By Pierre Deschamps
Rugged industrial inkjet printing system fully earning its keep for the venerable leading maple syrup producer
In the world of packaging, the importance of shipping cases and crates often tends to be underestimated or overlooked.
Without them, however, few products would ever make the journey to their wholesale or retail customers, or to consumers making their purchase directly from an e-commerce site.
To have these bulk containers properly shipped, stored and received, it is imperative to have their contents be clearly identified on one side.
As one of the world’s leading producers of maple syrup serving wholesale, retail, foodservice and industrial markets on a global scale, the venerable Citadelle Maple Syrup Producers’ Cooperative knows that properly marking its transit packaging with all the required product codes and other variable product information is an integral part of its daily operations, which must run like clockwork to serve its diverse customer base.
To do so, the company is making extensive use of rugged industrial inkjet case coding systems manufactured by FoxJet, an ITW (Illinois Tool Works) company based in St. Charles, Mo.
Supplied and installed by product identification specialists DMS Marking & Coding of Longueuil, Que., the FoxJet printing technology quickly became an integral part of the Citadelle plant’s end-of-line packaging operations by providing a simple, efficient and economical solution.
“We supplied the first FoxJet printer to Citadelle a few years ago,” says DMS representative Gérald Charbonneau, describing installation of the initial FoxJet Marksman ELITE system at the plant.
“The performance of that equipment has earned us a request to supply a second and, most recently in 2021, a third one.”
Such confidence is testament to the system’s many technological attributes and capabilities, according to Charbonneau.
“It’s easy to use, it requires little maintenance, and the drying time of less than a quarter of a second is an important asset in a plant like Citadelle, where the pace of work is very high,” he says.
The FoxJet Marksman ELITE is a flexible stand-alone industrial controller that is capable of operating two production lines simultaneously, according to FoxJet, and up to four printheads.
Featuring a 17-inch touchscreen with built in on-screen keyboard, the Marksman ELITE controls four Trident ProSeries printheads to print industrial compliant barcodes, graphics, and/or alphanumeric characters on porous materials and cases at exceptionally high speeds.
The 768e printinheads used at Citadelle can produce a complex graphic impressions with a printing height of up to four inches, with 300-dpi horizontal resolution.
Housing all the interior cable connections inside, the unit’s rugged stainless steel casing provides maximum reliability in harsh environments, while the system’s Boxwriter ELITE editor software facilitates fast changeovers and programming with a user-friendly graphical interface that easily guides operators through the required menu functions.
Being able to withstand everything that the plant’s busy production process throws its way is one of the system’s biggest attributes at the Citadelle plant, where about 275 full-time employees handle “up to 35 million pounds of maple syrup every year,” according to Citadelle’s director of corporate affairs Rick Lavergne.
As Lavergne explains, that huge total is collected from nearly 1,500 Quebec-based maple syrup harvesters over several months leading up to September.
For the most part, the bulk raw syrup is shipped in over 85,000 barrels—weighing 430 pounds each filled—which Lavergne says “must be carefully disinfected before being returned to producers for their next year’s harvest.”
Founded in 1925, the Citadelle co-op is a proud Quebec corporate institution that has truly shone on the world stage over the years—nowadays exporting to 47 countries around the world.
A winner of multiple prestigious international awards—including the 2018 Canadian Export Business Award of the Agri-Food Export Group—the Plessisville-based co-op is also keen to retain its dominance on home soil as well.
Says Lavergne: “We are the only place where the metal tin can is still used to market maple syrup, which is a long-standing tradition in Quebec.”
For all the other global markets where it ships maple syrup, the cooperative uses glass bottles of many different sizes, which caused some concern during the COVID-19 pandemic due to disruption in the company’s glass container supply chain.
“Our transportation costs that have been multiplied by five-fold,” Lavergne confides.
On the bright side, the global demand for maples syrup shows no signs of slowing down, Lavergne points out.
“Year after year, the appetite for maple products is not fading,” says Lavergne, claiming that the company’s sales actually grew during the pandemic.
“In fact, 2020 was our best year in terms of sales,” says Lavergne, citing a pandemic-related shift in the consumers’ buying habits.
“Because more people were working from home, they started cooking more than before,” he explains, “and when they wanted to sweeten their recipes, they often switched from refined sugar to maple syrup.”
As Lavergne points out, there are plenty of nutritional and health-and-wellness reasons underpinning this switch.
As the popular Quebec-based Complètement Poireau foodie website explains, “Nutritionally, white sugar contains only sucrose and no nutrients.
“Maple syrup, on the other hand, is one of the lowest-calorie sweeteners and has fewer calories than an equal serving of honey or table syrup.
“In addition, maple syrup is a food with a high aromatic complexity. It contains more than 250 aromatic compounds, including vanilla, sponge bars, marshmallows, chocolate, cinnamon, flowers, etc.”
Processed in four different varieties—gold, amber, dark and very dark—Citadelle’s maple syrup is shipped in a broad range of formats, as dictated by customer requirements.
For the food processing market, the co-op uses about a uses a dozen formats—including cans, buckets, boxes or barrels—ranging from 1.89-liter to 1,000 liters in volume.
For the catering service, Citadelle packs maple syrup in a dozen sizes, ranging from 30-ml single-serve sachets up to the nine-kilogram containers—using bottles, cans, bucket and boxes.
For retail sale, Citadelle also offers a wide range of packaging in several formats, including the Smartsak flexible pouch with a drop-proof dispensing spout, signature glass bottles with a patented anti-drip pouring cap-drop, and a variety of standard and custom-made bottles. For a company turning 100 years in just over a couple of years, the future never looked sweeter than now.