Beverage companies face many of the same challenges as other consumer packaged goods — to increase shelf impact while cutting costs and provide more sustainable packaging. With the continuing fight to be relevant, not only are beverage bottles and containers evolving to stay unique, but so must their labels change to meet the new variety.
Labeling material trends in general are revolving around sustainability through lighter weight materials or new, more eco-friendly options such as recycled paper or biopolymer films, says Gwen Chapdelaine, marketing director for Fort Dearborn Co., Elk Grove Village, Ill.
“There are many definitions and potential focuses regarding eco-friendly and sustainability,” she says. “We try to understand how our customers define it to ensure that we are in alignment and providing the best options to meet their needs. We are also using much of the Sustainable Product Design Criteria that has been detailed by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition.”
Fort Dearborn offers a variety of eco-friendly labeling materials for the label formats it provides. The options include recycled wet-strength paper and biopolymer film for cut-and-stack labels; tree-free paper, post-consumer waste paper for pressure-sensitive labels; polypropelyne OPP substrate for roll-fed labels; biopolymer film for shrink-sleeve labels and down-gauging of label materials for all label formats.
Shrink-sleeve labels also have seen developments in next generation films, Chapdelaine says. For example, high-yield PETG, which has high opacity, is more recycling friendly than traditional PETG and PETG LV, which has a more flexible transverse direction shrink cure and lower machine direction shrink, she says.
In regard to eco-friendly labels, Farmingdale, N.Y.-based Seal-It Inc., a division of Printpack Inc., offers Earthfirst PLA film, a plant-based compostable alternative to traditional petroleum-based films. Earthfirst PLA is made from an annually renewable resource. Seal-It also offers PETG, a shrink film that is considered a more environmentally friendly substitute for PVC, says Barbara Drillings, marketing communications manager for Seat-It. Both of the films are converted exactly the same way as other shrink films, she says.
MRI Flexible Packaging, Bensalem, Pa., released its own eco-friendly label alternative for low- and medium-shrink applications that uses no glue and allows for easy separation in the recycling process.
To accomplish this, Green Sleeve Enhanced Stretch acts like a rubber band around the bottle, says Jim Mallon, vice president of MRI Flexible Packaging.
“The sleeve comes in a tubular form, and the machine gets inside it and basically opens it and stretches it and lets it go,” he says. “It snaps back onto the container and just that force of it snapping back holds it there.”
“Enhanced Stretch has the ability to hug the curvature like the shrink label did,” he adds.
When the Enhanced Stretch labeled PET bottle ends up in the recycling system, the recycler can grind the entire bottle. Enhance Stretch label will separate out in the initial air filtration process because the polyethylene material in the label is lighter than PET. When it then moves through the separation bath, any Enhance Stretch material left will separate correctly, Mallon says. Enhanced Stretch also provides a tear-away feature that allows consumers to easily remove the label before recycling.
For beverage companies looking to reduce packaging weight, Enhanced Stretch uses fewer grams per inch of plastic than a traditional shrink-sleeve label, Mallon says. In turn, the Enhanced Stretch label offers a better value proposition because it is considerably less expensive, with respect to cost per thousand, since no glue or heat tunnel is necessary, Mallon says.
Label trends
While label-makers expect more eco-friendly and sustainable labels in the near future, other labeling trends are emerging in beverage packaging. For example, the desire for the clear “no-label look” has led to innovations in clear synthetic materials for cut-and-stack labels and clear film options for pressure-sensitive labels, Chapdelaine says.
With consumers’ interest in product safety, tamper-evident protection is also growing, and a full-sleeve label is one way beverage companies are improving safety confidence.
“With a horizontal perforation at the neck of the bottle, the customer can take the tamper-evident band off, and the label will remain on the product,” Drillings says. “The combination works exceptionally well, and also meets the needs of brand owners … The 360-degree image area allows for eye-catching graphics and all the product information necessary to sell the product.”
Another eye-catching offering from Seal-It is the introduction of metallic effects printed on labels. “These effects are extremely attractive and will enhance any label,” Drilling says. “We can make a label sparkle, glow or change colors.”
Making it work
With all these labeling options, labelers are required to be more flexible to handle a greater variety of labels in addition to a greater variety of containers.
“We have less and less dedicated machines,” says Olivier Huss, marketing manager for the labeling group at Westlake, Ohio-based Nordson Corp. “With the emergence of co-packers, people are going to run one product one morning, and they are going to have to switch to a different product in the afternoon. The product in the morning is going to require a shrink label, and the one in the afternoon, a hot-melt label. So they have those machines that are modular, and they just slide a module depending on what kind of label they have to apply.”
The demand for flexible labeling equipment is all related to marketing, Huss says. “When you have a new product out there every six months, maybe, or you want to rejuvenate an existing product — say you are going to give it a different look with a nice contoured bottle that’s going to require a shrink label — then you are going to have to change the labeling process.”
Advancements in labeling equipment are factoring into better beverage production. Increased levels of automation enable better bottle and label handling, improved levels of labeler efficiency, decreased line accumulation between machines and enhanced machine flexibility for faster changeovers, says John Pasqua, labeling systems product manager, Americas for Sidel SpA, Mantova, Italy.
As the technology improves, labelers are better suited to meet the challenges presented to them. For example, thinner clear pressure-sensitive label films are required to label at rates up to 1,000 bottles per minute, Pasqua says. To correctly control material handling through the pressure-sensitive labeling station, air tension control systems are being used instead of using traditional mechanical arm tension systems to reduce stress on material in high acceleration and de-acceleration speeds. More software and automation processes are being incorporated to deal with the higher speeds in general, including a stop/start sensor detection of the label facestock on the backing support web, plus acceleration/de-acceleration speeds to handle thinner materials. Labels also are being smoothed down onto the bottle at elevated speeds during the application, instead of after, which is reducing bubbles and creases.
“Labeling of lightweight PET bottles also means extremely precise bottle handling control from when the bottles enter the labeler until their exit from the machine, as well as constant label control up until release and complete application onto each bottle,” Pasqua says. This minimizes as much as possible requirements for wiping devices to smooth down the label and/or close the label overlap onto the bottles within the carousel of the machine itself, he says.
Similar to the labels themselves, the movement toward sustainability is occurring on the equipment side. Huss says, “Many are asking, ‘What kind of benefits are your systems bringing in terms of energy saving and raw material savings?’”
Nordson focuses on reducing the amount of adhesives and energy savings. For adhesives, Nordson’s labelers spray on the adhesive instead of applying adhesive through the traditional roll-on method.
“We have a system that can maintain the level of efficiency and even improve the level of efficiency of our customers’ labelers, but we use up to just a tenth of the amount of adhesive they use with a traditional system,” Huss says.
Lowering the amount of adhesives provides the additional benefit of cutting costs for packagers because adhesives, which are a byproduct of the oil production process, have been increasing with the cost of oil, Huss says. In addition, Nordson’s labelers use 50 percent less electricity than traditional labelers, saving costs and supporting green initiatives, he says.
“If label manufacturers can prove that they have equipment that uses less energy, less raw material, less consumables and still maintain the same level of efficiency, then you’ll have a winning product,” Huss says. BI