Market Focus

Wine Labeling

January 15, 2008

More so than with most products, labels sell wine. Converters work closely with wineries to provide the labels that meet or exceed expectations.

Wine Labeling

More so than with most products, labels sell wine. Converters work closely with wineries to provide the labels that meet or exceed expectations.

By Michelle Sartor

Labeling is a process that is critical to the wine industry. Research has shown that consumers choose wine based on the label they see on the store shelf. Because of increasing competition for consumer attention, wineries have to come up with packaging that pops and encourages purchasing. They work with converters to achieve their goals.

Traditionally, offset has been the printing method of choice for wine labels because of its superior quality. Over the past decade, flexography has challenged that perception with advancements and the ability to create higher quality labels, but offset has maintained strength. Converters involved with wine labels have seen the issue firsthand.

Dave Pancoast, VP sales for LabelOne Connect in Beaverton, OR, USA, says, “The rivalry still exists between flexography and offset, though there are few flexo houses that consistently can produce the quality wineries demand. I think the designer is the key for good flexo as well as a conscientious press operator. Offset will continue its preferential position because of its ability to print on textured paper stocks and provide superior graphic reproduction for the customer that requires uncompromised quality.”

James Stone, narrow web lead for G3 Enterprises in Modesto, CA, USA, also sees competition between the two processes. “Flexo is still relatively new in comparison to the wine industry. As designers become more aware of what advantages there are with flexo, they can design labels that are flexo friendly that will achieve the same result as offset.”

Vikram Lal, president of Metropolis Label in Napa, CA, USA, explains, “Due to improvements in technology, flexography (mostly UV flexography) has been gaining ground on many fronts including in the wine label industry. However, there have been improvements in offset technology as well. Flexography still has limitations such as increased dot gain and a larger minimum dot that make it less desirable for some higher end labels.”

Mike Hess, VP of operations on the West Coast for WS Packaging Group in Algoma, WI, USA, believes flexo printing is gaining ground. “With continued technology improvements in UV flexo printing (i.e., plate materials and digital platemaking), this process remains a viable printing option for high end wine labels on a wide variety of paper and film materials,” he says.

It’s beneficial for converters to have several options available for wine customers. According to Dave Klotter, vice president of marketing and business development for York Label in Omaha, NE, USA, “Wine labels are printed flexo, screen, litho, or a combination of all of these printing technologies. It depends on the brand’s specific graphic expectations. Each technology offers something unique.”

David Busé, president of Collotype Labels in Napa Valley, CA, USA, says, “I think the rivalry between flexo and offset printing for wine labels is more of a perceived rivalry created by a couple of printers who only have a flexo option to offer the marketplace. We have both technologies so we are able to choose the best fit technology on a project-by-project basis. Overall, both designers and brand managers still prefer offset and I don’t see that changing.”

Photo courtesy of McDowell Label & Screen Printing
John McDowell, sales manager for McDowell Label and Screen Printing in Plano, TX, USA, believes the difference between flexo and offset is minimal. “With the advent of today’s innovation — servo motor technology, UV inks, digital to plate prepress, and technological advances in anilox rolls — the chasm that once separated UV flexo from offset is virtually non-existent today,” he says.

While some converters and wineries have clear preferences for specific printing techniques, Rick Harris, product manager of the product branding business team at FLEXcon in Spencer, MA, USA, believes both flexo and offset can be used. “There is a small resurgence today among high end printers toward narrow web flexo. But I think there is a place for both technologies. There have been big improvements in the quality of UV flexo over the years, and both print methods offer the wineries unlimited graphic design options to represent and promote their brand.”

Current trends

Wine labeling is constantly evolving in an effort to grab consumer attention. According to Hess, “Our winery customers continue to search for innovations when it comes to everything from naming their wines to the materials and print technologies that are utilized. Wineries want their label to differentiate their product from the competition.”

As with all products, fashions change. Hess says, “Current trends include unique names for wines that push the envelope with anything that will differentiate the brand in the given price tier. Traditional printing treatments like foil stamping and embossing are being supplemented with tactile varnishes, screen printing, laser diecutting, and unique shapes.”

According to Busé, “We are seeing a trend toward designs that are approachable but not necessarily whimsical. Our customers are competing to attract customers with designs that convey authenticity and sophistication without being overly traditional.”

Photo courtesy of Avery Dennison
McDowell points out that wine labels have become more aligned with prestige beauty and cosmetic brands when it comes to packaging. “We’ve experienced that current wine labeling trends for brand owners are simply to ‘out class’ the competition; differentiate themselves with greater shelf positioning/presence, largely by creating multi-dynamic printing effects — the whole ‘connecting with the consumer’ via a sensory experience. Wine labels are becoming increasingly more sophisticated with the combination of graphic-intensive artwork, multiple printing processes, special die shapes, and the plethora of beverage specific labelstocks available.”

Diane Ewanko, business development manager for Avery Dennison’s Fasson Roll North America in Mentor, OH, USA, sees several trends. “Large wineries are creating separate divisions or purchasing smaller wineries enabling them to expand their portfolios with ‘fun’ or ‘adventure’ label wines. Wine labels take on a range of looks — classic, whimsical or simplistic — to appeal to the different consumer segments and their level of sophistication. High quality seven-color digital printing is increasingly being used to create labels for smaller run, ‘fun’ labels.”

Visual appeal isn’t the only trend with wine. Ewanko adds, “The wine industry, long concerned with green practices and sustainability, is more actively seeking out label materials that use facestocks with recycled content or that are made from renewable resources.”

Stone says, “We are seeing designs with more rotary screen golds and high builds. The designs are being built with more spot colors with detailed illustrations.”

Creating wine labels

The printing process isn’t the only decision that needs to be made about labels for wine. The type of label also varies. Klotter says, “Pressure sensitive still maintains a dominant position in the wine label industry. Pressure sensitive is about 70 percent penetrated with the remaining being glue applied.”

Which winery and application can make a difference. According to Pancoast, “For the big volume, low margin, inexpensive table wines, traditional sheetfed offset, glue-on style labels are still on the board. For the smaller winery creating the lesser expensive wines, flexography is prevalent as it is economical for pressure sensitive labeling. For the higher end, higher profile, more image conscious winery, web offset is more the norm because of better graphics reproduction and wider paper selection.”

Lal explains, “For value and super value brands, flexographic and sheetfed lithographic labels are the most common. For premium and ultra premium brands waterless offset, offset and sheetfed lithographic labels are most common. Labels for higher end wines also tend to have more embellishing such as intricate diecuts, foil stamping and embossing.”

According to McDowell, “The most common method of printing that our customers take advantage of is combination printing, whereby a brand owner will utilize multiple foils, multi-dynamic embossing and doming effects, perhaps UV rotary screen printing for a clear/no-label look application, FM/AM tandem four-color process (hybrid screening), and limitless brand-specific colors — all via high definition UV.”

Hess says, “In terms of printing technology, cut-and-stack labels produced on sheetfed offset presses continue to be the printing method of choice for the larger volume producers. Additionally, pressure sensitive labels using UV flexo, rotary offset (water based and waterless), and digital offset print technologies also hold a strong position in the production of wine labels. While many wineries that are producing one million cases or more utilize glue applied application systems, many newer wineries find it cost effective to use pressure sensitive labels.”

According to Stone, “There are currently two methods of printing wine labels. One is cold glue sheetfed and the other is pressure sensitive web. The process in deciding what format is mainly driven by application, label complexity and cost.”

Harris says, “Many different materials are used to create wine labels — cut-and-stack paper, pressure sensitive paper, pressure sensitive film, and direct printing on the container. Over the years, the wine market has embraced pressure sensitive film for that clean, no-label look, and has also employed white and silver film to add effect. The film is durable and resists the negative effects of condensation or ice chest storage. Pressure sensitive paper is replacing cut-and-stack, for line efficiencies and, like pressure sensitive film, the clean environment it offers.”

Dealing with wineries

Because the label is such an important part of the wine bottle, winery customers can have very specific needs that must be met. Converters need to know how to handle such demands. Pancoast says, “Wine makers and winery owners are passionate about their product and as a result can be the most demanding customers. Dealing with difficult customers and difficult situations is based on good customer service which generally means communication. This is a small industry, so extra care needs to be taken as our reputation as a best vendor is key. We have, in many cases, completely changed our entire printing schedule for one winery customer who had that special event, hot weekend or tough bottling schedule that required extra special service.”

According to Klotter, “Wineries have exact, often unique specifications. When there is a special specification request by the winery, we work closely with them to understand their needs. Most of the time we can deliver a solution that exceeds their expectations.”

Busé says, “The key is close communication between all parties involved in each project. Establishing clear targets and expectations early on is critical.”

Quality is often at the center of discussions between wineries and converters. According to Stone, “The quality standards for wine labels are some of the toughest in the industry. It is our job to make the customer aware of our capabilities so that we achieve results that meet their needs.”

WS Packaging tries to work closely with wineries as much as possible. Hess says, “At the initial stages, we will work with the customer to minimize quality concerns without compromising the label specifications. We consider our relationships with wineries as partnerships, where we need to work with the designers, marketing, production, and other suppliers of the package in order to deliver a successful package, no matter what form that may take.”

Regulations and brand protection

Regulatory bodies oversee what can and cannot appear on a wine label. In the United States, Metropolis Label’s Lal explains, “TTB regulations govern what information must be provided on wine labels, marketing claims that can be made and the minimum (and maximum) text size for certain items.”

The TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau) is a bureau under the Department of the Treasury. According to its web site, the organization’s mission is “to collect alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and ammunition excise taxes; to ensure that these products are labeled, advertised and marketed in accordance with the law; and to administer the laws and regulations in a manner that protects the consumer and the revenue, and promotes voluntary compliance.”

In addition to having an impact on the content, the TTB regulations add time to the wine labeling process. Klotter says, “Most often wineries allow for four weeks, but when TTB approvals can take six to seven weeks, the wineries still need to bottle when they were originally scheduled to bottle. This can mean that there are only a couple weeks left before the labels are required, causing tremendous scheduling challenges for the supply chain.”

According to LabelOne Connect’s Pancoast, “Government regulations generally apply to new label applications and can impact label delivery depending on how quickly the winery can get approval. Since they are all working on new labels at the same time, the regulating bureaus can get a little slammed — a problem that we label printers also experience. There are also some things the government does not allow wineries to put on their labels, which can have an effect on what the finished graphic looks like, or what the finished copy says. For example, they don’t like words like ‘powerful’ on a wine label and a picture of a nude might get rejected.”

The issue of brand protection isn’t as large in the wine industry as in others. York Label’s Klotter explains, “Designs in wine label printing are typically so elaborate that the idea of anyone trying to counterfeit the brand is unlikely, especially for all the special match colors that are typically involved for larger brands. Wineries appear to be interested for their high end brands of $80 to $100 per bottle market price. Interest in technology that would help to protect against counterfeit is followed with the question of how much the technology will cost them on their labels.”

Brand protection seems to be more prevalent outside of the US. WS Packaging Group’s Hess says, “The issue seems to be with overseas product counterfeiting or diversion. It does not seem to be a major domestic problem at this time. Still, we are beginning to get inquiries on counterfeit deterrent technology.”

Lal agrees that domestically, the issue of brand protection isn’t as large. He says, “As exports are becoming an increasing part of our client’s businesses they have come to rely on us more and more to provide innovative and cost effective brand protection solutions.”

Stone, of G3 Enterprises, believes the demand for brand protection measures will increase. “There is more interest in fraud protection of labels, especially for the higher end brands. The key is doing this without degradation to the design of the label,” he says.

What the future holds

It’s difficult to predict where wine labeling is headed, mainly because the industry is constantly evolving with each winery’s effort to differentiate its products on store shelves. FLEXcon’s Harris says, “I have seen the wine industry go through cycles in bottle decoration, from paper to film and back. I believe this will continue as brand marketers look to find that unique label look to promote their brand image.”

According to Pancoast, “Wineries and their designers are very progressive, so I see them using any new process, any new stock, any new gimmick that becomes available to help set their wine apart from the other wines on the shelf. They have experienced results in the past from upgrading their packaging. There is also a great interest in recyclable paper and liners.”

Hess says, “Sustainable packaging is a hot topic across the market regardless of what product is inside of a package. If boxes or other storage and delivery methods become more acceptable, then packaging producers will have to adapt. Right now though, closure systems such as cork versus screw seem to be a larger issue than labeling changes in the wine market.”

Klotter sees several changes in the future: “increased pressure for lowering cost of packaged goods, i.e., cost per case; more consideration and use of flexo printing technology; increased level of non-traditional looking wine labels (we continue to see more casual brands designed to entice younger market segments); and more environmentally friendly target brands (since large retailers are specifying products to contain a certain percent of recycled packaging).”

The concept of marketing wine has changed and John McDowell, of McDowell Label and Screen Printing, explains how that will continue to affect what wine labels look like. “Wine labels have become en vogue — a collector’s item for some, a point of differentiation to others and the culmination of the brand’s identity for the wine maker. Today’s wine consumer is different than it was yesterday. No longer are the days when wine sales were dominated by the gray-haired male who found a desirable wine and purchased it by the cases. Today’s consumer buys wine based on the occasion, the experience. Today’s wine consumer is the sophisticated, educated, professional female between 24 and 44 who will buy one brand of wine for ‘girls night’ and purchase a completely different brand for the evening with her favorite guy. She doesn’t purchase based on price. She selects wine based on the label — its ability to convey a brand image that connects with her.”

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