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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Commercial Printing: Package Printing for Vegetables

Everywhere I look now I see articles about how digital custom printing benefits the package production market. Moreover, this seems to be a two-way street, with the approach of a business to packaging and distribution changing and growing in response to advances in digital commercial printing.

More specifically, I read an article this week about corrugated packaging for vegetable boxes. The title of the article was “Keeping Packaging Fresh for Veg Boxes.” It was written by Cristobal Macedo of HP (Hewlett-Packard) and published online in Packaging News on November 7, 2018. The article focused on a new breed of consumer, the “locavore,” who prefers to buy locally sourced foods. The article refers to them as “ideological consumers who prefer to buy foods farmed in their region” (“Keeping Packaging Fresh for Veg Boxes”). So, as I understand it, the term seems to pertain more to supporting local vendors than to buying fresher produce (although both may be true).

The article goes on to say that online vendors are offering seasonal fruit and vegetable boxes as well as eggs, cheese, meat, and other foods, and that this creates the need for corrugated (and other) packaging. Moreover, it also creates the opportunity for marketers to directly communicate with consumers in bi-directional ways using commercial printing as the initiating medium.

In addition, the success of the online sale of locally sourced food, and the interactive marketing it has spawned, has further increased demand by locavores, and the number of local food vendors has grown. Furthermore, their entry into the locavore market has increased the demand for digitally printed packaging.

The Perfect Storm

What makes this marriage of locally sourced food and digital package printing so successful is the variable nature of digital commercial printing, the ability to economically produce short print runs of corrugated food packages, and the availability of food-safe inks that do not migrate into, and therefore do not contaminate, the food.

Regarding the issue of press run length, for analog printing to be a competitive technology, food vendors would need to produce much longer runs of their packaging jobs. There would be issues of storage, waste, and possible obsolescence of packaging. Printing on corrugated board via offset lithography would not be an option, since the pressure of the press rollers would crush the fluting in the corrugated board. Therefore, low-pressure options such as flexography (a relief custom printing process using rubber plates) would be the technology of choice. This would allow for direct printing on the corrugated board, but it would yield lower quality results than offset printing, so (presumably) the creative packaging design would need to be simpler. Or, if the press run were very long, the printer could offset print the marketing artwork for the corrugated boxes onto liner paper that would be laminated to the fluting, and then the flat box material could be converted into corrugated cartons.

But all this would only be good for long press runs.

In contrast, digital printing allows for the spraying of non-toxic printing inks directly onto the fluted corrugated board of the cartons, with the print heads never directly contacting the substrate. Therefore, nothing can crush the box material. Moreover, the high quality of the technology will allow for much greater detail (both higher resolution and a wider color gamut than the other commercial printing options), all while allowing for economical, short press runs.

In addition, all of this can be done quickly, with an infinite varying of the creative marketing message on each fruit or vegetable box or with short, versioned press runs that allow for seasonal marketing (maybe a special press run for fresh peaches during a limited period) or localized marketing (maybe a special press run of boxes aimed at a small geographical location).

At it’s most granular level, this can even allow farmers to communicate directly (through their package messaging) with individual customers or at least small groups of customers. Such messaging can therefore be more personal and targeted to the customer’s interests, and this can open up a dialog between the food producers and the food consumers.

Such a dialog can then be enhanced through the pairing of online messaging with the printed package. A customer can initiate the purchase online through a web-based store; the fruits and vegetables can be packaged in boxes decorated with digital printing; and when the boxes arrive at the customer’s door, specific messaging on the corrugated cartons can direct the customer back to the Internet to further the conversation with the local food vendors. (This messaging may include nutritional information, cooking recipes, and information about the farm and the farming practices.)

In addition, digital printing offers a functional tracking benefit. Since each corrugated box can be different, identifying codes can be added to track the growing and shipping of all food products.

Macedo’s article in Packaging News, “Keeping Packaging Fresh for Veg Boxes,” refers to the “unboxing experience,” noting that receiving the package, reading all of the printed messaging, and absorbing the overall “look” of the brand allow for an intimate point of connection between the farmer and the customer, particularly since the customer can personalize the boxes when she or he orders the food online. In addition, the farmers can enhance the experience by varying the packaging. Therefore, the customer can be continually intrigued by new and different packaging each time she or he orders.

The Farmers

“Keeping Packaging Fresh for Veg Boxes” goes on to describe some of the food producers who have benefited from digital printing technology.

The first case study involves an egg vendor in the Czech Republic, Golden Egg. Macedo’s article notes that the commercial printing quality available through digital inkjet allows for superior graphics, which can be varied to show the region where each batch of eggs originated. This visual, as well as written, sourcing information can enhance both the knowledge and the confidence of egg buyers.

The second case study involves Vignola, an Italian fruit consortium. Using digital printing paired with QR Codes, the vendor produces individual fruit boxes that can send the customer (via the Internet) to information on the grower, the date of the food production, etc.

A third case study involves Yamo Foods in Germany. This vendor prints corrugated packaging (through Thimm Group) that is food safe (due to the nature of the digital printing inks). Buy beyond this, Yamo can provide “tamper-proof boxes with a printed safety strip” (“Keeping Packaging Fresh for Veg Boxes”). This not only provides secure packaging throughout the process but also enhances the customer’s level of comfort in the reliability and safety of the food product.

What You Can Learn from This Article

There are a number of elements in Macedo’s article that interest me and that might interest you as well, if you design printed products or sell custom printing:

    1. The concept of the “locavore” is supported by the flexibility and personalization capabilities of digital commercial printing. Just as the nature of the locavore creates the demand for digital printing, the capabilities of digital printing also foster the growth and multiplication of small farmers through variable-data printing and online communication. Each fosters the growth of the other.


    1. Printed marketing materials and Internet communication also have a mutually supportive effect. Used together, they are more effective than either used alone.


    1. All of this consumer demand bodes well for growth in digital printing: including the quality, cost, and flexibility of the technology, as well as the growth of post-press finishing operations (and other elements beyond the printing component).


  1. All of this also bodes well for printing in general, digital printing specifically, and both copywriting and package design.

2 Responses to “Commercial Printing: Package Printing for Vegetables”

  1. Hi there, I check your new stuff regularly. Your story-telling style is awesome, keep
    up the good work!

    • admin says:

      That is so kind of you to say. That’s exactly how I try to present it, as a story. A little bit of information and a little bit of fun. Keep reading.


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