Corrugated Box – The Next Great Frontier For Digital Print

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According to HP, the challenge for brands in today’s crowded marketplace is to deliver relevant, timely and dynamic shopping experiences to consumers making quick buying decisions.

As more brands look to seize a ‘Share a Coke’ moment, the value of delivering unique, customised graphic communications on packaging is of increasing importance for marketers. Enabled by HP digital printing technology, the Coke bottle customised label campaign broke the mold of the mass package printing model.

The next great frontier for digital print is the corrugated box. Used for both secondary and direct packaging, corrugated boxes are also the fastest growing packaging segment. In a growing retailing trend, the corrugated box is used more often today in open display, offering retailers an extension of shelf space onto floor space, retail-ready displays with shelves or shelf-ready packaging.

The use of attractive, customised graphics on corrugated boxes is a means to attract and engage customers in stores as well as to deliver marketing campaigns. Boxes also have the flexibility to be positioned easily to create up-close interaction with shoppers in strategic locations, including in store entrances, aisles and near registers.

Digital printing enables brands to deliver products with quick turnaround and versioning to keep up with the fast-paced, seasonal market, as well as produce packaging according to market demand. For print service providers, digital printing also provides value to streamlining business and the supply chain.

Digital-enabled features such as track and trace and anti-counterfeiting are also increasingly importance for food related packaging. Through recent breakthroughs in digital print using HP’s water-based inks, digital print is also a viable means to print corrugated boxes for direct food-contact applications.

Food safety in corrugated packaging

With the emergence of digital print technologies, the complexity and risks for food brands and converters using this technology for food packaging have increased. Printing inks containing reactive UV chemistries can have consumer health and safety consequences.

That’s why HP has developed a true water-based ink technology for its series of corrugated digital presses. Only true water-based inks enable packaging converters to deliver with food-safe prints.

Most new print systems targeting food packaging applications use UV curing. The risk for converters is unreacted ink components that can migrate readily through board packaging. This is acceptable in some secondary applications, like die-cut shelf-ready boxes, where the corrugated board holds goods that are already wrapped and protected; but it will inhibit use in other applications, such as boxes that hold loose fruit and vegetables.

In addition, achieving a high degree of curing can be difficult on porous substrates like corrugated board, since the ink will penetrate the substrate and be less accessible to the UV energy. This challenge becomes even more acute at the higher print speeds that packaging productivity requires.

To meeting global food safety regulatory requirements, HP has developed specially formulated inks for its presses, and has received certification from Intertek and SQTS.

HP digital inks for corrugated presses, available in CMYK, contain no reactive UV chemistries and require no additional barriers on the food contact side of the packaging.

Several corrugated converters in Europe, including Ghelfi Ondulati, based in Buglio in Monte (Sondrio), have recently realised the potential of digital. Ghelfi is operating both the HP PageWide T1100S and HP PageWide T400S to produce corrugated boxes for agriculture, the wine industry, frozen goods, meats, and others industries in Italy and other EU countries.

Other converters in Europe that have adopted the solution include Christiansen Print of Thimm Group of Germany, and DS Smith, one of the largest corrugated box manufacturers in Europe.

Benefits unique to digital packaging

Digital printing of corrugated packaging is a natural fit with brands' campaigns, including limited versions for seasonal and special events. By enabling timely, relevant messaging to reach target segments, corrugated packaging can boost sales and enhance brand loyalty.

Corrugated packaging is not yet widely used for marketing applications, and therefore the various payoffs are still untapped. Here are five benefits of using digital for corrugated packaging:

1. Versioning – brands can cost-effectively create large numbers of versions.
2. Personalisation – buyers are empowered to upload photos, edit their name, etc.
3. Customisation – corrugated packaging enables customised messages based on season, geography, or other factors.
4. Time-to-market – brand owners are now equipped to get products in the market in days rather than weeks.
5. Flexibility – brands can print only what is needed, avoiding paying for unnecessarily high volumes that would be discarded due to obsolescence.

Engaging with brands on multiple levels

A large Italian apple supplier, Melinda, was the first food packer in Europe to discover the value of food-safe digital printing. To show support for Italian apple farmers affected by the 2016 earthquake in Italy, it engaged consumers through its Facebook page. The donation campaign ‘Dedicamela,’ (Pledge an Apple), invited people to post words of encouragement, which were printed on Melinda apple boxes. For every comment, a Euro was donated to the cause.

The boxes were distributed in small stores within a matter of days, driving business to local communities where foot traffic was previously minimal, and consumers looked for their boxes and shared via social media.

The campaign received ample publicity, and within two weeks, approximately 23,000 comments were received. Melinda’s campaign was successful because it created a fun and effective way for consumers to engage with their brand on multiple levels. Additionally, retailers appreciated it because the messaging was directly on the apple box so displays (which would have required additional floor space and funds) were not necessary.

Ghelfi Ondulati printed the boxes on the HP PageWide T1100S with food compliant ink, using VDP technology. At total of two million cartons were printed for the campaign.

As digital corrugated package printing expands throughout Europe, more powerful food marketing campaigns are sure to come.