In 2018, the Brewers Association recorded a total of 7,346 craft breweries operating in the United States, with 1,049 opening their doors that year alone. This ever-increasing competition forces craft brewers to evaluate every aspect of their product that can provide an edge, including design and packaging.
According to a recent Nielsen report, 71% of craft beer buyers decide on the beer they’re going to buy at the point of purchase. Plus, the same 71% stated they like to try brands with bold or interesting packaging. The Nielsen report observes that 66% of American craft beer buyers say that a beer’s package or label is “very” or “extremely” important in capturing their attention.
Additional notable beer packaging trends include: Aluminum cans make up 66% of all beer packaging, with more than 50% of aluminum cans being reused. Craft brewers are increasingly opting to sell beer in larger four packs of 16-ounce cans, which are expected to grow at a volume CAGR of 1% and add an additional 179 million units in 2023. Around 40% of the beer industry used pressure sensitive labels in 2018.
L&NW caught up with some key label industry players making their mark on the health and prosperity of the market, in order to find out what types of labels are behind the beer packaging market’s growth.
New England Label
New England Label, formerly Reid Graphics, is a family-owned specialty print manufacturer located in Andover, MA. Specializing in roll-fed digital label printing across all industries, the company has experienced significant growth in the food and beverage sectors since converting most of its flexo equipment to digital presses in the early 2000s and then increasing its digital footprint over the past five years to handle the growth in food, beverage and other consumer products. New England Label is involved in the consulting, design and manufacturing of beer labels across the country.
Ryan Dunlevy, New England Label’s sales and marketing manager, is tasked with acquiring new brewery customers to work with, as well as consulting on design, material selection and packaging strategy. Dunlevy then works with New England Label’s manufacturing team to ensure that the labels the company prints and converts will perform in customers’ production environments while helping cans and bottles stand out on shelves and in coolers.
L&NW: Among your beer label customers, what materials and adhesives have emerged as being most critical in the creation of successful beer labels?
Ryan Dunlevy (RD): The most common materials for our beer label customers are typically film/BOPP products such as white BOPP, metalized BOPP, and clear BOPP. They are usually combined with a cold/wet applicable adhesive that will work well on high-speed filling and labeling lines, where there is lots of condensation, moisture and cold temperature products being filled.
I would say that 99% of any of the can labels that we do in the beverage industry are on film substrates with wet-apply adhesives. These do a fantastic job of displacing moisture and holding up in cold storage, as well as in icy coolers and changing temperature environments. BOPP materials also have good repositionability characteristics. This makes them particularly helpful when there is a need for re-applying the label. This can be the case if labels are being applied by hand – sometimes it can take a few tries to get the label on straight and in the desired position on the container. A majority of the high speed and large volume brewers using automated canning lines or leveraging mobile canners also use clear poly liners, which are less likely to tear in cold wet environments running at high speeds.
For all of our beer labels we also leverage either a matte or glossy laminate material to protect the ink as the products do go through a sometimes vigorous lifecycle between filling, labeling, packaging and distribution – all the way through to ending up in coolers or the beer drinker’s hands.
Other materials we typically see used are uncoated paper products, such as estate stocks or felts, that usually are used for small, limited release, or special projects and are commonly used on bottles that may also get embellished with things like embossing, high build inks or hot/cold foil stamping. These stocks provide a great textured feeling and are commonly used in the wine and spirits industry.
L&NW: Can you expound on the role that moisture plays in material selection?
RD: It is imperative that a cold wet adhesive is used for anything being labeled in cold wet environments. If not being applied cold and wet, then understanding the lifecycle of the product in terms of whether it will be in cold storage, frozen (less likely with beer but happens with food and liquor), or exposed to ice buckets and coolers is very important to understand.
For the estate stocks this is also important to know, as usually they are bottle-conditioned or filled first, dried and then labeled after the fact. For some of our bottles and products like Proseccos or Champagnes that are served in ice buckets, standard estate labels will usually not hold up to those conditions as they are uncoated stocks. Many substrate manufacturers have developed uncoated stocks with excellent wet-out characteristics, as well as welded stocks that have a layer between the facestock and adhesive that help ensure the label holds up in cold/wet/icy environments.
L&NW: What are some of the important things to consider with regard to beer label design?
RD: When consulting in the early phases of a beer label project, it is always helpful to get a sense of the artwork and desired shape in case there are issues with the diecutting and stripping or rewinding processes after the order is printed. As part of our overall process at New England Label, we like to do physical proofing of the labels – something that is easily achieved with digital printing. The process allows our customers to get an exact replica on the substrate of the finished label so they can approve color, size, shape and functionality on the container.
Unfortunately, in the rapidly changing environments of our beer customers, sometimes there is not enough time built into their process to do a press proof, so we have to go strictly on digital PDF approvals and go right to press.
For customers using metallic or clear substrates and looking to incorporate windows or the look of the metallic can as part of their design, we highly recommend physical proofing in order to get a real sense of whether their design ideas will translate to the exact look they are trying to achieve.
Special shapes are a great brand differentiator on the shelf as so many customers just use standard rectangles with various coverage. A special shape can help your brand stand out and have your customers and potential customers associate your brand with a particular label shape.
L&NW: What products/portfolios does Avery Dennison offer that would be best for beer labeling, and what are some benefits?
Avery Dennison (AD): Avery Dennison has a craft beverage portfolio that consists of film, paper, shrink sleeves and specialty or unique papers such as our wood veneer. We are seeing a lot of people using our clear and white BOPP films for both bottles and cans. As more breweries are moving to cans, we are seeing a lot of films and shrink sleeves being used to decorate the cans rather than getting them pre-printed. Additionally, some breweries are looking at their seasonal or special release beers and experimenting with more unique stocks to help them grab attention and offer a more premium look/feel.
L&NW: How do your products help promote aesthetics on the shelf?
AD: Pressure sensitive materials print well to allow for bold colors and eye-catching graphics. They also provide greater label space, allowing for more brand decoration of the container – 360 degree graphics. We also have a number of unique materials that can easily be embossed or hot foil stamped. We offer a number of unique papers – from metallics to cottons – that support brand stories and help stand out on the shelf.
Lastly, our adhesives are designed to stand up to high amounts of moisture, and when paired with clear facestocks they offer excellent clarity, adhesion, wet-out and water-whitening resistance.
L&NW: How has the proliferation of craft beers affected your business and customer demand?
AD: We are seeing steady growth within craft beer, but we are seeing a lot of other craft segments continue to pop up. For instance, there has been a lot of growth within ready-to-drink coffees and teas, spirits and wine. Avery Dennison continues to work with converters and end users to make sure we have the right portfolio of products to meet each growing segment.
L&NW: What materials are most common for beers, and has that changed with the rise of craft beers?
AD: With the rise of craft beers, we are seeing two predominant formats emerging. The first format is aluminum cans, and with the rise in cans, there is an increase in the switch to pressure sensitive materials on these cans – mainly, prime films. Both clear and white films are being used on cans to give a similar appearance to direct print but allow for lower quantities and greater flexibility.
We are also seeing craft beer in larger format bottles. With these bottles, we are seeing craft beer brands choosing more unique and premium facestocks - similar to the wine and spirits category - to help brands sell more premium products and differentiate on the shelf.
L&NW: What challenges do your materials help overcome with beer labeling?
AD: Pressure sensitive material and digital print technology allow brands to print labels as needed instead of having to order large quantities. Avery Dennison has a broad portfolio of materials for both water-based and UV inkjet printers. We also offer a number of adhesive options that help with condensation and ice bucket performance.
Sustainability continues to be a driving force for consumers and end users. Avery Dennison offers a ClearIntent portfolio of sustainable products to meet the demands from consumers and brand owners. We continue to see our CleanFlake Adhesive Technology utilized for recycling PET bottles and containers, which are being utilized within the craft space.
L&NW: How did Inland get started in the beer label market?
Inland: Inland got its start in the commercial label business by printing cut and stack beer labels for a local brewery. While this was our first craft beer customer, we grew to become the supplier for many craft beer and big beer brands, as well. 2019 was our 75th year of business, and we consider ourselves experts in the beer label industry. Most of the cut and stack beer labels we produce are printed at our La Crosse facility. Over the years, we have expanded our product offerings, and we produce pressure sensitive and shrink labels for many of our beer customers.
L&NW: Congratulations on winning the 2019 Golden Cylinder Award from the Gravure Association of the Americas. What can you tell us about the project?
Inland: The design and idea to use thermochromic inks for the Coors Lights beer came about in 2006. The color-changing inks showcase the Coors Mountains while also emphasizing the cold temperature of the beer and the refreshing taste of Coors Light. The specialty ink adds a unique design feature to the beer and shows customers when their beverage is cold and ready to enjoy. Since the addition of the thermochromic inks, the color-changing mountains have now become a staple in the Coors Light brand image. This project opened our minds to what other variations can be used with inks, whether it be themochromic (hot or cold), photochromic, or even glow in the dark inks.
L&NW: As a label manufacturer that serves both the mass and craft beer markets, what is the difference between printing labels for each segment?
Inland: Printing labels for craft beer traditionally means smaller runs or even limited edition/seasonal runs. Since craft brewers normally have lower order quantities, they cannot justify the use of pre-printed cans because of their run sizes, which are where we see shrink sleeves on cans growing quite a bit. Regardless of the size of your run quantities, we can accommodate based on the different print technologies utilizing digital for small runs, offset for medium-sized runs, and gravure for the larger sized runs.
L&NW: What are some of the notable trends in today’s beer label market?
Inland: Shrink sleeves on canned beer is a major trend right now. Shrink sleeves allow brands to design and use every inch of the can. This label type is a great way for breweries to have small run sizes to accommodate seasonal or limited edition products for their cans. Traditionally people think of pressure sensitive labels being used on bottles, but PS labels are also important to consider as an option for cans. Outside of label types, trends within the beer market include smart packaging, augmented reality, sustainability and cannabis beverages.
Sustainability requirements in the label world continue to gain momentum with brand owners, as federal, state, and city governments mandate through new legislation Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). These new laws require the brand owner to accept responsibility of the labels and packaging that carry their product through an end-of-life management cycle. The brand owner must fund and manage its recyclability or disposal costs. While not mandated yet in every state in the union today, brand owners realize that the momentum is strong and today’s educated consumers demand sustainable solutions.
California Law AB 906 has changed the way the beverage industry is viewing specific resins used in bottles and shrink sleeve labeling. California AB 906 includes both segments of ERP, with a clear redefining of recycle codes while tying cost to brand owners for disposal versus products that are cleanly recyclable. The biggest change within this law that took effect October 1, 2018, with a one year compliance term, stating that PETG copolymer resin technologies can no longer carry the Recycle Code of 1 (PET), which is now only allowed to be used for Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) resins. PETG containers and shrink sleeves will now carry the code of 7 (Other). Recyclers have long considered PETG resin not to be recycle friendly, and the law treats PETG the same way as ERP costs per piece have risen from $.00035 to $.07058 if your labeling and container do not meet the requirements.
Unique solutions using advanced PET resin technology promise to help brand owners who utilize shrink sleeves to thrive within the EPR requirements mandated above, while allowing them to use a sustainability message that is third-party verified by the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR). Moving toward these new innovations not only solves the requirements of EPR but helps promote an economically healthy recycling stream for beverage containers with shrink sleeve labeling.
“As plastic packaging continues to come under attack, it is innovations like these that exemplify how the recycling industry is continually working to address the issues of sustainability and to reinforce the message that recycling is the key to plastic packaging and container sustainability,” says Steve Alexander, APR president.
Product development continues with Multi-Plastics in Lewis Center, OH, introducing a line of PET shrink sleeve films in 2018 that meet the sustainability needs of brand owners while also offering those same grades with the additional environmental benefit of 30% Post Consumer Recycled content.
“Multi-Plastics has successfully responded to our customers demand for a sustainable solution in shrink sleeve labeling films while still delivering the world-class service and technical support brand owners require,” says Bob Weber, Multi-Plastics’ national sales manager.