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.