Some consumer packaged goods products take a cue from their competitors and play it safe at retail by blending in. But in the increasingly competitive beverage space, many brands are daring to be different.

For instance, a unique bottle structure is one of the best ways for a brand to maximize its visibility on shelf, said Jonathan Asher, executive vice president of Teaneck, N.J.-based Perception Research Services Inc. (PRS), in Beverage Industry’s May issue. Thus, as contoured bottles continue to grow in popularity, heat-shrink-sleeve labels will become more prevalent because of their ability to provide snug, full-body graphics on cans and bottles, according to a July 2013 report by The Freedonia Group, Cleveland, Ohio.

Shrink sleeves also enable a product to go beyond decoration to add function, adds Lou Iovoli, vice president of strategic partnerships for Hammer Packaging, Rochester, N.Y. He offers Anaheim, Calif.-based Stack Wine as an example.

“This is a package where there’s four individual glasses of wine that are sealed, and they put a shrink sleeve over it,” he explains. “Not only did we have to engineer a film that was going to work with that application, but we had to design a zipper to allow the consumer to open the package. So, now you’ve taken not only the decorating to get the consumer’s attention on the shelf, but you have to turn it into a functional component of the package.”

Similarly, shrink sleeves are becoming more widely used in the distilled spirits segment as a result of their ability to incorporate security features into the sleeve, according to The Freedonia Group’s report. Such perforated labels are a common request from customers, notes Justin Slarks, director of marketing for Sleeve Seal, Little Rock, Ark. “Perforated labels are easier to tear off and recycle, so this has become an important part of the decision-making process,” he says.

Another functional attribute that a label can offer is insulation. Fort Dearborn Co. recently launched foam-based insulated labels to help keep beverages hot or cold, notes Gwen Chapdelaine, marketing director for the Elk Grove, Ill.-based company.

Swanky selections

Brands also have the ability to differentiate themselves by using upscale materials and decorative effects. As consumers shift their spending dollars to more premium options in many beverage categories, demand is growing for clear films, textured papers and foils, which can offer higher-end aesthetics, according to The Freedonia Group. For instance, Overnight Labels Inc. recently launched Kona Paper, which is a pressure-sensitive label made from repurposed coffee bean bags and post-consumer waste material, making it a 100 percent recycled, post-consumer waste product, according to the Deer Park, N.Y.-based company. As a result of its source, Kona Paper labels feature a rough, tactile feel, which can help with branding and differentiating a product from others on the shelf, President Don Earl adds. 

Tactile printing also is expected to grow in use, especially in the higher-value segments of the beverage market where the greater expense can be justified, The Freedonia Group reports. This can include wood-grain textures, which will propel growth in the alcohol segment, the market research firm notes.

Hugh Lenz, business develop-ment manager of beer and beverage for Avery Dennison, Glendale, Calif., affirms this trend, noting that metalized and clear films, premium coated and uncoated papers, and wood veneer materials all have received interest from brands trying to stand out. In line with these trends, Fort Dearborn recently released a wood veneer pressure-sensitive label, Chapdelaine notes.

Avery Dennison’s Lenz adds that pressure-sensitive labels can support a wide variety of decorative effects, including embossing, hot stamping, cold foiling and sub-surface printing. Plus, pressure-sensitive labels can be die-cut to create unique label shapes and sizes, he says.

Some of these decorative effects also have extended to shrink sleeves. Overnight Labels’ Earl notes that the company has been getting many requests for foil and spot-matte varnish finishes on shrink sleeves. The spot-matte varnish is an effect that enhances a particular area of a label, he explains. “That’s becoming popular, because what’s happening is the matte gives a little bit more depth and also notoriety to the area of the label that they want to sell,” he says. This also can be done with a spot-high-gloss finish in which the remainder of the label is matted, he notes.

High-yield PET glycol-modified (PETG), which is a white substrate, also can provide an upscale matte finish on shrink sleeves that offers higher opacity and light-blocking capabilities, Fort Dearborn’s Chapdelaine notes. According to Dawsonville, Ga.-based SleeveCo Inc. President Martin Wilson, PETG is the most-requested substrate by its customers. This material has the ability to cover a high percentage of containers and projects, he says. Plus, it is perceived to have less impact on the environment than polyvinyl chloride (PVC), he adds. PETG shrink sleeves also are increasingly being requested by Printpack Inc.’s customers for their performance and environmental attributes, notes Paul Pritchett, market development manager for the Atlanta-based company. “PETG is a high-performance film that can shrink up to 78 percent,” he says. “It has superior clarity and is often considered more environmentally friendly than PVC.”

Generally, clear and printed full-body shrink sleeves and clear pressure-sensitive labels are used most often in higher-value beverage segments to convey a premium look, The Freedonia Group’s report notes. These label types will continue to take market share away from glue-applied types, including those used in the alcohol segment, it adds.

“While glue-applied labels have been the label of choice with alcoholic beverages, they will continue to lose ground to pressure-sensitive labels based on aesthetic and performance factors,” The Freedonia Group’s report states. Namely, interest in the no-label look, digital printing growth and improved application speeds will stimulate the growth of pressure-sensitive labels, it explains.

The no-label look and tactile feel with pressure-sensitive labels mirrors the same look that originally came from applied ceramic labeling (ACL) on glass bottles, notes Michelle Lamontagne, market development at Spencer, Mass.-based FLEXcon. “A lot of the glass labeling originally was done through ACL, and that’s when the actual label was printed right on the bottle,” she explains. “That was a very expensive but a very unique and differentiating print method. You can achieve that same look and feel with pressure-sensitive materials by using a no-label look, a clear film material, and ... a heavy deposition of print — usually a flexographic printing process — and then you can really create that unique tactile feel as if it was an applied ceramic label.”

Reliable performance

In addition to helping a beverage achieve a premium positioning and stand out on the shelf, labels must be able to withstand a variety of environments, such as washing, pasteurization, filling, transportation, chilling and drinking, without compromising their integrity, The Freedonia Group reports. Film labels, such as full-body shrink sleeves and clear pressure-sensitive labels, are particularly durable in these environments because of their resistance to moisture; however, their upscale image, falling costs and increasing application speeds also encourage their use, it states. In particular, the market research firm expects oriented polypropylene (OPP) and polyethylene (PE) film substrates to achieve strong growth in the beverage industry, it notes.

FLEXcon’s Lamontagne notes that biaxially oriented polypropylene (BOPP) historically has been the prime label substrate of choice for beverages. “BOPP has a very good strength in both directions of the film and, therefore, it’s excellent for prime label applications where you have challenges to the labeling substrate,” she explains. “It’s a very durable film; it doesn’t shrink; it has a lot of resistance to both moisture and humidity; and it’s an excellent film for die cutting, so it’s ideal for obviously high-speed dispensing.”

Earlier this year, FLEXcon released its sureFLEX series of BOPP films for primary and secondary labeling applications. As its name suggests, the film is ideal for rigid or squeezable labeling, making it an option for all container types, Lamontagne says.

Although film labels are showing growth, some challenges should be considered when working with specific labeling materials. For instance, distortion should be taken into consideration when working with a shrink-sleeve film, Sleeve Seal’s Slarks says. “Beyond package design and print quality, the manufacturers have to be concerned with putting a well-shrunk label on their product with minimal distortion,” he says. “Sleeve Seal pre-distorts label artwork based on the bottle shape so that when it is finally labeled, the label looks the best on the bottle. Different materials shrink and distort at different rates, so choice of material is critical.” 

Sustainable attributes

On the other hand, beverage-makers seeking a more natural look for their products might opt for uncoated paper labels or labels featuring greater recycled content, The Freedonia Group reports. These labels traditionally have been used in the wine industry, but the growth of craft beer and spirits is increasing the demand for uncoated paper stocks in these segments as well, Avery Dennison’s Lenz notes. 

“These stocks deliver a natural, tactile canvas for designers and brand owners to utilize for their brand story,” he says.

These premium, uncoated papers also give the product a handcrafted feel, which particularly entices alcohol consumers, says Tim Boyd, market segment manager at Monadnock Paper Mills, Bennington, N.H.

Monadnock specializes in durable, wet-strength, sustainable paper labels that also can withstand high-speed bottling, notes Lisa Berghaus, manager of marketing communications for the company. Under its Envi brand name, the cut-and-stack and pressure-sensitive labels are made from 100 percent post-consumer-waste fiber and are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified.

“Post-consumer-waste fiber tends to be weaker than virgin fiber, so for us to be able to engineer a product that’s strong enough and still use those recycled fibers was quite an engineering feat,” Berghaus says.

Furthermore, the paper mill uses hydroelectricity for approximately half of its power and purchases energy credits for the rest, Boyd says. As a result, the company can tout that its paper is made with 100 percent green energy, he adds.

Along the lines of sustainability, Avery Dennison offers more than 30 price-neutral FSC-certified paper options, Lenz notes. Fort Dearborn also offers a wet-strength paper made with 10 percent post-consumer waste for cut-and-stack label applications. Plus, it offers post-consumer-recycled and tree-free facestocks as well as EarthFirst PLA film for pressure-sensitive and shrink-sleeve applications, Chapdelaine says.

Another way in which label suppliers are getting greener is by downgauging their films. For instance, Fort Dearborn recently introduced a roll-fed shrink film that was downgauged to 40 microns, Chapdelaine notes. Likewise, Sleeve Seal is running material that is half the thickness that it was two years ago, Slarks says. He points out that the company now has materials as thin as 20 microns that can run on high-speed machines. He expects this trend toward thinner materials being run at higher speeds to continue in the future.

The trend toward thinner label materials also compensates for the lightweighting of plastic bottles, which has been prominent in the industry, says FLEXcon’s Lamontagne. FLEXcon offers THINflex downgauged film labels, which have been taken down to their thinnest level without compromising converting, die cutting or dispensing, she adds.


Despite the availability of eco-friendly labeling materials, SleeveCo’s Wilson notes that many customers are not willing to pay a premium for them at this time. Overnight Labels’ Earl agrees, suggesting that using eco-friendly materials works for smaller companies with big profit margins; however, when these companies attempt to expand into large retail stores, their profit margins likely will get squeezed, and the eco-friendly labeling materials might have to be eliminated in order to stay profitable. Hammer Packaging’s Iovoli adds that instead of focusing on more sustainable materials, it is working to make materials that are friendlier to the recycling stream, he says.

Similarly, Avery Dennison launched a CleanFlake portfolio of pressure-sensitive and roll-fed film labels designed specifically for the PET recycling stream. Upon recycling, the switchable adhesive separates from the PET flake, resulting in pure PET flakes, the conservation of virgin PET resources, and less landfill waste, the company says. Recyclers then can upcycle the reclaimed flake into food-grade recycled PET (rPET), Lenz explains. Likewise, Printpack Inc. offers a line of EcoSkin low-density shrink-sleeve films that don’t interfere with the PET recycling process, notes Paul Pritchett, market development manager for the Atlanta-based company. He expects labels that are compatible with bottle recycling to continue to expand in the future as more brand owners adopt these products.

 No matter the labeling substrate or type, label suppliers agree that when selecting labels for products, beverage-makers should begin with the end in mind. In other words, the company should first identify what material the primary package is made out of and at what temperature it is filled, Hammer Packaging’s Iovoli says. Then, they should consider where it is being packed and what label applicators and decorating methods are available. From there, they should decide what type of look they want their beverage to have. Finally, the materials that work with the product, package and design can be identified and tested, he concludes.