Transforming Ready Meal Packaging with Linerless Labels
Prep Kitchen was established in 2016 and started as a health food restaurant in Southend, UK. Responding to consumer demand, they started delivering healthy, freshly prepared food locally, right to people’s doorsteps. The ready meal delivery service proved to be a great success, so much so that Prep Kitchen expanded its business and launched an online store. Additionally, its line of foods continues to expand with 29 meals now tailored into each of four categories: Balanced Fat Loss, Balanced Muscle Gain, Reduced Carb Fat Loss, and Reduced Carb Muscle Gain.
THE CHALLENGES OF PACKAGING READY MEALS
The success of the ready meal service was not reflected in the factory environment. Subsequently, Prep Kitchen had many problems with its banding machine to apply “webbing bands” to its product lines. Machine downtime was commonplace in the factory as the stretch wrapper was causing a lot of disruption. Most notably, label application was slow and jams in the machine were frequent, due to webbing strips kinking during feeding. And when switching to a new product, with a new coil of strapping material, a lot of that material was wasted. These issues have resulted in additional staff costs, as the grouping process is partly manual. And to add insult to injury, the end result was a shoddy label that didn’t reflect Prep Kitchen’s food standard. Prep Kitchen decided to research an alternative labeler with a different label style and format for their ready meal packaging.
In addition to the ready-meal label issue, Prep Kitchen was also having issues with its plastic “to-go” container. The lids proved inconsistent in the application process, with some lids not attaching to the plastic tray at all. Again, this led to further frustration and downtime in the plant. Therefore, the decision was made to source a different tray and sealing process for its ready meals range.
After extensive research into alternative labeling methods and technologies, Prep Kitchen decided to go linerless for its ready meal packaging. Prep Kitchen purchased a Ravenwood Nobac 5000, capable of applying linerless labels at a rate of 150 ppm. The Nobac 5000 Linerless Applicator is a fully automated linerless sleever and the only machine approved for the application of Ravenwood’s linerless labels.
The Nobac 5000 applicator was also fitted with thermal transfer encoders: a 53 mm Falcon and a 106 mm Eagle. With the integration of encoders, printing variable data at two separate locations on the same label is an added feature. With multiple recipes and SKUs, Prep Kitchen loves the flexibility the Twin Coder has to offer. The coders deliver fast print speeds and minimize downtime with the ability to quickly change printed ingredients across different batches, through the coder interfaces. Currently, Prep Kitchen uses the front of the label for printing, but plans to use the back, with additional product information, marketing mechanisms and promotions. Due to the lack of a label liner, linerless labels benefit from a dual print area with both sides of the label free for printing.
Prep Kitchen labels are printed by a Ravenwood approved linerless printer, Coveris UK. Coveris advised on both label design and assisted in the seamless transition from the previous label application method to Nobac 5000.
Ravenwood recommended Ireland-based machine distributor Versatile Packaging for the new ready meal tray, and Proseal UK to supply a tray sealing machine to seal them. Again, the punnet and seal process surpasses the previous “to-go” platter. The Proseal sealer can seal trays at a rate of 60 ready meals per minute. The end result also benefits from a much improved presentation.
The move to linerless for Prep Kitchen’s ready-meal labels and the change in tray format completely transformed Prep Kitchen’s packaging and labeling facility. With the expansion of business operations, there was an urgent need to increase uptime and increase throughput. Prep Kitchen has now fully automated its labeling processes and therefore reduced the number of people on the production line. As a result, this had led to an increase in line efficiency and a reduction in costly downtime, attributed to the previous labeling method.
According to Prep Kitchen manager Mark Morley, the presentation of linerless labels on the package is also unmatched when compared to webbing strips. Subsequently, the linerless was deployed on the four ranges of ready meals from Prep Kitchen.