Sponsored by DayMark
Labeling is an essential element of any retail prepared-foods operation, from the prep areas to the grab-and-go merchandising displays.
It has taken on increasing importance amid evolving regulatory requirements and consumer interest in ingredient transparency. Labeling foods in food-prep and storage areas is required for compliance with food safety laws, and posting calorie counts and other nutritional information is mandatory for prepared foods merchandised for consumption, including grab-and-go items. In addition, consumers increasingly expect foods to be labeled with ingredient information which helps them conform to specific dietary regimens, such as vegan or gluten-free.
Having the right labeling technology can help retailers manage these aspects of their operations, especially if the technology is connected with menu management systems and other tools.
Staying up to date
“Staying current with ever-changing technology has become essential for today's foodservice operations,” says Kevin Jackson with DayMark Safety Systems. DayMark is a provider of automated labeling solutions for foodservice.
“Menu management, nutritional analysis, HACCP compliance and temperature monitoring have all been streamlined by technological advances which are giving operators more comprehensive overviews — and better control — of their establishments, saving time and money in the process,” says Jackson.
“Operators need to stay on the cutting edge of labeling technologies as they continue to evolve with the most current, comprehensive systems on the market,” he continues. “Since launching our first line of dissolving labels in 1997, we continue to work hard to provide our customers with efficient and economical labeling solutions which keep their foodservice staff in compliance with the most up-to-date food codes.”
Here are some of the ways automated labeling can be deployed in retail prepared-foods operations to enhance efficiencies.
1. Dating and rotation
One of the first things food-industry workers are usually taught when they start their careers is the importance of properly rotating inventory by checking labels to ensure that the ingredients that were prepared first are used first. Labeling foods with a dating system helps ensure items are always as fresh as possible and helps reduce food waste.
Automated labeling provides a consistent, reliable method for dating prepared foods that are stored in prep areas, such as soups and salads.
In addition to indicating the specific item being stored and when it was prepared, the labels can also include the name of the person who prepared the item, which enhances accountability.
Kelly Tessitore, a partner at Food Label Pro — which provides nutritional analysis for foodservice operations — suggests that labels on prepared foods also list all ingredients and allergens. In addition, she prefers that labels are marked with expiration dates rather than when they were made.
“Regarding shelf life, the ‘use by’ date is more straightforward than the other options, in my opinion,” she says.
Other back-room uses for labels include marking equipment that has been cleaned, such as storage coolers or ice machines, for example.
2. Allergens and other ingredients
One of the most important labeling considerations for operators is whether or not a dish contains any of the common allergens. Consumers should be able to see right away if an item contains any of the eight common ingredients that have the potential to cause the most severe allergic reactions. Listing these allergens on food labels is also required by the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004.
“The main reason for a recall is not disclosing allergens,” says Tessitore of Food Label Pro. “Always check your ingredients for egg, milk, soy, wheat, fish, shellfish, peanuts and tree nuts.”
She also suggests adding a “contains” statement underneath the ingredient list on all prepared foods.
Some operators incorporate the allergen into the name of the product, to help call awareness to the ingredient. For example, labeling a brownie that contains walnuts as a “walnut brownie” and pesto made from pine nuts as “pine nut pesto.”
Similarly, some operators also use labels to call out other product attributes, such as gluten-free or vegan.
3. Grab-and-go labeling efficiency
Labeling grab-and-go foods with nutritional and ingredient information helps streamline the process for customers and makes the whole operation more efficient. Labeling can also be used to protect against tampering.
Jonathan Raduns, founder and retail food merchandising adviser at Cherry Hill, N.J.-based consulting firm Merchandise Food, says having a well-organized labeling process is essential for merchandising grab-and-go foods.
“Managing the labels is important,” he says. “It is very easy to confuse the labels and place the wrong one on an item.”
He notes that one of the common ways operators streamline labeling operations is by having labels pre-printed with the retailer’s brand, then customizing the labels on-site for each item.
“Some [operators] benefit from printing just-in-time labels for each item matched to their daily production to minimize the need to manage overruns or label inventories,” he says.
Another important consideration is ensuring that the label is able to withstand the moisture and temperature conditions where the products will be merchandised, he says.
Including “best if used by” dates on prepared grab-and-go food items is also important, says Tim Powell, vice president and senior analyst at Q1 Consulting, Chicago.
“This is probably one of the most important selection criteria” for consumers, he says.
Labels can also be an effective marketing platform on grab-and-go foods, says Powell, and can be used to promote health benefits such as cardiovascular health, bone mass and increased energy.
Leading operators, he says, “regularly use labels not just as information, but also as another medium to help sell the product.”