Beverage Labeling

By Michelle Sartor | August 31, 2007

A fast changing market, beverage labeling presents challenges in design, production and marketing.

Packaging of all types has been steadily gaining the attention of end users since it is well known that consumers often make purchasing decisions while looking at products on the store shelf. Beverage labeling has been a growing segment of the labeling industry, even garnering some national attention. A recent article on the front page of The New York Times discussed the importance of product packaging, pointing to changes made by Pepsi, Coors and many others. Those companies, and others, are trying to attract more attention to their brands and create interest among consumers.

How does a company use a label to generate interest in its beverage product? There isn't one clear answer. Companies take different approaches and use various methods and materials to create what they believe will attract consumers. One example is a promotion from Coors Brewing Company that occurred during the summer of 2006. Smyth Companies Inc., a converter in Minneapolis, MN, USA, worked on a temperature-buffering label called the Cold Wrap with Outlast Technologies Inc., a company that develops phase-change materials and applications, originally designed for NASA. The Cold Wrap label deflected heat from the drinker's hand to keep the beer colder, longer.

The silver Coors Light Cold Wrap label was a 360° premium wrap with a tactile finish. The backside of the label was coated with Outlast technology to create a barrier between the container and a warm hand. The label was composed of Outlast material and a lamination of clear polyester to metalized polyester. The project took two years to develop and lasted for the summer season primarily at bars. Bill Orme, marketing services manager at Smyth Companies, says, "It was deemed successful, but Coors is known for switching up their strategies often, and so it was limited to summer 2006." Coors currently offers Coors Light bottles with color changing labels indicating when the beer is at the correct temperature.

The desire for change can be good for converters as beverage companies look for innovative ways for their products to stand out. In the process of looking for ways to separate themselves, beverage companies may be more interested in pressure sensitive solutions. Kari Virtanen, films development director at UPM Raflatac, a supplier in Fletcher, NC, USA, says, "A major trend really is wet glue being replaced by pressure sensitive." One reason he gives is pressure sensitive labels' ability to produce the no-label look and their ability to look more sophisticated.

Photo courtesy of FLEXcon
Rick Harris, product manager at FLEXcon, a material supplier in Spencer, MA, USA, agrees that pressure sensitive is becoming an increasingly popular choice. "Beer bottle labeling is one segment where existing and new brands are shifting or starting out with pressure sensitive film. The success of major brands like Bud Light, Heineken, Amstel Light, and Sol are examples of the successful venture into pressure sensitive films over traditional paper or direct printing," he says.

Kevin Foos, market segment manager for beverage strategies at Avery Dennison, Fasson Roll North America, Mentor, OH, USA, says, "PS makes up roughly 7 percent of all beverage labeling done today. Although the percentage of PS labeling is small today, we expect the growth of PS to be well over 15 percent over the next three years."

According to Brady Glett, vice president of roll products at Spinnaker Coating in Troy, OH, USA, "Beverage is about 20 to 25 percent of the overall prime label market. It is growing at double digit rates for PS, largely in the high volume consumer brands and specifically in beers, where marketers are wishing to convey a premium image."

Dirk Edwards, director of marketing for Multi-Color Corporation (MCC), Sharonville, OH, USA, talks about beverage labeling more broadly. "According to the Freedonia Group – Labels 2008 Report, beverage makes up 14 percent of the primary label market that MCC participates in in North America. Due to new product launches (i.e., new age drinks) and multi-versions, growth is expected to continue at a 3 percent to 5 percent rate depending on which research study you pull your data from," he says.

Although Virtanen admits that wet glue is still the main method for labeling beverages, he sees this changing. "Pressure sensitive is clearly growing. Efficiencies are much better with PS labeling rather than other labeling. The total applied cost is less. That's why we expect beverage labeling to grow in the future."

Major trends

Shrink has become a large part of the current beverage labeling market. Harris says, "A trend we are seeing is more full coverage labeling with the use of shrink films that are replacing wrap or traditional paper labeling. This offers the brand owner the ability to cover the entire container with graphics. These labels are usually opaque in nature and cover the product contents." (For more information on shrink labeling, see the feature beginning on page 58.)

Beverly Chavez, president of Stixon Labels, a converter that provides pressure sensitive labels for bottled water, beer, wine, juices, and coffee in Albuquerque, NM, USA, believes clear labels are gaining ground. "I think that clear film labels is the trend because it's a clean, crisp and refreshing look, which is how beverage companies want to portray their beverages."

Jon R. Knight, director of packaging for the label and technical business at Treofan America LLC, Winston-Salem, NC, USA, agrees. He says transparent labels are especially popular for waters, in both cut-and-stack and rollfed form. "Transparent labels facilitate printing on both sides, so for bottled water you can see the inside 'image' through the bottle and the water," he explains. Knight also says paper labels are being replaced with transparent or white OPP films.

According to Glett, "Beverage trends overall are toward healthier drinks and new package innovations. Plastic is the material of choice but glass appears to be replacing metal, especially in the premium beer market. Design trends are toward more differentiated packaging, which includes irregularly or ergonomically shaped bottles and containers."

Spear Inc., of Mason, OH, USA, is well known in the industry for its focus on high quality PS labels for major beverage brands. Dan Muenzer, Spear's VP of marketing, cites a major production trend: "The biggest labeling trend in the global beverage industry is the addition of PS labeling in-line with filling. Traditionally, PS equipment could not label fast enough to keep up with high-speed beverage lines, but this changed in 2003/2004."

On the design side, Muenzer says the label has evolved into an integral part of a company's message. He explains, "The two biggest labeling growth areas, PS and full-body shrink, provide opposite benefits. Shrink labels tend to be very complex and for all intents become the package with graphics that cover the entire package. PS labels lean toward a clean and simple approach — the label complements the bottle shape, color, liquid, etc. PS is being used with multiple materials (clear, white and metalized film along with paper and metalized paper substrates) and unique shapes (the substrate allows for unique diecuts)."

Harris believes the biggest changes with pressure sensitive films for beverages are in the graphic designs. "Bold images, hot stamp, holograms, and process printing continue to change and evolve. Digital printing is growing rapidly and will be used on pressure sensitive films as another way to offer smaller volumes at a cost effective price," he explains.

The no-label look and clear-on-clear labeling are areas that have become popular with beverage labeling. Another trend is the use of additional colors. Randy Wise, president of Century Label Inc., a converter in Red Oak, TX, USA, says, "It seems everyone's going to more and more colors. Four-color process is not enough anymore. Companies want flashy labels. They ask for foil stamping, and I'm hearing of moves to some security measures on products."

Photo courtesy of FLEXcon
Chavez talks about some newer labeling options. "Fiji was the first to come out with the look of being able to see through a clear label and through the beverage, and see a beautiful picture. This, along with holographic materials, is very eye-catching. Arizona Brands has also created Artistic Masterpieces for its label packaging. I believe most of their labeling is on unsupported films (non pressure sensitive), which is very trendy."

Foos thinks a major trend is quick turnover in the types of labels beverage companies require. He cites "mass customization/SKU proliferation — brands are targeting smaller population slices, more brands and SKUs, and shorter life cycles. Labeling and packaging is becoming the primary differentiator."


Labeling beverages can pose several challenges for converters, even before the labeling process begins. Wise sees shrink sleeve technology as a hurdle. "You have to gear up. It's a capital investment with R&D. Art issues have to be together. With shrink sleeves, you have to utilize software. Also, the volumes are huge and turnarounds are getting faster and faster."

Thomas Dahbura, vice president of production at Hub Labels Inc., a converter involved with labeling milk, water, teas, and some soda in Hagerstown, MD, USA, sees cost as a challenge. "For unsupported film, it's a very difficult application. There's a learning curve on shrink labels — it's new. Customers always look at the price of the label, not the cost of the label."

Muenzer agrees that cost can be an issue, but stresses that customers need to look at the whole picture. "Although the price of PS labels has dropped considerably, they are still almost twice as expensive as wet glue paper for large volume applications. However, beverage manufacturers are seeing double-digit throughput improvements with PS, which offsets the price of the label. In many cases PS is less expensive when considering 'total applied costs' and it also provides additional capacity (higher throughput), which offsets production expansion for high utilization customers."

The shape of beverage containers can cause problems for converters. Glett says, "Irregularly shaped packages are not well suited toward PS labels, and therefore are being labeled with shrink sleeve technology. On PS labeled items, pasteurization and ice chest immersion are challenges. In both cases, the adhesive must not turn milky and must adhere without defects."

Muenzer cites several other challenges: "Production speeds and moisture tend to be the biggest hurdles. The speeds can now be achieved; however, high-speed lines have a smaller window of operating efficiency. Water is a major hurdle — PS requires a relatively dry bottle to allow for the adhesive to adhere properly — a much bigger deal with clear substrates than opaque ones. Pasteurization, hot-fill and ice chests all present unique performance requirements. They all can be overcome; however, it adds variables and cost to the label solution."

Avery Dennison, Fasson Roll North America has some items available to converters to help combat these challenges. Foos says, "We recently launched our S7200 adhesive designed for the beverage market, which offers improved ice chest performance, ultimate quick stick for high-speed dispensing lines and improved wet stick to overcome condensation which is common in the bottling process."

Edwards, of Multi-Color, believes increasing demands from end users will be difficult. "More complex designs can be challenging with the use of foil, metallic inks, etc. like the Miller Chill label," he says. This label appears on Miller's beer product that gets its inspiration from the Mexican chelada, which is beer served with lime and salt.

FLEXcon's Harris sees several beverage labeling issues. "Line abuse for pre-labeled containers, high temperature pasteurization, hot fill, shipping abuse, and ink anchorage are a few. A bottle shape and design with compound curves, and the bottle surface itself, also pose challenges in beverage labeling." He adds, however, "Pressure sensitive films have had very few situations that could not be effectively managed."

Another issue that exists mainly outside of the US is the use of returnable bottles. UPM Raflatac's Virtanen says, "Especially in the European market a challenge is the washable film label for returnable bottles. A PS label works very well in a one-way bottle where consumers throw the bottle away. Development work is ongoing in this area to come up with good solutions."

Muenzer agrees. "Outside of the US, the market for beverages sold in returnable bottles is five times the size of non-returnable packages. Spear has developed a solution, ThermoWash, that provides identical label graphics as traditional PS, yet the labels wash off in the bottle cleaner."

The future

It's difficult to predict exactly what's in store for beverage labeling, but several in the industry think they have an idea of what may lie ahead. Certainly, beverage labeling isn't going away. Multi-Color's Edwards says, "Consumers' desire for more premium and indulgent drinks will continue to make manufacturers seek out unique ways to differentiate themselves on shelf both through promotional and functional activities."

Consumer demand for healthier drink options will also fuel beverage labeling. Because of a recent focus on obesity in the USA, many consumers are looking for healthier options both in the food and beverage sectors. Companies have noticed and are offering more beverages that can be considered healthful.

Photo courtesy of FLEXcon
More specifically, shrink is seen as an area of continued growth in the future. Wise says, "I see more and more growth in the shrink label business and wraparound." Hub Labels' Dahbura agrees. "Shrink sleeve undoubtedly is in the future. It's going to be a $1 billion market, according to TLMI," he says.

TLMI released its North American Label Study earlier this year. It found that beverage labeling makes up 15.6 percent of the pressure sensitive label market. The study also puts the growth rate for beverages at 3 percent from 2005 to 2010.

Virtanen says, "Beverage labeling will continue to grow. The main applications will be beer and high-end waters, including flavored waters. This will be good for PS labels because beverage companies want to separate themselves from standard products."

Treofan's Knight sees "continued growth in water, juices and healthful beverages; continued growth in PET bottles; lightweighting of PET bottles; and downgauging of OPP labels."

According to FLEXcon's Harris, "Pressure sensitive film will continue to be a leading choice for beverage container decoration. Shrink films are finding their place for compound curve surfaces or in applications where the full coverage label lends itself to the container and content."

Spear's Muenzer sees "continued expansion of PS and the creation of global brands [in the future]. If you look at the total label industry, PS represents approximately 60 percent of all US and EU labels. However, beverages are under 20 percent PS labeled. It is the last 'major' industry that will convert due to the graphic capabilities and production efficiencies. Likewise, as the world gets smaller, the large multi-national beverage companies will create global brands and packages."