Beverage Labeling

By Catherine Diamond, Associate Editor | July 17, 2013

This highly differentiated market is both competitive and (potentially) lucrative.

The beverage label market is booming. In recent years, SKU proliferation has been a trend seen in nearly every labeling sector, but no more so than in beverages. Take a walk down the drink aisle of your local supermarket and you’re likely to see countless flavors and variations: low- and no-calorie sodas, sugar-free juices, antioxidant enhanced iced teas, and, in all likelihood, a dozen or more brands of water.

And that’s all before you get to the liquor store. Beer, perhaps more than any other beverage, is fiercely competitive. (Just think of those Super Bowl commercials.) According to an AWA Alexander Watson Associates report titled Global Beer Label Study 2009, global beer production is estimated at 181.561 billion liters, valued at $405.9 billion.

The global beer market is forecast to continue to grow around 1.2 – 1.5% per annum at least until this year.

While Europe remains marginally the largest beer-producing region, the AWA report states that growth remains highest in Asia Pacific. At the time the report was published, China was forecast to produce most of the global volume growth. Globally, packaging of beers is focused on glass and PET bottles, cans and draught kegs. The report states: “Labels used for the decoration of bottles have seen a greater variety of formats replacing the traditional wet (cold) glue-applied paper label. Pressure sensitive labels, glue-applied wrap-around labels and heat shrink sleeve labels are now gaining a market share of the global and regional labeled bottle markets.”

As of 2008, AWA estimated that the global volume of labels used for beer packaging approximates to 2,950 square meters. Of those, 84% were glue-applied.

Monadnock Paper Mills, based in Bennington, NH, USA, is the oldest continuously operating paper mill in the United States and a supplier of papers specifically designed for craft beers. Its recently released Envi Wet Strengh Label is made with 100% post-consumer waste recycled fiber, is FSC certified, manufactured carbon neutral with 100% renewable electricity, and, according to the company, “has been engineered to print, emboss and foil stamp beautifully while maintaining its strength and brightness even when wet.”

According to Lisa Berghaus, manager of marketing communications at Monadnock Paper Mills, the overarching concern for labelers and brands is performance. “Labels have to be able to withstand a tremendous amount of stress throughout the production and labeling process. Premium brands expect that print and post-press embellishments will be flawless as they sit on the shelves competing for attention; and for consumers, even after the product sits in an ice bucket for hours over dinner.”

Berghaus says that, at one time, environmentally responsible labelstocks simply did not hold up to the elements as well as traditional papers. “Today, there are products that have a very strong environmental profile and also meet the performance, aesthetic and economic requirements demanded by brand owners and consumers.”

Materials and application

A sake label printed on natural kraft by Century Label Inc.

One of the biggest challenges in the beverage market is finding the right marriage of label material and adhesive. An incompatible pairing has the potential to ruin a label – either because it cannot withstand cold, wet conditions or because of problems during the application process.

According to Beverly Chavez, president of Stixon Labels & New Mexico Plastics in Albuquerque, NM, USA, the biggest challenge is in the application process, particularly for breweries. “A lot of breweries label their bottles when the bottles are wet and cold. The material selection plays a huge part because of the labeling conditions. We have never had challenges with wineries or water companies because they typically label their product on dry bottles at room temperature. The adhesives we buy hold up to wide temperature ranges,” she says.

Century Label Inc., a flexographic label converter located in Red Oak, TX, USA, works with many smaller beverage producers who are often new to the process. Randy Wise, president, says many are learning as they go. “Selecting the best material and adhesive construction for the application is one of your first priorities when helping a customer build a label program. Cold temperatures, wet application surfaces and damp coolers at the retail level are a common challenge for bottled water, juices, dairy, etc. We have little control of the application environment, so it is imperative that we probe to learn as much as possible about the application process: where it is, what type of machinery will be used, what type of environment, etc. We prefer a site visit when feasible and are big fans of test runs and material trials prior to launching a program.”

Even in perfect application situations, determining the right adhesive for a particular material can be a major challenge. The clear, no-label look is growing in popularity, and brand owners don’t want their labels looking anything less than crisp.

Leslie Gurland, president of LogoTech in Fairfield, NJ, USA, puts it this way: “When it comes to clear labels, they want labels that are extremely clear. Certain adhesives can cloud-up the label when exposed to moisture. We believe it’s important to run trials on various materials on the filling line, through distribution and even at the retail level if possible. A lot of R&D is involved.”

In addition to clear labels, pressure sensitive labels in general are growing in popularity. According to Dan Muenzer, vice president of marketing at Spear, a supplier of pressure sensitive labels for the beverage industry with headquarters in Cincinnati, OH, USA – says that pressure sensitive labelstocks – including white and metalized film – have grown in popularity. “It really depends on how the category is positioned to determine what substrate dominates. Bud Light and Heineken withstanding, beer shows opaque and metalized growth, juices are 50/50, while the water and spirit categories tend to lean on the clear, no-label look.”

Another trend seen in beverage labeling is dimensional printing. “Graphic elements can really increase a product’s visual appeal and help differentiate it on the store shelf,” says Steven Tu, product manager at Roland DGA Corp. “We also see personalization growing in popularity across the beverage industry. The market and revenue potential is huge for companies that can profitably customize items such as wine labels for corporate events or water bottle labels for local sporting events such as 5K runs and high school homecoming games.”

Sustainability and growth
Sometimes, it’s not easy being green. Beverage companies have historically been concerned with individual sustainability efforts, such as water conservation, electric minimization and container weight reduction, Muenzer says, as those things have had a far bigger impact on the bottom line. “The way the beverage market utilized label sustainability was through material down-gauging, which provided less material and energy usage and more labels per truck,” he says.

“Now, the beverage big boys are beginning to understand the impact pressure sensitive and shrink sleeve labels have on the container recycling process, so label solutions to help address this issue are being demanded. Spear and our material partners have had a commercially approved solution since 2004, but it was not cost-competitive with traditional material constructions,” he says. “I am happy to report this has been overcome in the last year and recyclable label constructions are now rolling into the market. I’m sure anyone involved with beverage labeling is aware of the recycling issues shrink sleeves are causing PET bottles, but with the resources being applied I am certain there will be a solution forthcoming.”

Because many companies are now employing recycling initiatives, beverage companies, in particular, have become very interested in adhesives that are easily removed. Chavez, of Stixon Labels & New Mexico Plastics, says that some of the wineries she works with make it a point to re-use as many bottles as possible. “This only works for the bottles that they use on site, as it is too hard to retrieve empty bottles from the consumers,” she says.

A water label printed by Stixon Labels

By all accounts, the beverage label market shows no signs of slowing down. The number of beverages put on the market every year – not to mention the number of flavors and varieties available – is extraordinary. As Muenzer points out, it’s for good reason: “Beverages are fun, and in many cases, they are an affordable consumer luxury. Marketers of these products are always looking for new and better ways to present their brands so the label market in this category is never stagnant. It forces the label printer to continually develop new technologies while at the same time providing global growth exceeding most other segments.”

Wise, of Century Label, says that he, too, expects this market to continue expanding well into the future. “Bottled water may have peaked,” he says, “but other segments – energy drinks, flavored beverages, micro-brewed beer, wine, spirits – are dynamic and fluid, no pun intended.”

Web cleaning to optimize beverage labeling
A Q&A with Matt Fyffe, vice president and general manager of Meech USA Inc.

L&NW: Does the beverage label market require any specific web cleaning or static equipment?

MF: With the increased demand for high quality labels, the need for a perfectly clean product has become a priority. Having said that, not everyone in the labeling industry is aware of the degree to which their labels can get contaminated in the production process. For instance, a common issue is when dust gets trapped between the label and the container during the lamination phase, which shows up on the final product. This scenario is not acceptable to the brand owners. 

To avoid this from happening, web cleaning systems can be positioned either prior to the printing process in order to remove all remnants of dust and thus ensure a clean, and high quality label. Another option is to set up the web cleaning system at the end of the printing process, to make sure the web is as clean as possible before the label is applied to the container.

Meech’s TakClean contact web cleaning system
Meech provides two different web-cleaning systems that are particularly well-suited for the labeling sector: the VacClean (vacuum system) and the TakClean (tacky roller system). The type of cleaner used is entirely dependent on the application and the types of material you are working with. 

L&NW: Why is static/web cleaning important for beverage labels?

MF: There are two areas where static and dust control is important in the beverage label industry: the printing and the application of the labels.

Static electricity, by its very nature, attracts dust to a label, which can result in contaminated stock and therefore poor print quality and material waste. However, static can also affect label printing during the application of the ink, which is becoming a more frequent occurrence with the use of digital printers in narrow web label printing. In this scenario, statically charged webs can actually repel the ink being laid down by the digital print head, which of course affects the quality of the final product.

Static electricity can cause problems during the label application process when a film or coated label is being employed for a plastic container. If the respective charges on the container and label are highly opposite, the label can be attracted to the container prematurely and cause wrinkles. Instead, if the container and label are of the same polarity, the container can actually repel the label causing it to “float” and not align properly. Both cases tend to result in poor label quality and slower production speeds.

L&NW:  What are some of the challenges in the beverage market, as they relate to static/web cleaning?

MF: The most common challenge we face in the beverage and labelling sector is space. Smaller, more compact systems are often employed in these areas. Furthermore, as line speeds increase there is a continuing demand for more powerful ionizing bars and systems in order to neutralize the charges more quickly. As a company, Meech’s ethos is to remain at the top of the game in these areas and as a result we are regularly upgrading our systems to ensure these challenges are adequately met.  
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