The origins of Mooresville Ice Cream Co. can be traced back to 1924, but not a word of the company's long history in Mooresville, NC, was being conveyed by the stock packaging that was used for its DeLuxe ice cream brand.
The brightly colored HDPE tubs, supplied by Plastic Packaging Corp., offered strong shelf impact with their bright colors but were plain. The only copy on the packaging was printed on the clear lids, and it was basic-consisting of a logo; variety information such as the name and a brief description; nutritional data; ingredients list; a bar code; and packaged product volume.
Understanding the importance of the company and the ice cream brand's heritage, the Stamey and Alarcon families started the process of updating the company's ice cream packaging immediately after purchasing the company in 2009. "Two of the owners-Babi Alarcon and David Stamey-got very involved with this project because it was a critical initial step in trying to turn around the company," says Brett French, general manager at Mooresville Ice Cream, whose role in the project was facilitating information flow between Stamey, Alarcon and Asen Marketing & Advertising senior designer and creative director Mark Perriguey.
Mooresville Ice Cream worked with Asen from October 2009 through April 2010 on custom packaging that would highlight the ice cream company's history; the Stamey family operating its North Carolina cattle farm and the heritage of the DeLuxe Ice Cream brand itself. The packaging also needed to retain all the informational elements from the previous packaging without sacrificing shelf appeal.
All of this needed to be done at a cost appropriate for an operation of its size. With great emphasis, French comments, "Because we're a mid-size company, we had to control our costs."
To control these costs, Mooresville Ice Cream and Asen took a smart approach to customization that uses a combination of package printing run lengths. "We came up with a container that could be used for all 11 flavors of our ice cream," French explains. "The lid is the real identifier to what flavor is in the package because the lid copy has the nutritionals plus the flavor name."
The new paperboard container design boldly displays the DeLuxe ice cream logo front and center on the container. A pastoral scene depicts the Stamey family's farming history in North Carolina and offers a clean blue and green background for the container. An icon, placed to the right of the DeLuxe logo, highlights the business' heritage. More information about Mooresville Ice Cream is only a turn away, with copy about the company's historic downtown Mooresville factory on the container back.
To produce the custom canister and lids, Mooresville Ice Cream also changed packaging suppliers to Stanpac Inc. "We worked with Asen to come up with a design, but Stanpac took our design and made it into an actual item," French recalls. "Their in-house person, Michelle Poustie, is the person who really coordinated the creation of new templates: getting them set up, getting the design through preproduction and guiding the job through printing."
When printing the DeLuxe ice cream packaging, Stanpac uses Kodak prepress software and a Kodak computer-to-plate system to create printing plates, which were mounted onto a Heidelberg litho press. Sheets are printed in a four-color process, die-cut and formed into canisters using a Paper Machinery Corp. cup former.
Packaging prompts automation
Conversations about Stanpac supplying the physical packages kick started discussions about Mooresville Ice Cream's filling operations. "We present both the packaging and the equipment in our initial meetings with all of our customers," explains Murray Bain, vp of marketing for Stanpac. "They will tend to either have their own equipment or some older equipment."
Stanpac leases Flex-E-Fill, a filling equipment line that is optimized to work with its containers. "Of course, a customer can use their own equipment with our packaging," Bain remarks, "but, often, it just makes sense to tie in the packaging with our equipment solution."
French appreciated the one-stop shop approach for packaging and filling equipment. Explaining how the leasing agreement works, French remarks, "We had to do the upgrading to the facility for the installation, but Stanpac provides the actual filling machine and maintains an extensive warehouse of spare parts and full-time maintenance staff. They even have a fleet of these particular machines that they service and recondition. Our rental agreement with Stanpac gives us very extensive onsite and remote service for the day-to-day operation of the filling equipment."
The primary challenges for Mooresville Ice Cream's part of the installation project were preparing the facility and ensuring close proximity between the packaging line and the food processing area. "The shortest distance between the machines making the ice cream and the filler is absolutely paramount," French remarks, "so we had to relocate certain operations to give us room to install the line."
Because the Flex-E-Fill system contains a pneumatic device, it required Mooresville Ice Cream to upgrade not only its electrical system but also add compressed air lines.
The most pressing issue for Mooresville Ice Cream Co., though, was the one that was self imposed. "From the time that we knew the machine was coming, we set a deadline for the work to be done in a six- to eight-week window," French recalls. "To make it happen, we had one lead project manager and essentially two consultants: one consultant-Don Greenlee-from our side, and the other consultant from the equipment provider side.
"Don's a consultant for our parent company, Longitude 80 Dairies LLP, and he has probably 30 years of line experience on ice cream," French adds. "He's worked with this manufacturer's equipment before, which has several different attachments for different size packages and I think it even can be used for ice cream novelties. He has a tremendous amount of experience with the different fill sizes that this machine can do and what it takes to run it on a regular basis."
The technical person from Stanpac was Greg Martin, who worked as part of the packaging and equipment supplier's technical service and machine building group. "Our technical service and machine building group will first consult with the dairy to see what type of auxiliary equipment is needed to work along with the Flex-E-Fill machine," Bain explains. "Then we'll work to make sure that everything is integrated properly. So there are teams of people behind a Stanpac technician: they include both our in-house machine building people and our field service technical people."
Greenlee and Martin used a combination of the new filling system with existing equipment to automate filling of 16- and 56-oz containers of DeLuxe ice cream. Ice cream is piped in from the company's three ice cream processors into the filler, where it is dispensed into containers, which are coded by Mooresville's existing Greydon Inc. coder. A starwheel rotates filled containers to a lidding area. Lids travel down a chute to be paired with a base container. The lids travel on top of the containers and are pressed down onto the bases by the actions of the starwheel and a strategically placed piece of sheet metal. The starwheel carries a filled base and its lid under the sheet of metal, which is sloped downwards. As the pair travels, the lid is pressed onto the container. The pair continues to rotate until it reaches an exit conveyor.
Filled containers are carted from the filling system to a Weldotron Inc. shrink wrapper, where operators place the filled ice cream canisters into bags that travel through the heat tunnel. Wrapped ice cream packages are moved quickly into the hardening room, where personnel manually build product pallets.
A min. of 40 percent growth
With its new custom packaging and filling system, Mooresville is estimating a significant increase in sales. "If we were to do nothing else but just change the packaging, we estimate a 40 percent increase of sales from existing customers in the first year," French remarks.
The new filling system will enable Mooresville Ice Cream to keep up with that growth. "Our Achilles heel was always the fact that we had very little automation on the filling side," he adds. "Now, we have a fully functional filling line that will allow us to fill much more ice cream, do it quicker, more efficiently and, in turn, be able to sell it at a more competitive price."
Heidelberg USA Inc., 770-419-6600.
Paper Machinery Corp., 414-362-8231.
Plastic Packaging Corp., 413-785-1553.
Stanpac Inc., 979-251-9851.
Weldotron Inc., 800-422-3032.