Retail-Ready Packaging Guidelines for Expiration Dates and Batch Numbers | InkJet, Inc.

In the era of big-box stores and warehouse clubs, companies must find a way to package their products for maximum efficiency, protection, and shelf appeal. Major retailers no longer have the time to handle individual unit packs or carefully handle primary packaging. In response, retail-ready packaging has become an essential tool for those working in food processing, beverage packaging, and consumer good production.

Also called shelf-ready packaging, retail-ready packaging refers to a diverse range of secondary and primary packaging materials. Cardboard boxes, shrink-wrapped display trays, large paperboard cases, and flexible pouches can all fall into this category as long as they have one basic characteristic: retailers can directly place them on shelves without needing to unpack the inner contents.

For example, individually packaged raisin boxes often come in larger retail-ready cases. Instead of having to unpack all of the individual boxes, a worker can simply place the case on the shelf and open the lid, automatically allowing customers to select how many boxes they would like to purchase.

Within the packaging industry, retail-ready packaging is growing in popularity. According to the latest estimates, the retail-ready packaging market was valued at USD 63.9 billion in 2020, and by 2026, it is expected to be worth USD 90.9 billion. Part of what’s encouraging this market growth is how major retailers are increasingly requiring their partners to use retail-ready materials.

For those new to retail-ready packaging, these requirements can lead to confusion on how to properly label their new cases, trays, and pouches to comply with governmental regulations and distribution channel policies. To help alleviate confusion, we’ve compiled the following retail-ready packaging guidelines.

By following these expiration date/batch number best practices, companies can eliminate supply chain issues and avoid expensive code violation fines.

1. Know Your Retail Partner’s Requirements

Due to the convenience of retail-ready packaging, many major retailers (e.g. Costco, Target, Sam’s Club, etc.) require their suppliers to use retail-ready materials when shipping their products throughout the supply chain. Retail-ready packaging enables distribution centers and store workers to more accurately maintain inventory and stock shelves efficiently. To ensure that these systems work properly, retailers not only require packaging companies to use structurally sound retail-ready containers, but these containers must also prominently display traceable codes and markings in specific ways.

For example, according to Costco’s official structural packaging specifications, simply displaying an expiration date isn’t sufficient. All retail-ready trays, cartons, and containers must:

  1. Display expiration dates/best-by dates on at least the container’s front surface as well as two additional sides.

  2. The date format must read as follows: “Best Before: MM/DD/YY” (e.g. Best Before: 07/13/06).

  3. The font size must reach a minimum height of 3/8 inch. 

These types of specifications are common throughout the industry and slightly differ from organization to organization. Accordingly, companies must thoroughly understand their partners’ retail-ready packaging guidelines before shipping their products. Without careful policy consideration, retail partnerships can become strained and companies can face stiff penalties for improperly placing their expiration dates and batch numbers.

2. Use the Right Equipment to Mark Your Packaging

Even with an encyclopedic knowledge of retail-ready packaging guidelines, code compliance is impossible if one doesn’t have the proper marking equipment. Unreliable or improper printers can produce subpar codes that may:

  • Not be legible to the end user

  • Easily rub off

  • Not meet the retailers standards 

All of these issues can end up violating distributor policies and disrupt supply chain traceability. To ensure code compliance, companies need to use printing hardware that can create high-quality markings consistently.

Previously, hot-melt wax printers were the go-to option for retail-ready applications due to their ability to pack high-contrast codes on both porous and non-porous materials. Although hot-melt wax printers produce high quality codes, they may be scratched/smeared during industrial packaging operations or transportation to retail centers. Fortunately, continuous inkjet (CIJ) printers and thermal inkjet (TIJ) printers provide users with high-quality results that won’t scratch or smear during the packaging or transport.

Both CIJ and TIJ printers are compatible with the most common retail-ready packaging materials (e.g., paperboard, cardboard, and plastic). They are also capable of creating rub-resistant codes that can last for years at a time. Where they differ is in size and operational specifics.

For example, CIJ printers like the DuraCode Touchscreen weigh around 90 pounds and are able to print at high speed uninterrupted for 24 hours a day. Accordingly, they are placed on production lines for all-day printing applications. TIJ printers like the Anser Pro-S weigh around five pounds, offering users a higher level of mobility. However, they are unable to provide the same uninterrupted coding abilities that a CIJ model can offer. At the same time, cutting-edge TIJ printers like the Anser X1 come close by offering printing speeds up to 300m/min.

If you are unsure of which option will work best for you, you can consult with one of our experts here at InkJet, Inc. for clarification. 

3. Use the Best Ink for the Job

Equally important to having a great printer is having a material-compatible ink formula. All substrates have their own unique surface properties that influence how well inks can adhere to them. A porous material, like paperboard, allows for ink to sink beneath the surface whereas a nonporous material, like rigid plastic, won’t.

To ensure that expiration dates and batch numbers are clear and easily readable, packaging operations need to be diligent about using application-appropriate ink formulas. Thankfully, companies like InkJet, Inc. offer diverse ink portfolios that can satisfy all retail-ready packaging needs. Simply speak with an expert representative to discover which formulas are right for your needs.

Need More Guidance to Navigate Retail-Ready Packaging Guidelines?

Retail-ready packaging is a growing area within the larger packaging industry. As retailers increasingly require their partners to ship their products in these different forms, companies need to be prepared to perfectly follow any provided guidelines to avoid steep fines and supply chain issues. Fortunately, with some diligent research and the right equipment, packaging operations can ensure that their products completely align with these standards. 

Here at InkJet, Inc., we have the hardware, ink, and knowledge necessary to help companies on this journey. If you have any questions on how to properly mark retail-ready packaging, contact us today—we have answers. 

For more information on retail-ready packaging guidelines, contact InkJet, Inc. online or call us at 1(800) 280-3245.