Beverage Labeling

By Talar Sesetyan | July 18, 2005

New ideas and product differentiation in a highly competitive packaging market.

The beverage industry is screaming for attention. With the proliferation of new age beverages, manufacturers and customers are demanding cutting-edge, upscale graphics that command shelf presence and build brand awareness. In this competitive field, eye-catching package decoration is the best chance to make a strong first impression.

As more products enter the field, end users scramble to find innovative ways to differentiate their products on the store shelves. Carbonated soft drinks, bottled and flavored water, dairy single-serve products, and juices and nutritional beverages fuel this market's explosive growth. In order to stay in the game, the players require packaging that goes beyond the ordinary.

Dan Muenzer, marketing director of Spear Inc., Mason, OH, confirms that packaging has certainly become important in terms of brand positioning of a specific product.

"By packaging we don't mean just labeling, we mean the entire package," he says. "By that we're talking specialty shapes, specialty sizes, special colors. Then the label becomes part of the total presentation of the product. Some packages are going to lend themselves to certain decorating methods better than others. At Spear, 95 percent of what we do with new age beverages is clear PS labels for the no-label look. The containers are primarily glass. Glass packaging as an industry is fairly flat, maybe even in a mild decline. However, their growth areas are definitely in the new age beverage, the juice type product. The way to create an identity for the products is by using the label in such a way that the consumer is buying a package, not just a label."

Muenzer says that one segment of the arena has taken the exact opposite approach, in which the manufacturer opts to create a piece of art over the whole container by means of a shrink sleeve. Often this helps to heighten product separation. According to Muenzer, shrink sleeve is definitely a strong player, but pressure sensitive labels, and specifically clear pressure sensitive, are the leader in new age beverage labeling.

Within pressure sensitive, Muenzer says OPP is dominating. "The reason behind it is two-fold. One, it's economical and it's clear film. Two, the majority of these containers are straight-sided, so you don't really need the conformability of a different kind of film. The new age beverage arena tends to have a front label and a back label or a complete wrap label. They're just straight sided containers so you can get away with the OPP," he says.

There are also products that don't use clear labeling. For example, some of the Arizona teas use matte materials. "You see a small amount of paper,' Muenzer says, "PS or even wet-glue cut-and-stack paper. But so many of these containers are pre-decorated or pre-labeled, meaning the bottles are labeled before they are filled. So from a durability standpoint you pretty much need a film for its strength."

According to Muenzer, the best printing process for clear pressure sensitive is screen printing. "The majority of the labels in the new age beverage industry that are using clear PS are screen printed or combination printed — using screen printing in combination with foil stamping, or UV flexo or rotary letterpress to get a more detailed look."

Kevin Hynes, president of Salem Label, Salem, OH, sees expanding interest in shaped containers. That interest is strong in shrink films for a whole range of beverages, including juices, carbonated drinks, specialty niches, high energy drinks, nutritional drinks, and single serve dairy products.

Eye-catching flexographic labels from Salem Label

"Glass and plastic seem to be two of the leading choices for containers," says Hynes. Containers that come in different shapes are most popular, and plastics work well for this concept. There seems to be no interest in beverages in cans outside of soda, he adds; clear PET containers and opaque identity polyethylene containers are dominant, and contoured containers include plastic and glass. "I think the PET container will win out over the glass," Hynes says. "The economics and benefits of PET and the hazards of glass, i.e. breakage, particularly for the youth market, makes plastics a smarter choice."

Shrink labeling is popular because it allows the brand identity owner to print high quality on a contoured container. High quality graphics and elaborate decoration are feasible for large billboard consumer displays. According to Hynes, the most popular substrate used today is polypropylene, both in shrink and non-shrink applications. "There are PVC shrink films available in sleeve and roll fed format, and the most interest is in clear OPS (oriented polystyrene) for clear shrink sleeve labeling.

The primary process for films in the beverage market is flexography, Hynes says. For shrink sleeves, rotogravure is the primary process. A fair amount of shrink sleeves are being produced on flexographic presses, because of the overall improvement in flexo photopolymer plates.

Shrink is not shrinking
Sharon Lobel, president and CEO of Seal-It Inc., in Farmingdale, NY, says shrink sleeve labeling is leading the beverage industry. "Basically, when you go into a store to buy a beverage, what makes it stand out on the shelf is going to make you try it. Then, of course, the beverage has to come through, but at least the packaging makes you buy it that initial time." Seal-It is a leader in North American shrink sleeve production.

On a shrink sleeve you can print in 360 degrees, enjoy the vividness of colors, crisp designs and graphics all the way around the label. "There is so much you can do with a shrink sleeve," Lobel says. "You can make a beverage bottle look like anything you want. By using a shrink band you can make the bottle look like a stainless steel container, you can make it look like glass, you can make it look like fabric or you can make it look like a fruit."

You can also add promotional copy to the label. For example, Lobel says, "if you wanted to put a beautiful label onto a product and give it a coupon, we can print a coupon inside. You don't see the coupon; all it'll say on the label is "tear label off to receive coupon'. You can put a recipe inside, or a game piece." Lobel also believes that shrink labels sell the product better than paper labels. "Bottles with paper labels are just bottles. Sure, it gets the message out but doesn't really do the trick. People like to save shrink labeled bottles. I walk into people's offices and see them sitting on the desk with flowers coming out of them. They're collector's items."

Shrink sleeves also offer the advantage of creating a tamper-evidence device by utilizing a horizontal perforation around the cap.

Shrink labels are made from three different types of shrink film; PVC, PETG and OPS. They can be applied to any type of container. Lobel says, "There is a big call for containers that are easy to handle for the consumer; some, for example, choose to go with square containers. The manufacturers want to distinguish themselves so that when the customer walks down the aisle he or she not only sees a gorgeous label but also recognizes that it's a particular company's product."

Lobel says Seal-It use two forms of printing processes to print on shrink film: rotogravure and modified flexo. Rotogravure produces high quality work as does modified flexo, she says, but can be more expensive because its set-up costs are greater. The price per label is the same but engraved metal cylinders are more expensive than the photopolymer plates used in modified flexo. Flexo presses print gravure quality but certain jobs lend itself to one process or the other. Lobel advises her customers which process to chose according to the graphics they need printed.

Clearly Canadian chose PET-G shrink films from Seal-It Inc.

Lou Iovoli, director of marketing and sales, Hammer Lithograph, Rochester, NY, agrees that shrink labeling for beverages seems to have established a position as an options for decorating techniques. "However, the beverage market is so dependent on ever-changing graphics and packaging that the investment to go with a shrink sleeve label is still pretty sizeable. You would have to have a pretty long product life cycle to justify the return on investment. For example, Nestlé Carnation Creamers have shrink sleeve labels. This is a great product for shrink sleeve, because it has a long life cycle. Making an investment in equipment for that product is a very sound decision. But when you look at a Snapple beverage in a new tropical flavor, is it really going to be the drink of the year next year? Probably not. Next year they would have to launch another package. How would they justify those costs?" he asks.

Regardless, Lobel believes shrink labels are going to blow out pressure sensitive. "Pressure sensitive is nothing new and it's nothing that's going to make you run over and say OOh, what is that!'," she says.

Lobel foresees more and more shrink not only for the label, but also for tamper evident packaging. Especially after the events of September 11, she says, "I've been getting panic calls to put tamper evident seals on products."

The use of multiple colors is a big trend. Lobel says, "if I had a 20-color press they'd want 21 colors. No matter how many colors you have they still want more. We now utilize 10 colors most of the time. I've also been seeing more high tech graphics including photographs. Anything to get the consumer's mouth watering. More of the bright colors which helps sells the product."

Chris Weir, marketing manager for food and beverage, Avery Dennison, Fasson Roll NA, Painesville, OH, agrees that producing a product that has shelf impact is a tremendous benefit. He says, "What we hear from Coca-Cola — 'We're going to think globally but act locally' — is transcending into the packaging business. We're seeing a shift of marketing dollars from media to performing shelf studies to make relevant packaging changes based upon those studies. To that end, pressure sensitive and the clear look is moving from "interesting" to industry standard."

To meet customer demands for the clear look, Avery Dennison is producing a variety of films. Weir explains: "Some are conformable to fit bottles better, especially for awkward shaped bottles, or cover bottle imperfections. Some are produced more rigid because of the demand for high speed applications. We're producing films based upon considerations of gaining decorating efficiencies as well as being able to work on different types of containers."

A wealth of variation
A new trend that's emerging is creating a material that produces a sensory experience with the user especially with the feel of the label. A customer who is attracted by the look of a label can get an extra impact from the texture of the packaging. Weir says, "One such substrate is flux-material on paper. Flux is paper that's raised, rough and fuzzy. For example, if you had a peach flavored drink, maybe you'd get a fluxy type of material so that when you feel it, it actually feels like the skin of the peach."

Iovoli agrees that enhancing graphics help the label to promote brand identity. He says, "Eight-color printing is very common among juice and water companies, where they are utilizing the full range of a press capacity, including UV printing, UV coating, and UV inks."

There is also a significant conversion from web strength papers into synthetic oriented polypropylene labels. Iovoli explains that this is because synthetic oriented polypropylene has better performance in wet environments. Whether for an ice chest or humidity resistance in filling plants, it's a better overall performer in terms of durability and strength.

Michael Degus, senior product manager labels group, ExxonMobil Chemical, Macedon, NY, says there is a strong need for labels to have durability beyond what paper can provide." For example, a lot of single-serve items right now are being developed for people on the go, so there a lot of juices and such that are dispensed at the end of aisles in ice chests. We're seeing that customers want durability, and a plastic label vs. paper to give them durability in an ice chest or alternate means of distribution."

One major trend, according to Degus, is the migration from paper to film. This tends to do with aesthetics. He say, "usually graphics on a film will 'pop' or stand out a lot more. It has more of an ability to catch the consumer's eye than it would on paper, and it can be clear for the label-less look. Utilizing a clear label can significantly enhance a company\'s brand." Combination printing and UV are utilized to give the strongest graphic appeal to the label.

Another trend, according to Degus, is the movement from glass to plastic containers. A lot of juices that were in glass bottles with paper labels are now in polyester with plastic labels. The recycling benefit of film has helped the film labeling market grow with PET bottles. The key for a film supplier is to continue to develop films as a "drop-in" replacement for paper that makes the transition easy for the brand owner.

Water is a different animal. Water is primarily packaged in PET bottles. Muenzer says, "To date there hasn't been a lot of effort going into specialty shapes and sizes. The water category is still having a tough time creating brand identity. Even the Cokes and Pepsis of the world are in water, and are now the two largest still water producers out there, with Dasani and Aquafina, respectively. Those are packaged just like a standard soft drink, in 16- or 20-oz. PET soft drink bottles with a wrap label. They're selling them as soft drinks, and they're pricing them pretty much as soft drinks. They haven't really done too much with them."

Attacking costs
On the price side, packaging customers are downgauging their label materials and utilizing alternative films to drive costs down. Even though price is not a huge driver, it ultimately is a factor. The industry has spent more effort on taking costs out of the system by using alternative materials rather than trying to develop new graphic advancements for the products.

Cost reduction also takes place in the filling line. According to Muenzer, "The most economical time to label a beverage container is right on the filling line. If you look at shrink film or PS, historically those have not been labeled in line with bottle filling. One of the limitations has been application speed. You just can't put on shrink label fast enough, or put a pressure sensitive label on fast enough to keep up with the filling line. High speed bottling lines, like those at some of the breweries, are running at 1,500 to 1,600 bottles a minute. From a shrink sleeve standpoint, the highest I've ever heard of a machine going is 300 bottles a minute. You'd never be able to do that inline. That's going to add cost into the equation if you're having to label as a secondary operation. Therefore, there is a lot of emphasis on getting application speeds up to the point where you're actually labeling in line."

Within the last year, companies have invested substantial capital into labeling in the filling line, Muenzer says, such as South Beach and Snapple. "Not only are you going to be seeing this with the big guys, but also with the smaller guys because equipment is becoming faster and less expensive," he says.

John Giblin, marketing director at Granwell Products Inc., West Caldwell, NJ, says, "Overall, we see the replacement of paper labels. The reason we see is that plastic films are more economical than paper. They actually perform better. You can put the bottled water in ice water, high humidity conditions, and the label stays perfectly fine."

Allen Wang, VP technical development at Granwell Products, says, "Glass bottles use paper labels. But even juice manufacturers are moving into PET containers from glass. It's cheaper, easier to recycle and it's not breakable." Some brewers have been experimenting with plastic bottles over the past year.

Giblin says, "As a product like Snapple establishes identity, it too will move to plastic, because it doesn't need the glass identity anymore. For example, Ocean Spray is now in the process of going to film from paper."

"Even some brands in the distilled spirits industry are moving from glass into plastic," says Weir. "For example, the large 1.75L bottles are going to plastic, which makes them more consumer and retailer friendly. Canadian Mist has an excellent example of that with a narrower bottle that's really easier to handle; it has improved the aesthetics and functionality of the package considerably over the traditional jug glass bottles. Plastic is more amendable to travel as well. Bacardi also has a 750ml PET "Traveler" that has done well."

Hanging around
Bottle neck hangers have been a commonly accepted marketing method for many years in the alcoholic beverage business, and now have even made their way to the non-alcoholic segment. Marketing people have always loved neck hangers, and production people have hated them. Traditionally they had to be applied by hand, which slowed down production lines that are accustomed to run at high rates of speed with high tech fillers.

"What we're talking about now is a reasonably priced, very accurate and very high speed way of applying these things automatically," says Edward B. Marsh, president of Pfankuch Machinery Corporation, Essex, MA. "The traditional impediment, which was production's hesitation to turn their line on on its head to use these, can now be circumvented. The beauty of neck hangers is that they have attributes that work very well from a marketing standpoint. First of all, they are inexpensive. You don't have the high costs traditionally associated with a lot of the pressure sensitive designs. You can produce these very quickly." Neck hanger substrates vary from papers to plastics, to laminates, and to Tyvek.

Neck hangers are not subject to the life cycle of a product's promotional campaign. "When the key date you're marketing towards passes, the people in the stores can just remove the neck hangers, and this way you don't have obsolete inventory," says Marsh.

The machines that put on neck hangers today are specially designed to work at high speeds, anywhere up to 300 bottles per minute, depending on the size and shape of the piece.

Klaus-Peter Naumann, global director of marketing at Pfankuch Machinery, which is headquartered in, Ahrensburg, Denmark, says "Our experience is that Europe is much more cutting edge in terms of marketing and packaging presentation. When we look at packaging technology and packaging presentation, there is usually a year or two lag between when something is introduced in Europe and when it finally catches on in the United States."

The value chain
Chris Weir of Avery Dennison says that the future will see the value chain becoming more integrated. "Successful products are those that get to the market fastest and more efficiently. They require value chains working hand in hand to make it happen. For example, a beverage company might say, 'We're interested in a film material with these performance criteria'. The traditional model is linear with communication moving between the end-user, converter, material supplier and back again. There are multiple transfers of information back and forth that can add months to product development to the end-users specifications. This model is characterized by slow development, higher cost and low innovation and overall value."

Substrates by Avery Dennison Fasson Roll N.A.

This process is being compressed by innovative and dynamic companies. "The brand manager and the package manager at the beverage company are meeting with the converter and the materials supplier at the same time, talking specifically about performance criteria," says Weir. "The new model is a consumer concentric model where all value chain members are on parallel developmental paths creating new products to the exact specification in a fraction of the time. This model is highly innovative with high value and low cost, and compresses speed to market significantly. When the product gets to the market it will be exactly what the beverage company wants," he notes.

Interactive labels are in the consumer's future. "Years forward, there will be more interactive labels. Radio frequency chips or batteries that can go into materials can make a label light up, or maybe sing a song or a jingle or recite a recipe," Weir adds. "We are collectively developing a relationship with the consumer on the shelf, and it's going to deepen as time goes by."

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