Picture perfect: Echo Spring’s new carton graphics reinforce the dairy’s local heritage – Echo Spring Dairy Inc – includes related article

Picture perfect: Echo Spring’s new carton graphics reinforce the dairy’s local heritage – Echo Spring Dairy Inc – includes related article – Packaging

Jeff Reiter

Echo Spring’s new carton graphics reinforce the dairy’s local heritage

A quiet revolution is occurring in dairy packaging. In particular, the gable-top milk carton, invented in 1934, is getting much better looking.

A growing number of milk processors are upgrading their cartons from standard two-color designs printed flexographically to offset-printed four-color graphics, some featuring real photography. The lithographic cartons may cost 10 or 12 percent more than conventional gable-tops, but the benefits are great: a bolder impact in the dairy case and a progressive, upscale image for the processor. For the first time, milk packaging is being used as a tool for building brand loyalty and market share.

The move to four-color offset milk cartons was initiated in 1989 by Wisconsin’s Golden Guernsey Dairy. Since then, the list of trendsetters has expanded to include about 25 processors, including Avoset Food Corp., Clover Stornetta Farms, Cream Products, Dairy Fresh Foods, H.P. Hood, McDonald Dairy, Robinson Dairy, Ryan Milk and Sinton Dairy Foods.

In April, Eugene, Ore.-based Echo Spring Dairy joined the parade by introducing some of the milk industry’s most original and eye-catching graphics to date. Echo Spring’s quart, pint, 10-ounce and half-pint cartons, like four-sided postcards, feature photographs of actual Oregon landmarks and scenery. All the designs are protected by a glossy lacquer coating that keeps the inks from running during the distribution process.

Echo Spring’s art was selected from a local photographer’s portfolio, and each scene is specifically identified. For example, the dairy’s chocolate milk carton depicts “Crooked River Gorge at Smith Rock State Park.” Other scenes include the Heceta Head lighthouse on the Oregon Coast, a covered bridge on the Yachats River, skiers in the Cascade mountains, and Mt. Jefferson soaring above clouds. The dairy plans to change carton photographs sometime in the future, although the cost of doing so is somewhat more than a standard plate charge.

Before settling on regional scenery, Echo Spring considered other graphic options, including a cow design and pictures of fruit and other food. “We did a [professional] consumer survey to see what pictures were preferred,” says Jack Bruni, Echo Spring’s marketing director and secretary/treasurer. “The geographical scenes were the most popular. Consumers told us, ‘These pictures say that Echo Spring is part of the community,’ which is exactly what we’re hoping to accomplish with this program.”

The plan is obviously working. Says Bruni: “The cartons have been received very well. We continue to get calls and receive comments on how our customers like them.”

High-tech filler installed

Echo Spring’s upgrade to pictorial milk cartons was actually prompted by its need for a faster filler. As the dairy researched its options, one supplier arranged for Bruni and his colleagues to visit the Golden Guernsey plant in Waukesha, Wis. There, in January 1991, the Echo Spring officials observed a technologically advanced packaging system utilizing four-color offset gable-top cartons. One month later, Echo Spring ordered a similar system for itself; in August 1991, the new filler arrived in Eugene.

After delaying installation due to plant construction and the holiday season, Echo Spring went “on line” in February. The dual-lane machine, imported from Sweden, can fill two carton sizes simultaneously at a per-line rate of 110 cartons per minute. The fact that carton-size changeovers take less than a minute is another advantage, Bruni says.

The filler also features an on-board CIP system that has allowed the dairy to extend its freshness code from 14 to 17 days. Shelflife is further enhanced by the structure of Echo Spring’s cartons–Bruni claims they not only look better, they perform better than regular gable-tops. In particular, the cartons feature superior top and bottom seal integrity, and skived edges to ensure that raw paper edges never make contact with the product. The skived edges, a relatively new concept in milk carton design, prevent milk absorption into the packaging material, which minimizes leakers and helps the cartons maintain their rigidity.

Echo Man’s message

Of course, what people notice first about Echo Spring’s new milk cartons is how they look. The eye-catching containers–the first photographic cartons in Echo Spring’s marketing area–were first viewed by the dairy’s own employees at a special kick-off brunch in April. The dairy then launched an extensive publicity campaign aimed at both consumers and retailers. The on-going campaign has included newspaper advertising with cents-off coupons, radio spots featuring in-store remote interviews with Echo Spring representatives and customers, and in-store demos and couponing.

The launch also marked the debut of “Echo Man,” a real person inside a large custom-made replica of Echo Spring’s 2% milk carton with the lighthouse design. The paid-by-the-hour character, whose arms and legs extend outside the carton, makes appearances at supermarkets and trade shows, handing out pins, magnets and information about the new cartons.

Echo Spring’s trade literature introduced the new mascot as follows: “Meet Echo Man. He’s here to introduce a whole new look for Echo Spring cartons. New high-graphic printing. New bold design. New scenic photography. It’s an exciting new package that will help move Echo Spring milk products off the shelf faster than ever. True, the look may be different, but inside you’ll still find the same top-quality milk products your customers have enjoyed for years. That’s the message Echo Man will give to shoppers. He’s hip. He’s fresh. And he packs a mean pint (along with a variety of other sizes). He’s also available for store promotions of all kinds. So be sure and check with Echo Spring for details.”

Echo Man has proven to be a great attention-getter, says Bruni. Then again, even without him, the dairy’s new cartons would be hard to overlook. At retail, they serve as permanent point-of-sale advertising, beckoning consumers as they approach the dairy case. The visual effect could be even more impactful in early 1993 when Echo Spring plans to introduce four-color offset pictorial half-gallons, which would be a milk industry first.

COPYRIGHT 1992 Business News Publishing Co.

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