No holes in labeling program at Krispy Kreme

Photos by Dru P. McPherson

The doughnut maker's box labels go round and round - but they always end up in exactly the right place, thanks to a custom labeling solution.

How fast do production lines have to go? When those production lines are carrying Krispy Kreme doughnuts ready for shipment to grocery stores, the answer is as fast as humanly possible.

Many people are familiar with Krispy Kreme, which makes those absurdly tasty confections that are quickly becoming known worldwide. They may have stopped by the company's doughnut shops or picked up a box or two at area grocery or convenience stores.

Wholesale bakeries supply the stores with boxes of doughnuts. It is in these bakeries that a special labeling solution speeds the baked goodies to their destinations. A unique printer/applicator, customized for Krispy Kreme with a durable print engine from SATO America, keys the stand-alone system.

Label Company Rises to the Challenge

Like the ingredients used to start the baking process, the start of this solution was humble enough. Ellington, CT-based Action Packaging Systems sent out one of its regular mailings looking for business. The family-owned business supplies labels and labelers, including its Gold Seal tamp/blow printer/applicator unit, to a growing list of customers throughout the United States.

The mailing went to a distributor who dealt with Krispy Kreme and knew the company was looking for a labeling solution. He mentioned the need to Action Packaging President Doug Rice. Rice made his way down to Krispy Kreme's headquarters in Winston-Salem, NC, and learned the company was searching for a printing solution that would quickly and accurately place round, variable-information labels on different-sized doughnut boxes as they came to the end of its bakeries' conveyor lines.

Though Krispy Kreme was testing other solutions, Rice was confident he had the right one - a customized Gold Seal. He was so confident, in fact, that he went ahead and built a prototype, even painting it the distinctive Krispy Kreme green. "I just felt really good about this one," Rice says. "They seemed like good, honest people."

His effort paid off. In short order - about six weeks from first contact to first unit shipped - the special printer/applicators began precisely applying the labels in the wholesale bakeries. Approximately 30 units are currently streamlining production for Krispy Kreme suppliers.

Rice says one thing Krispy Kreme executives liked about the unit was its simplicity. The Gold Seal printer/applicator has just two buttons - no knobs to adjust, no gauges, no switches.

"It's what we call ‘second-shift-proof,'" Rice says.

The semiautomatic system is completely self-contained on a cart, neatly packaged with the works - air compressor, vacuum pump, electrical - in a cabinet underneath the unit. Wires run from cabinet to junction box to the unit. Finally, a drawer containing a keypad slides out of the way when not in use.

"It's very portable, and that's important," says Tim Honeycutt, Certified Purchasing manager and vice president of Purchasing for Krispy Kreme. "We use our production areas for a variety of products, and not all of them need the printer there. So we can roll it in or out as needed."

Durability was an important consideration, since bakeries can be a bit dusty and production areas are regularly washed down. Again, Rice had no doubts about the Gold Seal. It's built to wear well, to "just run" every day. For example, says Rice, "Our take-up waste motor has no chains, no belts. It's direct drive and electric. We've never replaced one."

And its direct-thermal, SATO M-8459Se Series Print Engine "has great print head life. It prints 203 dots-per-inch resolution, with a maximum print width of 4.4 inches and a print speed of 5 inches per second. It's simple, easy to diagnose and service, and easy to get parts. It also accepts jobs on the go faster than others."

The Gold Seal printer/applicator has just two buttons — no knobs to adjust, no gauges, no switches.

Simplicity in a Cart - With a Little Computer Mixed In

The round, 1 1/2-inch label Krispy Kreme needed to apply is simple enough. It contains a price, sell-by date and store number in addition to preprinted graphics. Though simple, it is essential that it be in the same place box after box.

"Previously, we had hand application of labels in our stores. It was very labor-intensive, and there was a lack of standardized presentation of the product," Honeycutt says. "These [printer/applicators] sped up the production, gave us consistent and proper placement on the box, and, overall, improved the look of the brand."

In the wholesale bakeries, one printer/applicator is assigned to each line. The number of lines varies, but most bakeries working with Krispy Kreme have between one and three units.

As the freshly boxed doughnuts come down the various conveyor lines at an average rate of 20 dozen per minute, workers pick up and place each box under the applicator. Here, another bit of customization gives a helping hand. A PRINTPAD™ bar code-printing terminal from TEKLYNX International has been connected to the Gold Seal to allow workers to key enter the price and sell-by date when prompted by the system. The PRINTPAD, preprogrammed with all non-variable label data downloaded from a PC running LABELVIEW™ bar code labeling and integration software from TEKLYNX, and installed by Action Packaging Systems, feeds that data plus the store number to the printer, which creates the label. The tamp/blow application completes the cycle, adjusting instantly for different-sized boxes (its stroke ranges from 1/2 inch to 4 inches). The worker then takes the perfectly labeled box and stores it on a rack for shipping to the appropriate store.

Getting the computer data into the unit was another essential part of the application, and something Rice had not encountered before. "They wanted it connected to a computer, and I said, ‘Well, I'm not sure how to do that, but I'll figure it out.'"

He credits Bob Lanzendorf, OEM Sales and Marketing manager for SATO, for turning him on to the PRINTPAD. Action Packaging programs the keypad/terminal using a PC, storing all essential label data within it, and ships it ready to go with the Gold Seal.

That's just part of the service Action Packaging provides Krispy Kreme. Other parts include system integrator duties and any repairs and maintenance. The company also supplies the round labels - around 100 million of them per year.

The "Perfect Account"

Rice is obviously pleased with the business from Krispy Kreme, but there is something more to this relationship, as evidenced by the comments made by both him and Honeycutt.

"This is the perfect account," says Rice. "They are great people."

Honeycutt says, "The Action Packaging folks were very customer-oriented and extremely responsive. They took our ideas and requests and came back with a product that met those ideas and requests. It was ‘user-friendly,' to use an old term, but customized for things unique to our business. They were an integral part of our cross-functional departmental team."

The great relationship will continue. As Krispy Kreme expands operations, more distinctive green Gold Seals will roll out to streamline production.

"These units are doing a great job for us," Honeycutt says. "They are very durable, very consistent in their operation, and are simple for our people to use. Our people want to come in, plug it up and watch it run. We've received only positive comments from the users. We've invested a lot here, but are getting a good return on our investment.

"We are achieving what we wanted to achieve," he says.

And how sweet it is.

For more information on labeling equipment, contact Doug Rice, Action Packaging Systems Inc., phone (860) 872-6311; e-mail ; or visit .

For more information on printers, contact Bob Lanzendorf, SATO America Inc., phone (314) 846-0892; e-mail ; or visit .

For more information on automation software, contact Melissa Reis, TEKLYNX International, phone (414) 577-3905; e-mail ; or visit .