By Tom Kerchiss, RK Print Coat Instruments Ltd
But much has changed, due in part to cooking TV programs and glossy Sunday supplement coverage and to some extent the street food stalls that have spring up in many towns and cities. Street food enables the ethnic food aficionado or those that have simply been drawn in by the tempting aroma and look of the food to try a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Eating street food or going to a restaurant to is all well and good but it can, especially if you live away from the big towns and cities leave you wondering what the chances are that your local supermarket stocks something similar? The good news is that a smattering of ethnic ready meals, frozen main course meals and desserts are becoming available. It is easy to see why.
Conservative estimates put the European ethnic food market, which includes foods sold in ethnic food shops, oriental specialist stores, shopping clubs and conventional mainstream supermarkets at around 10 billion euro in 2019. The UK accounts for almost half of sales, ahead of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands. Foods sold for take outs and food consumed at street market are not included due to difficulties associated with collecting data. London is regarded as having one of the most diverse mix of cultures with 40.2 percent of the population identified (2011 Census) as belonging to an Asian, Black or other ethnic group. Of Londoners not born in the UK but now living in London more were born in India than any other country, 300,000, next comes Bangladesh, Poland and Romania, each with 140,000. London also has a large Irish, French, Italian Turkish, Nigerian community.
Perhaps an indicator that interest in world foods is becoming more widespread is that a browse through the chilled and frozen food section of leading supermarket chains reveals Chinese, Indian, Korean, Taiwanese, French, Japanese and Italian foods alongside ingredients and cooking meal kits for Mexican, Vietnamese and Indonesian foods. Recipe promotions for cuisines of the world with all of the ingredients listed and which outlines where they are located within the store are an attractive idea. These encourage experimentation and are ideal for those with a desire to add something new to their cooking repertoire. Ethnic foods can provide a challenge, the challenge of preparing a meal from another country that is as authentic as possible with regard to taste, texture and appearance.
While there is undoubtedly a demand for fresh and exotic fruits and vegetables and for herbs, spices, and for tinned goods such as jackfruit, breadfruit and beans as well as for dried goods such as rice and pulses, the big money for brand owners and for retailers is for ready meals, snacks, confectionery and frozen or chilled desserts.
Let’s stay with desserts. The range of international desserts that are available in selected outlets and in different countries is truly vast; enough to satiate the most jaded of palates. Frozen or as most likely the case chilled desserts include, mousses, flans, cheesecakes, stollens, baked cannoli, upside-down cakes, fruit crumbles, Black Forest Gateau’s, parfait, Kohi Zeri (coffee jelly), Furutsu Sando (Japanese fruit sandwich), Tiramisu, strufoli and rugulach.
Desserts are often an impulse purchase, they’re either bought as a treat or to round off a friends’ meet together. Thousands of companies compete in the dessert market. Ranging from artisans that focus on one or a few types of product to the large food groups whose products are available at leading supermarkets. This is a sector of business in which the packaging must be enticing enough for the consumer to forget about calories and forgo the diet.
Desserts and many other ethnic or world food products are packed in plastic tubs, cups and pails. Stand up pouches or SUP’s are becoming especially popular for sauces and soups. Meals such as Paella or dishes such as Moules a la Mariniere can be packed in flexible bags, while many of the ready meals are made up of an aluminium container, a carded lid and a highly decorative printed slip over-wrapper.
A large number of items are thermoformed for meal trays and for ice cream containers and dessert tubs. Many thermoplastics can be thermoformed, they include PS, PP and Apet. EVOH is commonly incorporated into a co-extrusion for barrier resistance. Many of the food related application require distinctive POS product identification. This can be achieved by either the use of pre-printed sheet or post moulding printing. With the latter, formed items are printed on a regular press, subject to the limitation of size and product shape.
Appearance is everything, ethnic or world foods need to be clearly labelled and both on-pack graphics and colour must be vibrant and appropriately used. There is a particular emphasis on ensuring that there is no confusion. Text may be minimal, ideally with cooking instructions indicated by symbols, helpful if the ethnic food is to be marketed in Asia as well as in Europe or elsewhere. English tends to be the default language but irrespective of language or numbers of languages it’s critical that translations are linguistically accurate.
For the flexographic label or packaging converter and for the manufacturer of inks/coatings and substrates, colour communication devices such as the FlexiProof 100 and variants FlexiProof UV and FlexiProof LED UV are able to ensure that quality demands of customers are met. These devices enable users to colour match off press, resolving ink and substrate related issues easily and quickly.
Reducing on press waste and minimising production machine downtime the FlexiProof can be used to determine printability issues such as gloss, flexibility, durability and rub and chemical resistance prior to full scale production.
Irrespective of the FlexiProof used ink and substrates can be evaluated to determine how they react over time. As the FlexiProof is a scaled down but component critical exact version of a production machine it can be used for trialling purposes, freeing up the production machine for just that, production.
The FlexiProof UV and FlexiProof LED UV differs from the original FlexiProof 100 in that they incorporate a miniaturised UV system.
With regard to the LED UV variant of the FlexiProof: LED UV lamps operate within a relatively narrow part of the UV spectrum. The lamps supplied with RK Print Coat Instruments FlexiProof LED UV typically offers a tailored output either at the important 385nm or 395nm wavelength.
LED UV lamps do not require a warm up time, they are fully operational at the flick of a switch and need only small power units compared with conventional UV systems. The energy/heat output is significantly less so that heat sensitive substrates may be printed and cured. Of note are the environmental benefits namely that lamps are ozone free in operation.
Issues surrounding the use of colour are one thing, sometimes the packaging technologist and converter needs to experiment, to try out different substrates, different adhesives and also to determine the most suitable method of coating and of lamination. An example when a system such as RK Print Coat Instruments VCML-Lab/Pilot coater may be called upon is when a brand owner wants to ensure maximum exposure of a particular product line by packing his/her products in an additional packaging medium. It may be that the existing material is a SUP which is usually to be found in a confectionery aisle of a supermarket. He or she wants a slimmed down version of the item, in this case a clear bag with some form of fixing device so that a handy size bag can be sold on a POS stand near the checkout till. Trials can be undertaken to investigate every possibility and to make certain that commercial objectives are met and that the product is going to be viable.
The VCML Lab/Pilot coater enables users to print, coat and laminate on all types of flexible substrates. Various coatings including inks, varnishes, adhesives and even paint that involves the use of water-based materials or even solvents can be applied. The system also offers short run capability and is highly configurable in order that it can meet the specific requirements of the customer.