Fast and fresh

19 July 2017

It’s cheaper, quicker and easier. With no plates and shorter runs, digital printing offers brands the chance to launch new formats and special offers, and lets manufacturers achieve short runs with minimal fuss. Emma-Jane Batey hears about the advantages of the format from Marine Love from Natural Balance Foods, Darlene McCormick from protein brand that protein, and Stuart Flatt from Direct to Media.

It’s cheaper, quicker and easier. With no plates and shorter runs, digital printing offers brands the chance to launch new formats and special offers, and lets manufacturers achieve short runs with minimal fuss. Emma-Jane Batey hears about the advantages of the format from Marine Love from Natural Balance Foods, Darlene McCormick from protein brand that protein, and Stuart Flatt from Direct to Media.

Everything's going digital: music, cameras, even dating. And printing is no exception. Thanks to shorter runs and faster, cheaper turnaround, digital is quickly becoming the printing method of choice, especially for start-ups and established brands with new launches or special offers.


Digital printing methods include inkjet or laser printers that deposit pigment or toner onto the paper. This process does not require plates, unlike offset lithographic printing, making it an easier and faster way to print. While the cost-per-sheet can be higher using digital, there is no need to factor in the cost of all the technical steps, time and man-hours needed for traditional lithographic printing. Digital also differs from litho in that it uses CMYK process colours, which are applied concurrently by machine.


All these time and effort savers afforded by digital printing means it is the logical choice for a wide range of packaging applications. Natural Balance Foods, owner of popular 'better-for-you’ snack brands Nakd and TREK, has embraced digital printing for its fast-growing range of protein-rich cereal bars.


New formats such as TREK Protein Energy Chunks and Nakd Posh Bits have seen resealable bags join the company’s roster of bars. Natural Balance Foods' marketing director Marine Love tells Converting Today, “The consumer trend across many categories is for premium and indulgent products packaged in sharing, resealable bags. Nakd Posh Bits replaces and updates our current Nakd Bits range, which has seen an increase of 78% in year-on-year growth, with chocolate flavours driving that growth. Our new Nakd Posh Bits takes our sharing range to another level, with grown-up, indulgent  'treaty' flavours to differentiate them from other products in our range, and new premium packaging that can be resealed. Digital printing allows us to introduce limited editions such as our Lemon Drizzle bar, which is perfect for those who have a bit of a sweet tooth but strive to be healthy – it's free from added sugars or syrups and contains all-natural ingredients.”


Speedy runs

The speedy, short runs offered by digital printing are perfect for limited editions, which in turn are perfectly suited to that other form of digital – social media. The Nakd Lemon Drizzle bar has already generated over 35,000 #LemonDrizzle mentions on Instagram. The TREK Protein Energy Chunks are also on-trend, Love explains. “Google searches for 'protein' have increased dramatically and consumers are demanding high protein snacks post-workout and to help them remain fuller for longer,” she says. “By using the fast response of digital printing, we can tailor our packaging message to suit consumer trends.”


Nakd Posh Bits and TREK Protein Energy Chunks are available across UK supermarkets, convenience stores and online. They have been selling well at ASDA, the UK's third-largest supermarket chain. ASDA buyer Dean Hayden says, “Nakd Bits have performed really well for ASDA, so I am expecting new Posh Bits to really drive extra sales. The team at Nakd have done a great job in reformulating the Bits product and I believe the new flavours and resealable pouch will be a winner with ASDA customers.”



With the trend for high protein products showing no signs of slowing down – particularly as the healthy diet of low carb, high fat awareness is still in its infancy – digital printing makes the perfect process for growing brands and brands that are rapidly introducing new variants. Protein powder brand that protein is showing that smart nutrition has gone way beyond weightlifting and muscle vests.


That protein, the brand, was founded by nutritionalist Darlene McCormick and offers premium organic plant protein powders and superfoods. McCormick explains how digital printing is the ideal solution for a fast-moving brand. “We have an artisan approach to our brand to the superproteins we make,” she says. The recipes are entirely developed and owned by us, and we believe our packaging reflects this – people can see from the packaging what they are getting is something different to other protein powders or superfoods.”


Somewhat unusually, that protein designs all its packaging in-house thanks to the design expertise of Patrick McCormick. Its five current variants include I Heart Pumpkin and Chia Seed; Happy Happy Hemp and Baobab; and Nutty Nutty Peanut Butter. “Key to our packaging is the blend of imagery and words; we created the 'superprotein' category to communicate that our products are a fusion of plant proteins and superfood proteins,” she says. “We know that the packaging appeals to our target customer, who is largely an 18 to 45-year-old health conscious consumer who wants to enjoy life to the full. We use digital printing for our packaging and it is manufactured in the UK; nothing about our brand is standard and off the shelf. It suits our constant development approach and means we can quickly get the results we need. To be honest, the packaging of our products has been one of our biggest issues, but thankfully we're there now.”


 Digital direct


Specialist company Direct to Media (DTM) offers digital printing through a hybrid UV-cured digital printer. Thanks to this robust, long-lasting type of print, the company can digitally print on a large scale. This 'best of both worlds' situation means that the Thetford-based company can digitally print on almost any material, not just paper or card. DTM marketing manager Stuart Flatt notes, “Our printer is one of the largest-format printers around, with a width of 2.5m, and allows us to print on rigid media up to 6m in length – even longer for vinyl printing or on a roll. We've even just finished a wrap for a whole building.”


Flatt believes that digital printing offers premium, high-end packaging as well as bespoke solutions, with flexibility and speed a clear advantage. “Most of our digital prints are actually printed to plastics or PVC and we've also printed to glass, metal and even wood,” he says. “With digital printing we can also change images, and personalisation is the norm. We're being asked to print more personalised and bespoke products, such as the strapline targeting a different user or demographic, or perhaps even differences in geographic location. Digital printing removes the need for the production of old printing plates meaning that changes can be made near-instantly and for a much lower cost.”


While DTM is a relatively new company, its collective experience of over 30 years in plastics and printing means that the company is well-positioned to harness myriad opportunities in digital printing. “We noticed a large space in the market for printing to non-standard materials other than paper and card,” Flatt says. “We run a Signracer 2500 H-LED Hybrid Printer, with a five-head device that allows crystal clear prints of up to 1200 dpi – the average photo is just 300 dpi. Using clear media, single-sided prints can even be colour enhanced on both sides for all-round viewing and 3D effects.”


With its ability to offer speed and flexibility that brands have come to expect, coupled with the cost-saving element and enhanced attention to detail, it looks like digital is a trend that's not going anywhere.


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