When it comes to labeling your product, one of the most frustrating things can be the complexity of teaching your staff how to use the software involved, especially when today’s labels are growing ever more crowded with health and wellness claims, graphics, QR codes and other imagery.
Both Daymark and M&M Label Co. have been working on these challenges for over 30 years, and both have arrived at very different solutions. As such, Commissary Insider has decided to feature three of their systems as examples of some of the latest and most cutting-edge technology to consider for your labeling needs. Though very different in execution, when it comes to automated options, both of the companies’ print-on-demand labeling systems illustrate the spectrum of what is now on the market for this equipment, with each one catering to different kinds of commissaries. So depending on the size and scope of yours, one may suit your needs better than the others.
M&M’s The Merchandiser has an appeal that stems largely from its simple interface, one-time method of setting up a labeling database, and its unique way of providing operational instruction. In fact, the system is so easy to learn and teach that the company doesn’t even have a sales department — according to President Michael McCourt, they just do a couple of trade shows a year and the product sells itself.
“Label software is inherently very difficult to manage and use; that’s why most locations struggle with it — because the learning curve is so sharp,” McCourt says, noting that the simplicity of The Merchandiser is why it now serves over 2,000 commissaries in the US. “The software is usually hard to teach too, and most commissaries have absolutely no clue how to maintain a database and develop on-demand labeling systems. People struggle with this every day.”
The Merchandiser comes with over 3,000 labeling options and is designed so that your label inventory sits behind the user interface (via a separate database) so that employees only have to use the labeler itself, thereby reducing accidental user errors to the inventory and simplifying the overall process.
“We put the database in the background,” McCourt explains, “and we force (the commissary) to build their product label inventory as a database. And if they maintain the software they’re using as a database, then they can do global changes.”
For example, McCourt says that when there are 500 items to be labeled, most commissaries will usually go about it the hard way. They buy a printer and computer and load the software onto it. Then they take their first product and build its label into that software — and then repeat the process 500 times. However, doing this ends up making each of those labels an entity unto itself instead of a database. And with a database, he says, you’d only need to do this once, which then allows for those global changes he mentioned — for example, adding something like “Keep Refrigerated” onto any number of labels you may be working with.
So why would an operation avoid using a database if it’s so efficient? Usually, McCourt says, it’s just because learning, teaching, and using the software that comes with it is so confusing — confusing enough that an operator will elect to do the same task 500 times instead of burying his head in a manual for two days.
“We found that people cannot manage to keep their data in the form of a database, so I thought, ‘We won’t let them do anything but that,’” he says of The Merchandiser’s printer-first design. “So the database is protected in the back room so to speak, and we have these communications between it and the labeler, that go in and know what to do when a worker needs to access a label — what they need to change and how they need to do it — with that interface of The Merchandiser standing between them.”
As for the learning and teaching process, M&M’s approach is twofold: first, the company provides free access to online tutorials (all under 60 seconds) for everything from removing the machine from its box to the complete execution of any task. Second, once you receive the machine, a live operator will call on the telephone and walk you through its initial setup, and then show you how to teach others to use it too. Once the first person ‘gets it,’ McCourt says, it only takes a few minutes for anyone else to, and less than a day for any one of them to become an expert.
The DayMark Pro and 9700
While The Merchandiser’s key selling point is simplicity for the user, DayMark’s date code and grab-and-go labeling solutions are touted for their customization and cutting-edge compliance capabilities. Between the FDA’s new menu labeling rules going into effect thismonth and the USDA Food Date Labeling Act on the horizon, DayMark has refined their labeling systems to address a number of regulatory labeling issues.
One of the biggest of those, which the FDLA addresses, is food waste caused by confusion regarding sell-by and use-by dates on labels. In fact, people throw away up to 35 pounds of still-good food per person per month at home and in restaurants and other retail foodservice settings, as JoAnne Berkenkamp, a senior advocate in the Food & Agriculture Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently. That number is equal to two whole turkeys, she says, and doesn’t even take into account losses incurred in distribution, manufacturing and farming.
DayMark has taken this into account and addresses both these regulations and compliance dates.
“Our label terminals and corresponding menu management system helps foodservice establishments to properly label grab-and-go items to efficiently and effectively label the product, its price, prep date, expiration date, nutritional information, ingredients and allergens,” says Leasa Lee, director of marketing for the company. And like The Merchandiser, all of that information is held within a database, which can then be managed either onsite or from a central location.
Also according to the company, their label terminals offer a larger range of combinations and features than any other label systems on the market. Daymark focuses on providing label automation technology that gives the user the ability to customize labels on the fly as new regulations and requirements dictate. This flexibility allows for printing on demand, eliminating the possibility of getting stuck with outdated labels.
What sets DayMark’s systems apart from others is the actual live customer service that comes with it, ensuring that even when labeling policy changes they can help.
“With respect to date code and nutritional labeling automation, we recognize that it’s not enough to provide an intuitive user interface — we must also provide personal interaction with the managers and staff that are utilizing the label terminals and their corresponding software on a daily basis,” Lee says. “This is why we employ eight national account managers, working with 16 account support representatives, eight technical support specialists, plus a full network of broker representatives – literally an army of 500 account managers in the field and available on the phone or online 24/7, 365 days a year.”
So whether you’re prioritizing ease of use or government regulations, these product labeling systems are up to the challenge of making sure your commissary has efficient, reliable, and compliant labeling — no matter what.