When it comes to being a productive and valuable print partner, how much is too much? How much should a printer speak up when weighing in on the feasibility of a design, or the best way to bring an idea to shelf? Is it better to be too involved or not involved enough?
“Flexibility is [a] very important factor,” reveals Brigitte Bisson, graphics development scientist, C.P.P. at FTA member Just Born Quality Confections. “What I mean by flexibility is to be able to recognize the way a job was set up might not be the right way; perhaps changing the thickness of the stickyback or the anilox roller size might be what is needed to get where we need to be.”
Here, Bisson explains to FLEXO Magazine what she expects from print partners, discusses technologies she finds exciting and offers an inside look at how the CPC she works for makes decisions.
FLEXO Magazine: In general, what do you look for in a print partner?
Brigitte Bisson: Usually when we are looking for new print partners, we first ask if they are running expanded gamut (EG) and if they are comfortable with it. Most of our work is done with EG. We need them to be the experts. We tried in the past to get a printer to run EG, but due to the time constraint and the high expectation for print quality, we walked away from the partner.
Flexibility is another very important factor. What I mean by flexibility is to be able to recognize the way a job was set up might not be the right way; perhaps changing the thickness of the stickyback or the anilox roller size might be what is needed to get where we need to be. As a customer, I appreciate printers’ willingness and enthusiasm to make those changes on the fly—so long as they document what they are doing, so they can repeat it, I am comfortable.
And lastly, to always be seeking new technology, as they ultimately become problem solvers for me.
FLEXO: Specific to capabilities, what do you expect of a print partner?
Bisson: Repeatability is key here. Once I sign a press sheet, I expect all the repeats to look the same without color variation within or between the runs, within a specified tolerance.
FLEXO: How does a printer that adheres to standards like Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifications & Tolerances (FIRST) impact you, the brand owner? How important is it to work with printers that do?
Bisson: Using FIRST standards shows me that they care about their customers, that they understand the value of doing things right the first time—that the instruments that are used to measure our printed materials are calibrated and that their work is repeatable. And if we do have an issue, they have all the data needed and they know exactly where to look to retrieve it.
FLEXO: One of the bigger topics touched on in the “Best Print Technology on the Planet” Forum 2019 session was color and the importance of color consistency. Why is it so crucial?
Bisson: Color consistency on-shelf communicates to our consumers that we care to present them with a high-quality product that is pleasing to the eyes; that we are in control of our quality. It’s a direct correlation to our candy that they will later ingest. Our packaging represents the integrity of our brands and our company.
FLEXO: What sort of modern color management solutions improve consistency from pressrun to pressrun and across shelves at stores in different countries?
Bisson: There are different cloud-based color management softwares that can be installed on-press that collect data and flag when the job is failing a determined specification. Scorecards that can serve as a certificate of quality once the material is shipped can then be sent to the brand owner. However, we are not currently using any of these since we don’t feel the need for them with our existing printers.
FLEXO: A number of Just Born’s products are different flavors or varieties of each other—regular and sour Mike And Ike, “Tropical Heat” and “Fierce Cinnamon” types of Hot Tamales. Is there any sharing of graphics or design, and does that influence how they are printed?
Bisson: Yes, we share a lot of graphics on line extensions of our key brands because there are crucial elements consumers recognize from the core brand offering.
As an example, we recently unveiled Peeps Jelly Beans for Easter 2020 which utilizes key design elements used on other Peeps packages. This new Peeps line extension recently was recognized at the 2019 Sweets and Snacks Expo for the Most Innovative New Product in the Non-Chocolate category.
We always look at the worst-case scenario: flexo printing on flexible material. We make sure that our graphics are printable on all types of substrates and on all types of presses. In the Mike And Ike brand, we typically launch line extensions in our theater box format first, which is printed offset. Not to denigrate offset—it’s much easier to manage—so we keep flexo on the radar at all times while doing our prepress work.
FLEXO: Do you expect printers to gang multiple jobs or make use of EG to achieve faster turnaround times?
Bisson: We don’t expect it. This is a conversation that needs to happen between the brand owner and the printer to determine expectations. I find it harder to control the colors when multiple SKUs are all on the same master roll.
FLEXO: When you are launching a new product, at what point do you bring a printer into the discussions/planning?
Bisson: We have what we call “pre-pro meeting” once our marketing folks settle on a final design. At that time, I already know what elements are the most important for them. There have been instances where we had to go back to marketing after the pre-pro meeting to suggest slight modifications. But with all the technological advancements in flexo, we can almost print everything!
FLEXO: Is your prepress in-house or contracted out? Do you consider the print process during the design stages or does design dictate everything?
Bisson: We contract our prepress. We looked into bringing someone in at one point, but the software, servers, equipment and continuous education were too costly for us. We like to let the designer create. We figure out how we will print it after. That’s the kind of challenge I like to take on!
FLEXO: Press approvals: online or in-person?
Bisson: I do all the press approvals. My background is printing. I know what we can and cannot do, so I don’t waste too much press time. The printers appreciate that.
FLEXO: Being in the confectionary business, does Safe Quality Food (SQF) matter?
Bisson: Absolutely! Our Bethlehem, PA factory where all Peeps, Mike And Ike and Hot Tamales candies are produced is SQF certified, which is important to many of our key retailers and customers. We need to make sure we keep our products safe for our consumers.
FLEXO: How does a printer maintain its reputation? Is it enough to only meet quality expectations?
Bisson: No, that is not enough. Good customer service is so important. There are multiple people in our organization who are in contact with our printers: procurement, QA, graphics, packaging engineering and even our production associates when they come to see their printed component running on our equipment. They need to keep everyone happy.
FLEXO: Where has flexography gone in your career? Was there a time you never considered using it, either for specific jobs or product lines?
Bisson: When I started my career, the quality products ran on rotogravure, but this is costly when you change your artwork often and have small runs. Now, you can almost print anything flexo: photography, high LPI and aggressive gradients.
FLEXO: Where do you see flexography going in the future?
Bisson: I have a feeling that flexography will become very close to offset printing, as it’s been catching up in the last couple of years.
FLEXO: How has the role technology plays in package printing evolved?
Bisson: It changed everything. You can do much more and it is not price prohibitive.
FLEXO: When you look at emerging flexographic technologies, what excites you the most?
Bisson: I am so amazed to see that we can now print LED lights, transistors circuits and solar panels, just to name a few—The future is very bright!