New Label Options Take Beverage packaging to the Next Level

Beverage labeling, once almost an afterthought, has come a long way. No longer a device used for simply naming the product and listing its ingredients, labeling is now an art form; a promotional tool that not only tells a story, but sends a valuable come-hither message to increasingly demanding consumers. One such label, the shrink-sleeve, can seemingly turn a beverage package into... well, anything.
“I think the beverage industry has realized that shrink labels are the thing of the future,” says Sharon Lobel, President of Seal-It, Farmingdale, N.Y. “They make products pop off the shelves, look more appealing... you can make a bottle look like anything you want it to. You can make it look like wood, metal, or etched glass.”
Seal-It — whose eye-catching works can be found on products such as In-Zone’s BellyWashers and TummyTicklers, as well as Clearly Canadian — is, in fact, working on a process that makes glass look etched.
“Etched glass is very expensive,” Lobel notes. “So we have a new kind of gold ink that makes anything look like gold-stamped, etched glass. You can even put it on plastic or PET bottles.”
There are other benefits as well, she says. “You have that gloss, that pop, that high-end look that paper labels just can’t give. It sells the product, makes the consumer at least try it. And you also have 360 degrees of real estate.”
Some use the additional real estate to fit more graphics in, says David Seuss, vice president of sales at Color Craft, Memphis Tenn., while others use it to make the label multi-lingual. Color Craft will shortly open a new 24,000-square-foot facility specifically for this market, featuring a 22-inch, 10-color press that will print roll-film labels, roll-shrink labels, shrink-sleeve labels and flexible packaging.
“Our primary focus is the shrink-sleeve label, which enhances shelf appeal and allows for line extensions,” says Seuss. “A lot of companies are just taking existing packaging and putting an extension on it, so the runs are large, but not as large as you’d find with, say, a normal Coca-Cola 12-ounce can. There are areas they’re focusing on to get shelf appeal, while still maintaining their traditional line while selling promotional items.”
Richmond, Va.,-based Alcoa Flexible Film Division, which provides labeling for Nestlé’s Nesquik, Rolo and Coffee-mate liquids, has seen tremendous growth — some new beverages, and some relabeling old products. Says Terry Copenhaver, commercial manager for Shrink-sleeve Packaging, “The immediate value of the shrink-sleeve is the high-impact, high-gloss, brightly colored shelf appeal, plus the amount of top-to-bottom coverage it provides.”
There’s that real estate again. But there are other advantages, she explains, such as speed, advances in ink and substrate technology. “Higher speed application equipment for shrink-labels is an issue,” she says. “One problem for beverage manufacturers was that the speed of their wraparound labels was so high, and they didn’t want to go to slower speeds” She notes they’re now up to 700 to 800 bottles a minute... sometimes 1,000, depending on the bottle size.
“We’re also seeing the impact of thermochromatic inks; we’ve done flip-inks, which change colors when you move the product back and forth,” she says.
Copenhaver says a fairly new substrate, oriented polystyrene (OPS), “gives a better yield on the film, and it’s more economical. Overall, the cost of labels is coming down.”
Baltimore, Md.’s Gamse Litho runs the gamut from foil/metallized paper to shrink. Joan Ziegler, marketing director and key accounts manager, says “the most interesting thing for us would be the advancement of the synthetics into the clears. The white opaque synthetics have been out for a while now, but the arena has been expanding into cold glue availability.” She cites Cadbury-Schweppes, which has used it on its Mistic bottles, Honest Tea and Veryfine as examples of companies looking in that direction.
Organic, she says, is another big area. “There’s a whole niche of consumers who are not interested in seeing synthetic packaging for their beverages,” she says. “They need to know it’s recyclable. [Synthetic supplier] ExxonMobil is looking into ways to address this.”
The Nantucket Nectars Organics package, she recalls, presented a challenge. “We went to the mill and worked with them to refine a substrate [named Chesapeake Laid] that they could run at 700 bottles a minute and still show the ‘fiber’ appearance they were looking for,” she says. “It gives that real earthy feel. The wine industry is coming out with a lot of single-serve and looking for an organic feel as well.”
Pressure-sensitive film is the main focus of Spear Systems of Cincinnati, Ohio. Says Dan Muenzer, director of marketing, “Beverage is a very competitive marketplace, so brands are looking for every possible advantage. Pressure-sensitive labels allow you to create some really dynamite-looking packages for differentiation on shelves.”
Historically, he notes, the first beverage to use the technology back in the ‘90s, Clearly Canadian, paid a significant upcharge for it. “It worked for them,” he says, “but the costs limited use to premium and specialty items. As the technology has evolved, it’s become so affordable that Budweiser has been able to convert to pressure-sensitive technology.”
He believes the speed of label application is a big piece of expanding the use of pressure-sensitive, and confirms that Spear (whose clients include Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Cadbury-Schweppes, Anheuser-Busch, SAB Miller, Heineken, Interbrew and Carlsberg) now has equipment capable of more than 1,000 bottles per minute, “allowing it to go on the fastest of all beverage lines, so they can label right in line with filling. Before, they had bring in bottles that were already labeled.”
Muenzer expresses a touch of doubt for the future of paper for most major beverage categories, “because graphically you can’t do as much as with film, and film is far more durable. Paper labels can’t take the same abuse, like getting wet, hot or scratched.” In the broader sense, he says, paper still dominates the market, but in terms of beverage, there’s more film than paper. However, he concedes, “wine has traditionally used paper, and they probably won’t go to film because there are still things you can do aesthetically with paper that you can’t do with film.” BI