Case Study

Ink Jet Coding on Eggs Helps Sauder's Get Message Across

In an industry that has seen steady decline in the past 60 years, Sauder's Quality Eggs has expanded its business through not only acquisitions but also strategic design and product differentiation. Although there may not seem to be many ways to differentiate a simple product such as eggs, Sauder's has managed to do so through careful egg processing, strict quality control and by ink-jet-printing promotional messages and other information directly onto the eggs.

In addition to performing rigorous temperature control monitoring from the moment eggs are hatched, maintaining "zero tolerance" levels for cracked eggs and carrying out an 11-step quality check process, the Lititz, PA-based egg merchant stays ahead of its competition by going one step further. The words "Sauder's Gold" are printed directly on the company's premium line of eggs, and such messages as "hand gathered" and "organic," as well as various codes and data are marked on other eggs to clearly convey the message of quality to customers.

Promotional, "best by" and brand coding are a value-added benefit provided by Sauder's.

To achieve this delicate task of marking approximately 110,000 eggs/day, Sauder's uses the Videojet EXCEL 170i series of small-character ink jet systems, which apply codes to virtually any surface, including porous or non-porous, smooth, curved, textured or ribbed. The company also uses Videojet EXCEL dual-headed 270i units for coding egg cartons.

Good Product Awareness
There are a number of reasons for coding directly onto eggs, according to the company. It's a way of keeping promotional messages in front of consumers, allows "best by" dating, branding and country of origin identification, and serves other marketing- and health-related purposes. Sauder's also codes eggs for export to Puerto Rico, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, countries which require product identification in order for a product to be sold.

Sauder's manufactures eggs ranging from Pee Wees (15 oz/doz) to Jumbos (30 oz/doz) in packaging that varies from a two-pack for hard cooked eggs to 36-pack food club packages. Their products include 100% organic eggs and colored eggs for various holidays. The ink-jet-printed "Sauder's Gold" eggs are enriched with beta-carotene and packed in foam cartons. Besides coding a variety of messages directly on the eggs, Sauder's also codes every egg carton and case of its 33 million eggs produced per week (550,000 eggs/hr). "Good quality codes and ease of programming are very important to our operation," says Gary Varner, plant manager for Sauder's. "So is virtually no downtime." Sauder's uses Videojet EXCEL 100 and Maxum coders for case printing.

Previous egg-coding methods, such as contact stampers and daters, produced smearing that did not meet USDA specifications and codes that were illegible on 30% of eggs per flat (30 eggs), according to Varner. That's when he investigated alternate coding technologies, including a number of ink jet units from various manufacturers. "Videojet provided great samples, and the price was affordable, plus the Videojet units met USDA standards," says Varner, who estimates the added expense of ink-jet-printing individual eggs to be no more than $100/month. "The additional expense is worth the increase in business."

Sauder's uses four EXCEL 170i models to print directly onto eggs, as well as a series of Videojet EXCEL dual-headed 270i units for coding the egg cartons. Sauder's says the coders interface well with the Diamond System 8300 egg grading machine even with line speeds that vary. Using Videojet's InkSource fluids exclusively because of their fast dry-time and special food grade formulations, Sauder's is able to apply the codes even to wet eggs. The 270i units are installed on the packing line, while the 170i printheads are mounted in the 8300's basket conveyor to code directly onto eggs.

Printheads from Videojet EXCEL Series 170i ink jet printers are mounted in the basket conveyor of the Diamond System 8300 egg grading machine to code directly onto eggs.

Flexibility A Key
Varner says the Videojet EXCEL 170i small-character ink jet printers are reliable, and messages are easy to change, a key factor for Sauder's, which runs its processing operations 24 h/d. The company prints one- or two-line messages in 0.25-in and 0.5-in heights. The Videojet system prints alphanumerics, bar codes and custom logos, and codes can be changed instantly to ensure messages can be printed any time.

The Series EXCEL 170i allows serialization, automatic advance of expiration dates and printing of part numbers, batch codes and messages in a variety of adjustable character formats. The system prints at nearly any production speed, whether it's uniform, variable or intermittent.

The printers feature Videojet's patented Fluid Control System, an ink return system that reduces make-up fluid consumption and minimizes operating costs by recycling the ink to reduce evaporation. An EXCEL hydraulic system virtually eliminates hazardous waste disposal by consuming all of the ink in the system.

Varner says having the ability to print on the eggs expands Sauder's capabilities into many new marketing areas. The company asserts that the demand for coded eggs is ever-increasing, as stores request coded eggs to celebrate openings and use messages to promote special offers.

Adding value is Sauder's means of differentiating their products from the competition. Keen marketing acumen has spurred growth for the past 11 years, even though consumption of eggs has declined from 400/consumer in 1940 to 240/consumer today. Twenty-four quality checks ensure that Sauder's top-of-the-line eggs are the best on the market. And just to be sure the consumer knows it, the company prints "Sauder's Gold" on every one.

For more information: Videojet Systems International, Inc., 1500 Mittel Blvd., Wood Dale, IL 60191-1073. Tel: 630-860-7300, fax: 630-616-3657.