May 6, 2010
by Andrew Joseph, Features Editor
Modern-day farming is definitely not the easiest, quickest or most glamorous way to strike it rich in today’s fast-paced, high-tech world, but for folks who really take pride in toiling the land, the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment from an honest day’s work is a daily reward that’s hard to replicate in many other professional walks of life.
For Monsieur Basilic—a family-run farm specializing in all-natural, chemical-free production of high-quality, fresh and tasty herbs, spices and vegetables situated in picturesque St-Placide, Que., about 50 kilometers west of Montréal—the mere knowledge that its products are better and healthier not only for consumers but also for Mother Nature than those grown by commerical megafarms offers all the motivation its founder and company president Dino Constandinou needs to keep the family business growing in the right direction.
“It is important for us, as it is for our customers, to sell a clean and natural product, which we do using a biological technique of farming that insists on no pesticides, fungicides or herbicides,” Constandinou told Canadian Packaging in a recent interview. “We utilize natural predators to control all the pests that may endanger our crops, which enables us to present a cleaner and fresher product to our clients.”
This emphasis on natural crop-growing has not gone unnoticed in the nearby regional markets in the Montreal area and around Ottawa, where branded Monsieur Basilic products can be purchased at all the major supermarket and grocery chains such as Loblaws, Provigo, Maxi, Metro, Super C, Sobeys, Intermarché, Farm Boy and Marche Adonis.
“Because the primary herb we grow here happens to be basil, our company was practically given its name collectively by our witty customers,” says Constandinou, relating how many of his early sales-calls to nearby prospects were soon being acknowledged with friendly salutations of ‘Oh, it’s Monsieur Basilic (Mister Basil)!’
“It struck me that it was much more than just one or two customers doing it,” he chuckles, “so we just decided to appropriate the name for ourselves.”
Starting out in 1994 with a tomato-growing greenhouse operation, Constandinou shifted his focus to herb farming three years later, officially incorporating the company in 2001.
Describing himself as a ‘jack-of-all trades’ mechanic, packager and “chief bottle washer,” Constandinou employs 14 people year-round to work the company’s 15 acres of farmland and a large greenhouse—producing basil, spice herbs, mushrooms, zucchini flowers and mini-salads under the Monsieur Basilic brand name, as well for supplying the Birri & frères stalls with organic herbs and veggies at the Jean Talon Market in Montreal, a popular historic farmer’s market in the Little Italy district.
“We operate 12 months of the year, so there’s no rest for me,” Constandinou laughs, explaining that the unfolding consumer trend of growing preference for more locally-grown produce, for environmental and other reasons, has resulted in growing demand for his products.
Keeping up with this extra growth has kept the company’s four packaging lines humming along for a while, according to Constandinou, who recently realized that he needed to invest in a reliable piece of label printing equipment to accommodate the growing line speeds and output.
Looking for an affordable, user-friendly printer capable of producing professional-looking labels on-demand, Constandinou soon found exactly what he needed after contacting the Brossard, Que.-based Canadian division of QuickLabel Systems, part of the labeling technologies manufacturer Astro-Med, Inc. Product Group of Warwick, R.I.
“It’s a very handy machine,” says Constandinou, describing the Vivo! model digital label printer, designed specifically for the needs of moderate-volume manufacturers and packagers who prefer to produce their own product labels in-house, from small runs to hundreds of labels, while being able to precisely match the current line and production requirements right down to the last label.
“Not only is this machine remarkably easy to use,” he enthuses, “it really provides us with a quick and affordable way to have great-looking labels on our products, which is extremely important in our market segment.”
According to QuickLabel, the Vivo! printer—loosely resembling a standard laser printer—uses electrophotographic printing technology to generate durable, high-graphics, fully-finished labels that can be applied right off the printer.
“The labels this system produces are quite strong in terms of remaining colorfast despite any UV (ultraviolet) exposure,” says Constandinou, “meaning that these labels are very resistant to fading.”
Citing Vivo!’s ability to quickly print anything between one to over 500 labels as needed, with just a few simple commands, Constandinou says he was also highly impressed by the speed which he could shift gears and print different packaging labels for different products within minutes.
“In my business, it’s imperative to work quickly to ensure that only the our freshest of vegetables, spices and herbs make it out to the cust
omer,” Constandinou explains, “which is why I appreciate the fact that I don’t have to waste time performing time-consuming label changeovers, as we have quite a few brands around here that we need to package during the course of the day.”
To achieve optimal use of the Vivo! printer, Constandinou decided to enhance the basic model with the QuickPeel label matrix removal system, an optional QuickLabel tabletop device used to remove the excess label material that surrounds the die-cut label from the liner, as well as winding the finished label material onto rolls that can be immediately inserted onto a label applicator.
For all that, Constandinou added his own mechanical aptitude into the mix by devising a self-made complementary system that further sped up labeling operations at the four packaging lines.
“For lack of a better term, I simply describe it as ‘the wall’,” says Constandinou, describing a set-up whereby the various pre-printed label rolls are placed onto a modified tape gun dispenser attached to the wall—providing workers with instant access to the appropriate labels the very moment they’re needed for manual application.
“This wall of tickets is easy for anyone to use,” explains Constandinou. “It is designed to make it simple to remove the rolls and to change the place of a roll, without having them unwind on the rack.”
Constandinou says that because being a farmer is such a busy and time-consuming activity, made even busier with all the packaging work done for the Monsieur Basilic brands, he is delighted with the many time-saving features offered by the Vivo! digital label printing technology.
“I am grateful that whenever I need to print up more labels, doing it with the Vivo! digital printer is never a long, drawn-out affair,” Constandinou sums up.
“I really appreciate the fact that it helps make my packaging line faster and easier to operate, so that I can get back to the more difficult job of producing my tasty vegetables and herbs for our customers and local consumers.”