February 1, 2007
By ELIZABETH FUHRMAN
Designer beverage labeling dressed to stand out
It’s OK to be materialistic. No one can deny the importance of a beverage package’s labeling materials in attracting consumers. Beverage Industry’s sister publication Brand Packaging says it best in its book Design Gallery 4: material is “something you carefully consider in your briefs, isn’t it?”
Whether formal or casual, a beverage’s label plays a critical role in dressing the product. Labels provide a way for beverage products to stand out on the shelf and say something about the product.
“I’m seeing a premiumization of packaging, meaning packaging that provides an upscale look,” says Kevin O’Brien, national account manager for Multi-Color Corp., Cincinnati. “Packaging that creates a sense of value.”
Additionally label packaging communicates a message to the customer about the package.
“There are a lot of different labeling materials that can be used, and companies are using different types to try to differentiate themselves between others in their segment,” says David Love, general manager of Seal-It, a division of Printpack Inc., Atlanta. “One of the big areas is differentiating with graphics.”
Many beverage companies also have gone away from pressure-sensitive labels and moved toward shrink or roll-fed labeling, Love says. “With those, you can get a label that goes all the way around the package,” he explains. “The films we use provide a glossier look and really make the graphics pop on the store shelf.”
“When it comes to beverage packaging, shrink-sleeves are the hottest trend, hands-down,” says Amy Brown, marketing manager for Overnight Labels Inc., Deer Park, N.Y. “Before shrink-sleeves, spaces on an unusually shaped bottle that could not accommodate a label would go unused. Thanks to savvy manufacturers and graphic artists, shrink-sleeves are able to take advantage of a 360-degree area, making any product a virtual 360-degree billboard with maximum brand and graphic impact.”
Louis Iovoli, director of sales and marketing for Hammer Packaging, Rochester, N.Y., says the beverage market continued to expand the range of decorating technologies it uses to achieve brand awareness. “The trend has a large impact on material, depending on what style of decorating is selected, i.e. roll-fed, shrink-sleeve, cut-and-stack, roll applied-shrink on, pressure-sensitive, etc.,” he explains. “This trend correlates with the strategy labeling machine manufacturers have pursued of offering more functional equipment that allows the user to quickly switch among decorating techniques using one primary piece of equipment.”
Hammer offers a range of new substrates to address various decorating needs with new variable repeat web offset technology. Most of these applications require functional film selections specific to the package, Iovoli says. “Our new web offset technology can handle the entire range of materials without the expensive cost of gravure cylinders or central impression flexo plates,” he explains.
Equipment isn’t the only factor furthering labeling. New inks such as metallics are being used, Love says. Seal-It also offers a thermochromatic ink that changes colors, depending on temperature.
Hammer sees many innovations in the pipeline from film vendors that use the company’s Electron Beam ink and coating system, which allows customers to use lightweight mono- web films as an alternative to laminated structures. “Traditionally, customers have used laminated structures because the inks are sandwiched in the structure, thereby preventing contamination in the recycling stream,” Iovoli explains. “We see Electron Beam as a viable option to accomplish the same goal in the recycling stream while giving roll-fed label users an offset mono-web alternative.”
Additionally, developments have occurred in higher yield PETG white films that are being introduced in shrink-sleeve applications. Hammer’s Electron Beam ink and coating system will allow surface printing without the risk of scuffing, Iovoli says. “White film would provide much better opacity for hiding containers than trying to flood the current films with white ink,” Iovoli explains. “Additionally, white film offers product protection from the harmful effects of light on food and beverage products.”
At Overnight Labels, the company produces all of its shrink-sleeves using water-based inks, which offer an environmental marketing edge, Brown says. The company uses a flexographic printing process that uses water-based inks instead of solvent-based inks that are used in other processes such as gravure printing.
“This means that there is no problem with solvent retention,” Brown explains. “In addition, the smell that is unavoidable with solvent-based inks is non-existent in water-based counterparts. Water-based inks used by Overnight Labels do not pose the threat of migrating into the contents of a product and contain no VOCs [volatile organic compounds].”
The push for environmentally friendly packaging is being driven partly by Wal-Mart’s new packaging requirements. EarthFirst PLA film has been one answer. PLA film utilizes NatureWorks PLA resin, which make the film 100 percent compostable since it is made from corn, an annually renewable resource.
PLA film, which is available in materials such as shrink and film lamination, offers beverage companies several greener option choices. The push for environmentally friendly materials is not just domestically driven, but a global concern as well.
“There have been some overseas companies, or ones that have operation overseas, that are pushing for more environmentally friendly materials as well,” Love says. “…The big trend in the future is going to be more environmentally friendly films.”
Shrink-sleeve labels are also now available in PETB and OPS materials, which are considered to be more environmentally friendly and price stable than traditional petroleum-based substrates, Brown says.
“Materials such as tree-free stock made from bamboo, bagasse and cotton linters offer another alternative to PLA from traditional pressure-sensitive labels,” she adds.
Helping to prevent a surplus of materials, shrink-sleeve labeling on cans also keeps container inventory down. For example, a product line that uses pressure-sensitive labels may use different colored bottles for each item, which will require larger bottle orders to keep unit costs down. “With shrink-sleeves, you can easily keep only one colored bottle in inventory, therefore enjoying the benefits of larger volume discounts, while achieving the same result as the original colored bottles,” Brown explains.
Shrink-sleeve labeling over cans continues to grow because of inventory control and other reasons as well. “Companies can buy unprinted cans and use printed labels to do non-standard items,” Love says. “They can use printed labels for the items that they want, and the graphics will look better on a shrink label than printed directly on a can.”
Product differentiation also is driving beverage companies to place shrink-sleeve on cans. “That’s why we’re seeing a lot of these markets that once were traditionally printed cans going to shrinkwrap over cans,” Love says. “It’s just something to create a different look.”
While shrink-sleeve creates a broader spectrum to communicate a message about the product, pressure-sensitive labels still offer their perks. For example, when Miller Brewing Co. restaged Miller Genuine Draft as a more premium brew, it switched from embossed, metallized paper labels to clear pressure-sensitive front, back and neck labels, highlighting the golden beer color. Multi-Color produced the labels for the redesigned MGD.
“You have to look at the message you want to communicate to the consumer,” O’Brien says. “What can we develop with primary packaging that works within their system while generating the right branding message to their customer.”
In addition to shrink-sleeves, rotary silkscreen is also viable for beverage labels. Once limited in its original form, with rotary silkscreen, manufacturers can achieve the look of a silk-screened, or “no-label” look with four-color process, plus spot colors, and still maintain maximum opacity and texture, Brown says.
Cold foil also has emerged to provide a similar look to hot stamping, but at a lower cost. “This is because cold foil is applied with a standard flexographic plate in-line vs. a hot-stamp plate, which is applied on a separate press after the regular in-line printing is done,” Brown explains. “Aside from its cost saving abilities, the real beauty of cold foil is its versatility. You can utilize a variety of pre-established foils for that added something.”
Insulated wraps such as those InBev’s Labatt Blue has used also are adding value to beverage products. Embossments, holographic looks, black light labels, peelable labels and other inks such as expandable that each create a different tactile sensation are developing processes as well.
“You can do a lot with packaging depending on what you are looking for and what message you want to create,” O’Brien says. “The No. 1 problem that comes back to suppliers is how do we supply innovative packaging at a cost-effective price. Our goal is to listen to all the requirements, and then balance the needs between the different disciplines.
“As we say in packaging, anything is possible with time and money, and that’s true, but a cost perspective is always a major concern.”
Find out more online
Several interesting labeling applications were featured in BrandPackaging’s book Design Gallery 4. More information about the book can be found at www.brandpackaging.com