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Beer brand's equity grows with self-adhesive switch

By Steve Katz | April 12, 2011

High-end, cost effective graphics have Heineken building on its iconic branding.

Heineken, one of the world's most popular beer makers, has long been synonymous with its signature green bottle. But in 2004, the brewer wanted to up the ante on its branding initiatives, and turned to pressure sensitive technology as a means of getting there. The brand wanted a way to express a more contemporary, cosmopolitan feel for that green bottle, and that's when it decided to make the switch from wet-glue paper labels to clear-on-clear self-adhesive film.

Heineken's first self-adhesive label was launched in Italy in 2004, and followed that success in 2006 when it introduced the new Heineken Premium Light brand in the United States. Amstel Light, another Heineken brand, went the self-adhesive route shortly thereafter. The success of these applications is fueling the global rollout now taking place. Several brands across the company are either testing or implementing a switch to self-adhesive labeling.

"Our famous green Heineken bottle has gone through a great rejuvenation with the clear label, whilst maintaining the core quality and heritage cues," says J. Hess, design manager, Heineken Group. "And the consumer loves it. That's why we decided in 2006 to launch the new Heineken Premium Light product in the US market straightaway with clear self-adhesive labeling technology.

"The move allowed us to establish the product as a contemporary, luxury premium beer, clearly boosting the market space of premium import lights for US consumers," Hess says.

He adds that following the launch of the new label, the brand saw a substantial surge in sales during the introductory months. "And considering the fact that we have sold over 1 billion bottles since the introduction, you can imagine we do not regret that choice," adds Hess.

Part of the package
Avery Dennison Fasson Roll developed a custom engineered clear film for the Heineken labels, which are produced by Spear Systems at its facility in Cwmbran, UK, and used for the front, back and neck labels.

Graphically, Heineken wanted to maintain the integrity of the signature accent silver line on the prime label for its flagship brand. The brewer also wanted to ensure the print quality remained intact, unaffected by transportation and the usual handling at point-of-sale, as well as point-of-use.

"Clear-on-clear self-adhesive labeling is viewed as contemporary product positioning and allows additional graphic attributes to be added to the label, such as metallics," notes Dan Muenzer, vice president of marketing, Spear Systems. "In addition, the clear label application allows the label to become part of the package and not just a last-minute add-on. Bottle and liquid color can literally become part of the design palette. And that makes it possible to use them in developing and reinforcing the brand positioning.

"Heineken really liked the highly reflective quality of the silver racetrack border around the outside of the prime label," Muenzer says. "To achieve the effect with self-adhesive, the most graphically appealing and cost-effective solution involved sub-surface printing of a cap film with metallic inks and then laminating that to a base film for a two-layer construction. This process allows the metallic flakes in our gravure-printed inks to literally sink to the base of the film. This is what provides the highest shine and makes the Heineken label stand out like a beacon."

The label carries five colors – silver, green, white, black and red. And because the label is now clear, the design was adjusted to allow the green of the bottle to replace most of what was originally printed in green.

Heineken has been aggressive in its approach to deploying self-adhesive labeling. And according to Muenzer, the brewer is currently the second-largest user of the labeling technology in the entire beer industry. "The Heineken brand with its clear-on-clear self-adhesive labels can be found in more countries than any other self-adhesive-branded application," he says.

The initial reaction to the clear self-adhesive label was immediate acceptance, says Mark Ruijgrok, business director, beer and beverage, Avery Dennison Roll Materials Europe. He says, "There was a lot of excitement because, for the first time, a packaging innovation was able to get so close to the iconic Heineken green bottle. And they thought the bottles were actually direct printed. And that's a very strong testament to the impact of a no-label look.

"The new label presented visual cues that help bring the product positioning to life. It's more modern, glossier, eye-catching on shelf and in the bar nightlife," Ruijgrok adds. "There is a great shine-through effect that makes it equally attractive to look at, as well as to touch."

Combined with the brand-building capabilities of high-end graphics, self-adhesive is also cost-effective due to a host of operational efficiencies that factor into the production equation for end users.

Muenzer emphasizes the total cost savings brewers enjoy with self-adhesive over glue-applied labels. "For example," he says, "line speeds, equipment efficiencies, labor costs, capacity levels, all play into the endgame. One universal benefit of self-adhesive is the substantial savings in related change parts. You simply do not need nearly as many as with wet-glue. Machine changeover time is less, which creates a significant savings. And start-up/shut-down maintenance is estimated to be 20 to 30 minutes less for self-adhesive on every eight-hour shift.

"Our customers are seeing double-digit throughput improvements with self-adhesive," Muenzer adds. "While end users guard specific production data, we expect anywhere from a 10- to 15-percent throughput achievement compared to glue-applied labels. Spear Systems, along with Avery Dennison, have created total-applied-cost models that quantify this benefit."

Green is green
Along with broad consumer acceptance, the switch to self-adhesive labels has also enabled Heineken to contribute to its sustainability agenda. "We are able to use less ink on the labels and have implemented a liner recycling program," says P. van Rijssen, manager at Heineken Technical Services.

In addition to sales as a benchmark of success, Heineken conducts its own primary consumer research to identify what it calls "key Heineken brand indicators." And in that context, the equity metric "Attractive Packaging" generates the highest score.

"Self-adhesive labeling in beer is the future," Ruijgrok says. "With a leading global brand like Heineken, as well as domestic market leaders in the United States implementing self-adhesive technology, a new era of labeling beer bottles is arising fast."

Heineken brands making the switch to self-adhesive include Desperados in France; Moretti Zero in Italy; Cruzcampo Light and Cruzcampo Reserva in Spain; Amstel Reserva in Spain; Amstel Light and Buckler in the US; Amstel Pulse in multiple countries, including Russia and Greece; Wieckse Rose in Holland; and Dr. Diesel and Dr. Diesel sexy lime in Russia.

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