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Shrinkable labels make 'cool' drinks cooler

Jel Sert, the company that made "freezer pop" a household expression, knows something about what treats kids like to eat. For nearly 80 years, the West Chicago, IL, company has produced a variety of summertime standbys, including Fla-Vor-Icew freeze pops, Mondo fruit squeezer drinks and Pop-Ice flavor bars in addition to assorted drink and dessert mixes, puddings, gelatin and other products.

Recently launching Comic Coolers, a vitamin-fortified, fruit-based drink, formulated specifically for kids aged six to 12, Jel Sert chose aseptic packaging in the form of convenient blow/fill/seal bottles with twist-off caps. Available in select stores across the country, the natural-tone, high-density polyethylene bottles wear full-body shrink sleeves decorated with high-impact, "kid appeal." Applied on equipment from Axon Corp. (www.axoncorp.com), the sleeves adorning each 6.75-oz (200-mL) bottle and the film overwrap for the six-pack feature dynamic Marvel Comics graphics.

At the same time, Noga Dairy, Inc., creator of the Dairy Delite low-fat yogurt shake and the Dairy Delite yogurt cup also chose film sleeve labels to recreate its packaging to the delight of consumers and higher sales.

Jel Sert says unique packaging is what sets its new coolers apart from other juice-based drinks, in addition to their low sugar content, explains Matt Ingemi, vp of consumer healthcare at Jel Sert. "Packaging is a fundamental part of Comic Coolers," Ingemi says. "Kids equate the packaging's images of superheroes to tangible interaction with one of the Marvel cartoon characters, giving them a sense of participation in an experience. One of the distinct aspects of the ready-to-drink segment for children is that you need to appeal to two consumers at the same time: Parents, who are the purchasers; and children, who are the actual consumers. So we believe that every feature of the product has to address the right audience."

Jel Sert entered the ready-to-drink market more than a decade ago, and saw an opportunity to address a niche, Ingemi says. The category had vast offerings and flavor extensions with lots of sugar in them. "An under-served segment of that market is the low-sugar, nutrient-fortified beverage," he says. "The low-sugar content and added nutrients [in Comic Coolers] address the nutritional concerns for parents, while the packaging targets kids."

Comic Coolers' five flavors correspond to the superheroes featured on each package. The flexo-printed graphics in eight colors are adopted in the same manner for both the full-body shrink labels for the individual bottles and for the six-pack overwrap. The designs dazzle kids with their use of vibrantly printed animation of several of Marvel's action heroes. They feature Spider-Man(R) on Amazing Punch, Captain America® on Battling Berry, Green Goblin(R) on Grape and Daredevil!(R) on Fearless Cherry. Ingemi says that the sleeves were a must because comic-strip characters printed on high-end polyvinyl chloride film really connects with kids. "Film is the best medium to convey high-end visuals," he opines. Jel Sert also enlisted the help of graphic designers from OEC Graphics (www.oecgraphics.com) to provide assistance with the sleeve designs and with The Bill Lutz Group (www.billlutz.com) to assist with the illustrations covering the overwraps.

To produce the packaging for Comic Coolers, Jel Sert split up an existing packaging line and dedicated 30 ft to the new sleeving equipment, in this case, Axon's EZ Sleever. Jel Sert's equipment distributor, KHL Engineered Packaging Solutions (www.malow.com), recommended customizing Axon's EZ Sleever labeler and the EZ Model 108SR heat tunnel for the new line because of the equipments' small footprint and efficient operation.

"The most difficult part of the project was getting consistent film, because the line tension and quality of print really changes the way the label applicator runs," says Matt Kransberger, production manager. "The Axon Sleever has an infeed timing screw that designates the amount of space and position of each bottle as the bottle enters the Sleever, which creates good, consistent tension on the film."

The bottles are blown, filled with the cooler drink and are sealed in-line on a series of eight Asep-Tech® systems from Weiler Engineering (www.weilerengineering.com), which feed into a tabletop conveyor from Intralox (www.intralox.com) that merges them into a single line. The bottles then single-file into the customized Axon shrink-sleeve labeler, which applies sleeves cut from a roll of 50-micron (almost 2 mils) PVC sleeve film from Print Flex. The customized sleever places them on the bottles at approximately 330/min. The sleeved bottles continue to an Arpac (www.arpac.com) overwrapping machine, which groups them into six-packs and overwraps them in HDPE film from Bemis (www.bemisppd.com). The overwrapper gets the film from a single roll, which is cut by the machine and applied to two six-packs per cycle. As a final step, the six packs pass through the heat tunnel and are sent to a Douglas Machine (www.douglas-machine.com) case packer to be packed into 48-count cases of eight six-packs each. As a quality-control measure, an optional missing-sleeve detector that Axon integrated with the sleeve applicator uses a sensor to detect the presence of UV-impregnated film and any unlabeled bottle before the bottle enters the case packer.

The most difficult part of the project was getting consistent film, because the line tension and quality of print really changes the way the label applicator runs.

"We were determined to have an exciting bottle for this product," Ingemi says, "and the Axon equipment plays an integral role in making that happen. Axon exceeded our cost and performance expectations for this project." Kransberger agrees, adding, "Axon is a 'no-problems' company that always keeps us very satisfied with the equipment and technical service we receive."

Sleeve labels are also helping Noga Dairy, Farmingdale, NY, to update the look of its Dairy Delite line with a curvy new bottle and sleek, appetizing graphics. Successfully manufacturing and selling yogurt drinks for more than 10 years, Noga revolutionized the yogurt drink market when it introduced its products in the U.S. in 1992. Based on a European concept of yogurt drinks, Dairy Delite, which comes in flavors such as strawberry banana, blueberry and peach, was packaged in a conventionally shaped bottle, in 10- and 16-oz sizes, outfitted with spot paper labels. About a year ago, the dairy decided to update the line to boost shelf appeal by adjusting the packaging and point-of-purchase appearance. The resulting bottle is Noga's custom design, molded by Suscan, Inc. of HDPE, with a teardrop-shaped lower half and a ribbed neck. It's covered with a full-body PVC sleeve label produced by Ultrapak (www.ultrapak.net), awash in vibrant graphics designed with help from Creative Image (www.creativeimage.com) that mix fruit and white, yogurt-cream splashes that more than attract consumers' eyes from behind the glass doors of the local supermarket cooler.

The new, proprietary mold for the contoured, 10-oz bottle casts the container into an easily grippable shape of a pear, which is what Noga Dairy had in mind. Topping the container is a 38-mm, plastic, tamper-evident dairy cap with a peelaway tail band from International Plastics & Equipment (www.ipec.biz) that's color-matched to the drink or shake flavor and has a tearaway mechanical band. The use of the new label and uniquely shaped bottle also meant that the dairy had to upgrade its existing labeling method of applying paper labels with a pressure-sensitive label applicator.

Searching for a new sleeve applicator, Noga looked at various machines before it heard about Axon Corp.'s shrink-sleeve labeling equipment and decided to visit a plant equipped with an Axon system to see it in action. Axon's EZ-130 applicator for heat-shrinkable sleeve labels had the highest quality at a most competitive price, says Noga's owner, Eli Paz, who decided the EZ-130 would best fit Noga's labeling needs.

The continuous-motion, full-body sleeving machine, with speed capabilities dependant upon the width and length of the sleeve, operates with labels up to 80 mm dia and, depending on the container configuration, bottle widths from 3/8 to 3 1/8 in., with little changeover, at speeds up to 150 containers/min. Flexible enough to be integrated into an existing line, Noga's single-head sleeve applicator and heat-tunnel system fit within an existing conveyor configuration to label the bottles before they're filled and sealed.

First, the sleeve-applicating machine cuts the full-body, shrinkable label film from rollstock into tubing and drops the tube-like sleeve over each bottle as the bottles convey into the applicator. The labeled bottles then move through Axon's EZ-72-SR7-9 heat tunnel, which heats the sleeve, causing it to fit tightly around the bottle's innovative shape.

In the short period of time since the sleeve applicator/tunnel installation, Noga Dairy says it has built a strong relationship with Axon, based on friendly customer service and reliable technical support. Says Paz, "Employees of Noga needed no special training to operate the system, and any questions or concerns that have arisen have been quickly answered by Axon via the telephone."

The dairy's new packaging configuration has not only increased the esthetic value of the yogurt drink bottles, but it has also increased the number of bottles Noga can label in a given production day. In fact, capacity has since doubled with the new packaging. Sales numbers are up, and Paz attributes this to the success of the new packaging.

Since the new bottles were launched, Noga Dairy has expanded the number of yogurt flavors it offers to seven and has developed two new flavors: Mango and papaya-pineapple. It's now in the midst of developing other new products and says it has started on a new concept in drink options, a fat-free and sugar-free yogurt version.

As Paz concludes, he is more than pleased. "Our sales have increased greatly, and we are more than satisfied with our new operating system."

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