"Georgia-Pacific believes that digital print has only just begun to influence the produce industry."
When Robert Seay tells me this as we talk about Georgia-Pacific and its packaging solutions division Hummingbird™, the precipice our industry has been teetering on materializes in my mind.
Change has long been in the air across the produce supply chain. But it isn't until my conversation with Robert that I realize this change has already taken effect—that our industry's version of Pandora's box has already been opened. But, instead of the contents, it is the box itself that has captured many of produce's most inquisitive minds.
Packaging, point-of-sale materials, and other physical in-store branding strategies are the reason for the vast changes happening in produce aisles across North America. And, when future generations of produce purveyors retell the story of our industry's evolution, it won't be hope symbolizing the turning point. It will be a hummingbird—more specifically, Georgia-Pacific's Hummingbird business.
"Hummingbird is looking to help produce providers and retailers lean forward and capitalize on digital print's endless possibilities," Robert, Director of Digital Business Ventures, asserts. "High-graphic packaging can increase brand relevance in a way that helps move more product, benefiting everyone in our industry from growers to retailers."
Quick, efficient, and extraordinary. Though these are attributes of one of the animal kingdom's smallest bird species, they are also characteristics that differentiate Georgia-Pacific's eponymous Hummingbird arm.
From the perspective of a hummingbird, the sweetest nectar is always within eye-catching packaging: flowers, if you will. In fact branding—engaging branding—plays a pivotal role across all life on Earth. And the produce aisle is no exception. But, believe it or not, there's more to packaging than meets the eye—namely the process, which is where Hummingbird comes in.
"After experiencing strong demand, Georgia-Pacific expanded its offerings to include the Hummingbird digital packaging solution in 2017. We saw that analog pre-print solutions were not able to meet the full range of customer needs, leaving significant gaps in cost, quality, turnaround time, and run length. Hummingbird believed that digital preprint would provide a complementary offering to fulfill the needs within a comparable, cost-neutral range," Robert explains.
Hummingbird was first incubated from Georgia-Pacific's Color-Box®, which produces high-graphic packaging using offset presses. Hummingbird takes this solution up a notch by digitizing packaging presses.
"Hummingbird's solutions combine in-house print expertise and Georgia-Pacific's extensive internal and external converter network with the technical capabilities of the HP PageWide Web Press T1100, which produces offset-substitutable images on pre-print that can match the width of a 110-inch corrugator," Robert continues. "The press also enables printing of variable box sizes and designs both down and across the web at speeds of up to 600-feet-per-minute."
In layman's terms, Hummingbird pioneered a new flock of packaging solutions not found anywhere else in the market. Since first launching, Hummingbird has grown to be one of the industry's most integral partners for this very reason.
"In today's competitive retail environment, packaging can make the difference between a sale made or lost—especially in the produce aisle where packaging must be highly functional and visually appealing," Robert details. "With high-quality print offerings, aqueous inks for food safety, flexible supply chain options, and expanded substrate options all provided by Hummingbird, produce can begin to adopt more digitally printed packaging as a preferred solution."
Savco is one of many produce providers who have already begun to adopt Hummingbird's packaging solutions. The two teamed up to develop H2O Melon with the intention of introducing a differentiated watermelon brand to increase the appeal of the category as a whole.
"We set out to create bins with high-impact graphics that would draw the eye of consumers, a critical element in our plan for success," Robert tells me.
Another critical element was skirting the $20,000 it would cost to create a set of plates for printing a full-color design directly on a produce bun. Add in the fact that Savco planned to make frequent revisions to its bun design, and it was clear to both Hummingbird and Savco that printing a full-color corrugated bun using traditional methods wasn't an option.
"So, we worked to design and print several versions of a full-color, eye-catching bun for H2O Melon like Savco envisioned," Robert recalls.
Today, Savco has taken full advantage of its partnership with Hummingbird by creating new bun designs ach season while going to market with multiple bin designs at a time—only accomplishable through what Robert describes as "versioning," a digital print capability that uniquely allows for multiple designs to be dynamically printed at the same time on a single roll.
"Hummingbird is looking to help produce providers and retailers lean forward and capitalize on digital print's endless possibilites."
Robert Seay, Director of Digital Business Venture, Georgia-Pacific
"Our customers have been thrilled with the produce buns," Sav Tsoukalas, Founder of Savco Worldwide and originator of H2O Melon, shares with me. "Thanks to the appeal of the bins, our product is more visible to shoppers. Hummingbird continues to support us as we develop innovative ideas for our brand."
In the future, Sav expects this to include more digital print innovations, like incorporating variable QR codes to facilitate GPS tagging.
"Our club customers were so pleased with Hummingbird's colorful watermelon bins that they dedicated more store square footage to displaying them," Sav continues. "Stores that used to display no more than four to six bins of watermelons at a time, assembled and placed 18-bin displays of H2O Melons. Hummingbird made this possible."
Success stories like Savco's are sure to only increase as Hummingbird continues to encourage the produce industry to give digital printing a try.
Though the company's overall goal is to increase the industry's bottom line via eye-catching packaging, the value it's integrating into the supply chain is similar to a matryoshka doll—it's never-ending, with the largest "doll" in the stack being cost-savings
"Unfortunately, the high upfront cost of producing full-color corrugated packaging is a significant barrier to small brokers and farms, putting them at a competitive disadvantage. Hummingbird offers a digital print solution that eliminates the costly printing plates required to print high-graphic packaging and puts full-color, high-impact imagery within the reach of businesses of all sizes and types," Robert says.
"Overall, we're giving smaller brands the chance to catch consumers' attention and help drive sales."
The second matryoshka inside of cost-savings is time and efficiency.
"The fast turnaround for digital preprint allows marketers to be more responsive to customer demand and other market changes," Robert continues.
He also notes the Hummingbird's technology helps it deliver high-quality packaging—for everything from pumpkin bins to pallet skirts—that gets to market up to 80 percent faster than traditional methods.
"The packaging itself is the same high-quality corrugated product that produce companies have come to expect from Georgia-Pacific. It's the how behind Hummingbird that makes the difference in our packaging," Robert emphasizes. "Hummingbird uses an entirely digital workflow that enables us to turn finished packaging around in about two weeks instead of two months or more. The fact that we can do this even for bulk bins makes us a great partner for the produce industry."
Change isn't always easy. And it isn't always quick.
Luckily for our industry, Georgia-Pacific's Hummingbird division isn't waiting around for its packaging solutions to take hold. For now, the packaging solutions Hummingbird offers are merely wind beneath its wings.
Hummingbirds is dawning a new age of packaging and inducting more partners into the digital print era. And, as it continues to do so, it isn't a question of if the company will go down in produce industry history—but when.