The whole issue of standing out on the supermarket shelf has also become more complex. Once it was just branded products on display; today supermarkets’ ‘own label’ products are equally prominent. Indeed, supermarkets such as Tesco, Royal Ahold, Walmart and Meto now count in the top 10 or 15 of the world’s leading FMCG brands, so there’s intense competition to catch the shopper’s eye, ranging from premium and luxury brands down to the supermarket ‘basics’.
That competition looks set to increase with Tesco’s unveiling plans to develop a raft of new brands and ‘to be a creator of highly-valued brands’. Sainsbury’s, too, has announced its biggest ever revamp and own label development programme, and the relaunch of its ‘Taste the Difference’ packaging.
Put together, this intense shelf competition between ever more beverages, ever more brands, and ever more varieties has rapidly changed the world of bottle decoration, created new ways to brand products – from patch labels to wraparound labels, from 360° top to bottom labelling to front, back and neck labels, to new developments in self-adhesive labels.
The range of materials has also changed considerably. No longer simply paper, bottle decoration now includes various plastic films, metallic and metallised papers and films, synthetic materials, even direct printing on the bottle. Label materials may be opaque, pearlised, translucent, clear, patterned, matt or gloss papers, woven, laid or coated papers, etc. Never before has there been such a choice.
Print technologies for beverage labels have also evolved, with litho, UV flexo, gravure, hot or cold metallic foiling and, today, even digital printing being used. Printing may be sheet-fed, web-fed, printed and finished in-line or off-line, and all complemented by the latest computer-to-plate, computer-to-film, digital design and graphics, prepress, 3D visualising, pallet planning solutions and software. Much depends on run length, print quality and range of finishing options, such a varnishing, embossing, foiling, etc.
For the more adventurous brand marketer the possibilities being developed now include colour change inks to indicate whether drinks are chilled to the correct drinking temperature, the use of iphone apps to link QR codes or SnapTags on the labels to social networking or interactive websites, the use of UV-cured varnishes that create raised images to simulate, say, water droplets on the bottle, or to provide a pleasing tactile image on drinks bottles held in the hand.
For the more expensive and luxury end of the drinks market there may also be pressures to introduce anti-counterfeiting, brand protection or track-and-trace measures for which there’s an increasing range of cost-effective solutions – particularly if designed in from the beginning of a project, and not added as an afterthought. Add several low-cost brand protection solutions together in the right way and they can provide a highly secure, cost-effective deterrent, much like a more expensive hologram.
Over-riding all these innovations and developments are issues of cost, time-to-market, quality, performance and, increasingly, the whole area of environmental issues, from sustainability, downgauging of materials, waste reduction, energy reduction, CO2 reduction, recycling and recyclability – and the ‘green’ associations and consumers.
So how does the brand, product or marketing manager begin to narrow down the choice of beverage label/bottle decoration? To a large degree, it’s determined by the choice of bottle (glass or plastic, large or small size) and the nature of the beverage in the bottle, as well as whether the bottle is to be reused or recycled. Carbonated beverages, particularly in larger size bottles, may benefit from a filmic label that expands with the bottle rather than having the label tearing as the carbonation expands the bottle during transit, handling or in-store display.
Patch labels on the front or back of beverage bottles can easily use a paper label. They may be printed in sheet form or reel form. Much will depend on how the label is to be applied – from cut-to-size labels in a hopper or from a reel and cut to size at the point of application. However, if the bottle is to be recycled, the label may need to be removed first. A removable label stock will then be required.
If a wraparound body label is needed on a plastic bottle that is to be recycled then it will benefit from a plastic compatible label and adhesive that is recycled with the bottle rather than the label having to be removed. This solution can be particularly cost-effective.
A top-to-bottom 360° label on a shaped, slim neck or contoured bottle, will need to be a shrink sleeve label. Capable of shrinking up to 30% or more under hot air or steam after application to the bottle, shrink sleeve labels are not the cheapest, but can be the most eye-catching on supermarket shelves. Used on glass bottles, shrink sleeve labels can often enable light-weighting of the glass bottle, so mitigating some of the bottle cost, and be easily removed for recycling.
When looking at premium drinks, limited edition product launches, high added-value options, then self-adhesive labels printed on sophisticated in-line printing and finishing presses can offer up to six or eight colours, embossing, metallic-look hot or cold foiling, over-varnishing or over-laminating, on paper, film, clear or metallic substrates for high impact. On plastic bottles, self-adhesive labels and adhesives today can be compatible with the bottle materials to offer complete recyclability.
In summary, there is perhaps no one best solution for the labelling of beverage bottles. Wet-glue- applied patch paper labels are still one of the most cost-effective solutions for lower-priced beverages such as water, juice and still drinks. Filmic wrap-around, cut-and-stack or self-adhesive labels have become the label of choice for many plastic bottles, particularly carbonated beverages. Clear film, with a clear adhesive, enables coloured beverages to show through parts of the label and become part of the label design.
Shrink sleeve labels have gained considerable ground in recent years by enabling light weighting of glass bottles and offering high shelf visibility. Like self-adhesive labels, they are not the cheapest form of labels, but offer high added-value. Self-adhesive have significant benefits in offering a whole range of added-value features, and have a relatively low application cost – thus offering a total applied label cost which may be little more than that of other forms of labelling.
Self-adhesive film thicknesses are getting ever thinner, down to 20 or 30µm and this will increase the popularity of such labels. Companies such as Avery Dennison are at the forefront of such changes. Added to that, the impact that digital electrophotographic and UV inkjet printing of self-adhesive labels in up to seven colours is now making on bottle labelling, then self-adhesive labels are likely to attain even greater prominence in the future. Run lengths with digital printing are now regularly up to 30 000, 40 000 or more labels. With instant running changes for many versions and variations of label, language changes, personalisation or regional or store variations, then digital self-adhesive labels are ideal.
Certainly, digital printing technology is well suited to fast turnaround requirements, short deadlines, short run lengths, inventory minimisation and waste reduction, with brand managers cutting not just production costs but also inventory costs and waste. In these circumstances it is no longer a case of ‘make then sell’. The speed of digital press technology today means that ‘sell then make’ is fast becoming the new philosophy.
What of the future? Well, it seems certain that beverage labels will become even more interactive. Datamatrix codes, Quick Response (QR) codes, Snap Tags – all are enabling more and more information to be included on labels, to make labels interactive with websites through mobile phones, to provide additional product information, create socially-active communities – all driven by the younger generations of IT-literate people.
More beverages are being drunk by the younger, sports and health-conscious community straight from the bottle, so bottles and labels will become more tactile: a raised look and feel, colour change images, embossed effects images, glow in the dark images for drinks consumed in clubs, and much more. Self-adhesive labels are already offering such solutions.
Personalisation is now feasible with the latest digital printing processes for labels. Beverage labels can be personalised for clubs and associations, for events and activities, for store promotions, for groups, and often at a premium price.
The challenge is to get designers, brand and marketing managers, label stock suppliers, label printers, bottling and filling plants to understand one another’s needs and to appreciate the wide range of solutions and marketing opportunities that labels have to offer. The possibilities today are immense.
[This article has been provided by FINAT
FINAT, founded in Paris in 1958 with headquarters in The Hague (The Netherlands), is the worldwide association for manufacturers of self-adhesive labels and related products and services. With 600 members in over 50 countries, FINAT has much to offer label converters and suppliers to the labelling industry in terms of information exchange and the opportunity to network internationally. www.finat.com]