Schiffenhaus took a Gold in EFTA's 'best print taken from another process' category with a preprint for Norampac's pack for Marsan Foods.

Although Toronto based Marsan Foods is an expert in frozen foods preparation, particularly ready meals, when it came to packaging its products it had to team up with a couple of other experts – Norampac (Canada’s largest manufacturer of corrugated products) and Schiffenhaus Canada (SCI).

Since it was founded in 1985, SCI has grown to become what is believed to be the world’s largest single flexographic preprinting facility. With the staff of about 70 employees at its 100,000ft² plant in Mississauga, Ontario, just west of Toronto, the company churned out in excess of 20,000ton of printed paper last year on three massive Cobden Chadwick CI drum presses.

The three-way teamwork between the companies recently resulted in the launch of an innovative corrugated package containing six plastics bowls of a prepared chicken teriyaki dish that Marsan produces for the Costco chain.

The carton sleeve container originally used to pack the chicken entrees was, in the words of Norampac’s product manager for flexo preprint linerboard Mike McGrattan: "problematic from the stacking and protection standpoint".

What Norampac was essentially requested to do, he recalls, was help Marsan come up with a pack that was structurally much sturdier than the folding carton model, without sacrificing the high quality, detailed graphics.

The company went for a B-flute corrugated material. "Our entire business is based on products that go in folding cartons," recounts Marsan’s director of sales and marketing Sean Lippay. "We have never done anything like what was brought to the table for this project."

To address the issue of maintaining the top notch quality of the graphics, SCI was brought into the picture with its flexo preprint process.

"When we (Norampac and SCI) talked to Sean originally, it came out loud and clear that anything less than a twin package (to the folding carton) would be disappointing," says Mike McGratan. "So we sat down with SCI and asked, ‘Why can’t we match this exactly?’ and, ‘Why take the easy route with this thing?’ "

In the initial stages of the project, Sean Lippay was, as he admits, "prepared to be disappointed". As it ultimately turned out, this early scepticism proved to be premature, as the joint Norampac-SCI undertaking resulted in what could well be the first true, 150 line screen matching litho preprint package in a regular slotted box.

"The package blew us away," says Sean Lippay. "We realised that we could have functional structure without losing the impact of the graphics."

In the 1990s, preprint grew from the proverbial "new kid on the block" to a point where it now enjoys about a 10 per cent share of the North American print market. SCI’s sales and technical co-ordinator Gerry Sondej says: "In terms of registration and trapping, our presses are state-of-the-art. What we find challenging is breaking the myths and perceptions people out there have about printing. It’s really come a long way in the last 15 years."

Even so, the mere mention of a 150 line flexo screen is still enough to raise eyebrows in industry circles. "When I first started at SCI just over 13 years ago, the benchmark was 85 to 100 line screen," he says. "Today the thinner plates, the better backing and better inks have allowed us to consistently produce at between 100 and 120."

"At 120, we were approaching the litho mark of reproduction quality, but litho people could still say: ‘Well, it’s not quite as good as litho – it’s only 120 lines.’ We’re at 150 now; we’re being asked to do what litho can … equal to or better than."

As for Marsan, the pack represents an innovative concept that could be pivotal in its quest to build new business in the United States, where such a pack is virtually unheard of.

In the meantime, the company is planning to use a similar corrugated packaging format for two new product lines it will be launching shortly.

And for Mike McGrattan the whole project yielded another professional first. "One of the biggest compliments I’ve ever been paid in the 20 years I’ve been in this industry was when I got the order for the second SKU at the press approval stage.”