumed. Which phrase do you prefer to use? (check only one) Source: 2015 Spring Packaging Digest online poll Sell By 7% Use By 16% Best By 59% Other 19%

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