64-bit Printers Are Key Ingredients in Revamped Labeling Operation

The logo of Seattle Sutton's Healthy Eating (SSHE) neatly captures the company's mission. Silhouetted against a blazing sun, five small figures stride from left to right across the logo. Each figure has a different body type. Starting with the overweight figure at the far left, the figures grow progressively thinner until they culminate in the fit, slimmed-down form at the far right.

Based in Ottawa, Ill., SSHE is a leader in the growing home-meal-replacement market. Each week, the company prepares and packages up to 150,000 fresh high-nutrition, low-calorie meals at its 25,000-square-foot production facility.

Over the last two years, Seattle Sutton's Healthy Eating has revamped its label-printing operation in order to gain added flexibility and control over production. The company has installed three Avery Dennison™ 6406 Printers, supplied by Avery Dennison Printer Systems Americas, and now prints content labels for its meals entirely in house, instead of relying on labels ordered and printed in advance.


Problems with Preprinted Labels

After the meals are prepared at the SSHE facility, they are packaged in plastic containers. Labels measuring about 14 inches long are then applied to the container lids. In the past, these labels came preprinted with the SSHE logo, a list of ingredients, nutritional data and other information. Meals containing meat, which account for about 40% of total output, also carried a distributed-by date, in accordance with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations. Traditionally, this was the only part of the label printed on site at the SSHE facility.

Prior to May 2002, the date-coding was done by an older-style thermal transfer printer that lacked a ribbon-save feature. In addition, the old printer was slow and increasingly subject to breakdowns.

"We would often have to repair the old printer in the middle of a label run," says Chris Johnson, head of the SSHE label-printing operation. "There were occasions when our delivery trucks were nearly late leaving the building because of label-printing problems."

Using preprinted labels to identify meals also limited the company's ability to introduce new meals and to make menu changes, according to SSHE plant manager Kathy Tuntland.

"In order to reduce label costs, we commonly ordered preprinted labels by the tens of thousands," says Tuntland. "But since labels must accurately reflect meal contents, this meant that we were unable to change a meal until the labels ran out. Printing complete labels in-house would give us the flexibility to introduce a new meal to the rotation or to change a menu item rather than having to wait until we ran out of labels."


Upgrading the Labeling Operation

In 2002, the decision was made to upgrade the label-printing operation and to eventually print labels entirely in house. After consulting with Avery Dennison applications specialist Rich Reiter and systems integrator Miles Technologies, Inc., of Lake Zurich, Ill., the company selected a new printer-the Avery Dennison™ 6406. With Reiter's assistance, SSHE installed the first printer in May 2002. The Avery Dennison™ 6406 employs 64-bit microprocessor technology to produce high-quality 300-dpi text, graphics and bar codes. The printer has a 16-inch-per-second maximum print speed and a print width of six inches. Its automatic ribbon-save feature reduces ribbon waste and associated costs in applications where large portions of labels are not printed. The printer's two-line, 16-character display allows for easy setup and monitoring of print operations.

Initially, the printer was employed to print distributed-by dates only. The ribbon-save feature was particularly important in this application, which involved printing on only a small, 1/4-inch section of the 14-inch-long labels. Labels were date-coded two at a time, side by side. The 6406's ribbon-save feature saved 96% of potential ribbon usage in the application.

During its first year, the 6406 printer proved to be highly reliable, suffering no major problems. It was capable of printing distributed-by dates on 50,000 labels in an eight-hour day, a printing rate four times faster than the old printer.


Improved Labeling and Production Flexibility

SSHE officials were encouraged by the printer's performance and moved forward with their plans to eliminate preprinted labels. The company purchased and installed two additional Avery Dennison™ 6406 printers to handle the larger workload, and in the fall of 2003 began printing labels for both meat and non-meat meals completely in-house. The company now purchases labels that are blank except for the SSHE logo.

The expanded labeling operation has enabled SSHE to react more quickly to consumer demand and market conditions and to make menu substitutions based on ingredient quality and availability.

"In the past, if a shipment of plums arrived and part of the shipment was bad, we would have to go to several local retail stores and try to find enough plums to fill the order exactly as indicated on the preprinted labels," says Chris Johnson. "Now in the same situation, we are usually able to substitute an available fruit like strawberries for the understocked fruit. That's because we now have the ability to edit and print the labels in-house to reflect the substitution."