How to meet the growing complexity of ready meal packaging lines

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As demand for high quality ready meals grows, it’s becoming harder for food manufacturers to encourage shoppers to choose their product over the many others on the shelf. That’s why manufacturers and retailers alike are seeking out new formats and materials for their packaging to stand out and help drive sales.

But what does this mean for consumer safety with regard to the accuracy of label and date code verification? Retailers are demanding more from manufacturers to protect consumers, adding additional pressure. Can existing solutions keep up and ensure the right date code is on the right ready meal every time?

New packaging frontiers

Everyone knows that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But we also know that humans are extremely visual and having the right packaging can mean the difference between a ready meal in the basket versus an overlooked product. So it’s no surprise that ready meal manufacturers are seeking out more varied packs and substrates, such as plastic trays or bags and card sleeves and cartons, to try to catch shoppers’ eyes.

However, these new materials and formats can make it harder for traditional label and date code verification solutions to read the labels accurately, not to mention the added difficulty posed by the different angles at which information is now printed. As this becomes more complex, it can be harder for traditional solutions to keep up, and no recalls in the past doesn’t mean it’s an impossibility; manufacturers must be prepared for all eventualities to protect consumers, their brand and the bottom line.

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Retailer pressure

What’s more, retailers are demanding clearer and more detailed information on the packs, including batch numbers, barcodes and expiry date information because if anything goes wrong there, it could be consumer health on the line. At the same time, retailers are demanding lower and lower prices from food manufacturers, which makes it challenging to meet the higher standards while cutting costs.

In a recent Food & Beverage report by the insurance broker Lockton, it was found that 98% of UK manufacturers surveyed agreed that the continued price pressure experienced in the industry would have an effect on the end product, while 42% believed that the focus on cutting costs has led to an increase in the number of product recalls. This is supported by the FSA, which has reported a significant increase in recalls, many of which are caused by incorrect date codes.

This price pressure could be putting consumer safety and businesses in danger as any errors have catastrophic consequences. Many food manufacturers are looking to achieve greater efficiency while improving reliability and reducing running costs and staff numbers to overcome these challenges. It’s clear that label and date code verification equipment must be flexible to deal with variations in pack size, cope with short runs and rapid changeover times, while at the same time affordable so as not to put manufacturers at a disadvantage when dealing with retailers.

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Eyes on the prize

Fortunately, there is a solution that meets all of these criteria. APRIL™ Eye is the world’s first artificial intelligence-based vision system for date code verification; an affordable system that can deal with the variability inherent in the ready meal sector. APRIL Eye can achieve full automation to reduce the risk of product recalls and emergency product withdrawals (EPWs) caused by human error on packaging lines. Reaching speeds of over 1000 packs a minute, APRIL Eye can significantly improve processes, increasing safety, quality and efficiency, as well as achieving substantial cost savings to meet the challenging demands of the industry.

APRIL Eye combines machine learning and artificial intelligence to transform the traditional date code verification process. By taking photos of each date code, the system can read them back using scanners to ensure they match the programmed date code for that product run, allowing you to introduce unmanned operations and achieve full traceability. The production line comes to a complete stop if a date code doesn’t match, ensuring that no incorrect labels can be released into the supply chain to eliminate the risk of product recalls when used correctly.

APRIL Eye uses basic cameras backed up with an artificial brain to deliver a vision system that can deal with variations such as lighting, positioning, print quality and placement and variations in substrate in ready meal packaging, reading anything that is also legible to the naked eye. In this way, APRIL Eye eliminates errors, offers full traceability and protects consumers and your brand while at the same time reducing labour costs and waste. The system also improves over time, further safeguarding your lines.

Ready to beef up the safety of your ready meal packaging lines? Get in touch today to find out what APRIL Eye can do for you.

Ready to beef up the safety of your ready meal packaging lines? Get in touch today to find out what APRIL Eye can do for you.

Lauren Moir