Research indicates that consumers take only an average of around three to seven seconds to pick their drink of choice from the shelves of our supermarkets. Admittedly, this choice will often be influenced by the consumer’s past experiences and consumption habits.
However, in those instances where a shopper is looking to make a spontaneous choice, the packaging plays a significant role—and labelling today is an area of growing importance in the overall bottling of liquids.
Years ago, the bottle label was simply a vehicle for carrying the beverage or product name, a little corporate branding—usually in the form of a namestyle—and the little product information that was required by law. Typically this would be the content’s minimum volume and its ingredients.
In today’s sophisticated marketplace, however, much greater emphasis is placed upon the label and its marketing value as an important interface with the consumer. It is now recognised as a fundamental marketing element that helps establish and build brand awareness among potential customers.
A label design that is striking and memorable will place its brand firmly in the memory of the customer and reinforce its position in a very competitive marketplace.
Greater demands are also being made on beverage labelling by legislated standards as producers are required to give even more detailed information on bottles. However, the design aesthetics, the promotional appeal and the necessary consumer data are no longer the only defining criteria for the finished label.
Sustainability & Lower Costs
Stuart Rankin, US
In common with most manufacturing industries, the beverage industry is naturally looking to cut its operating costs in order to minimise overheads and maximise profits in a changing and challenging marketplace.
Beverage producers are looking to increase the efficiency of their production lines, focusing these days on the overall TCO (total cost of ownership) of their equipment. They are also striving to reduce power consumption, maintenance costs and to cut the use of raw materials and all other resources used throughout the production process.
As well as simply reducing the corresponding overhead costs, producers are also responding to consumer demand. For some time now, in order to protect the world’s diminishing natural resources, consumers have grown more vocal in their demands for greater sustainability in our manufacturing processes.
This naturally applies to the labelling of our beverages as it does to other parts of their production. Reducing power consumption and keeping the use of raw materials and all other resources to an absolute minimum, is therefore a ‘win/win’ situation for the beverage producer.
Roll-Fed Label Solutions
As well as being easy and practical to transport, handle and use, beverage producers want packaging to be distinctive, versatile and attractive in order to be appealing to customers when it arrives on the supermarket shelf.
A consequence in PET bottling production is the increased use of roll-fed labels which are either paper or plastic and applied with hot glue. These labels have physical and practical qualities that make them both attractive to consumers and advantageous for the producers.
For example, if the body of a transparent, colourless, plastic label with a high-gloss finish remains unprinted, the bottle can be made to look as if the lettering is applied directly onto its surface.
Creative use of this illusion can, where appropriate, lead to much more aesthetically pleasing labelling. The plastic labels are also waterproof and therefore not subject to the damaging effects of damp conditions during transport and storage.
Thinnest Labels For Pet Bottles
The simple step of reducing the thickness of labels on the many millions of PET bottles produced can drastically reduce the total amount of raw materials and resources used to create them. .
As a result, suppliers of labelling solutions are working to ensure that the thinnest labels possible can be handled efficiently and effectively by their equipment.
Providers of PET solutions for liquid packaging have focused their efforts in this direction when it comes to sleeve labelling solutions to offer efficient, high-speed machines capable of handling ultra-light bottles with a label thickness of less than 20 microns.
This offers the potential for significant savings on material by creating a tubular form for the sleeve in the machine and then wrapping it around the container without moving it.
Labelling Without Glue
The amount of glue used to adhere the labels to the finished bottles is something that most producers would like to reduce substantially. This desire is driven by sustainability and also to remove the drawbacks of using glue. The more glue used, the greater the negative effect it has on the efficiency of the labelling machinery.
Eliminating the gluing process would make it possible to keep machines cleaner, more hygienic—and therefore, safer for the consumer—and less maintenance intensive.
The cost of glue is another factor. Although it is estimated to account for less than one percent of the total bottling cost, without it, costs could be reduced further. More importantly, the complete removal of glue from the entire labelling process would be beneficial to the production of PET bottled beverages because its presence can make the recycling process more difficult.
The recycling of PET is fundamental in confirming its position as a sustainable material. Producing the virgin material naturally requires the use of finite resources and analysis has shown that recycling uses two-thirds less energy.
However, the use of label glues has sometimes affected the uptake of material in food grade applications, so work is underway to overcome the problem. In Japan, for instance, researchers are trying to develop a glue that adheres mainly to the label yet is readily released by the surface of the PET bottle.
Elsewhere, some manufacturers of labelling equipment are already eliminating the use of glues altogether. Some developments, for example, the design of shrink sleeve labels with perforated seams, allows the simple removal of the label before recycling.
Indeed, shrink sleeve labelling (SSL) is one area that is growing more rapidly than any other labelling technology.
Growth Of Sleeve Labelling
As more companies discover the potential of SSL, the market for this kind of labelling is growing faster than any other labelling process. In 2014 it accounted for a projected 12.5 percent share of global label consumption by area. It continues to develop, with global consumption forecast at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.6 percent from 2014-2019.
The increasing use and success of this full-body labelling is due to several factors. One significant factor is the current market trend to customise the end product and the sleeve is perfectly in line with this trend providing this capability to decorate the packaging.
It offers a greater surface area to accommodate the information to be shared with the consumer, enabling product differentiation through colour, shape and messaging. This is important when you consider the buying process.
When a potential customer is say 10 metres from the supermarket shelf, it will probably be the label colour that is the main focus; when they get a little closer, then its shape: and when they are really close it is the product contents.
The introduction of new substrates and technologies has also brought about the potential for significant cost savings in SSL production. Until recently, substrates were heat-shrunk after being turned—or ‘oriented’—in a ‘transverse (lateral) direction’ (TDO) and pre-formed into a tube, ready for further processing. However, substrates in PET or oriented polystyrene can now be shrunk ‘machine direction oriented’ (MDO).
As the step of creating a tube is removed from the production process, the cost for each label is less.
Usually viewed by the consumer both when the beverage is bought and consumed, the label is still regarded as the product’s main interface with the consumer.
For those charged with ‘building the brand’, the label, therefore, remains one of the drink’s prime means of direct communication with the buying public.
This is one reason why SSL, which affords greater freedom for graphic design, is growing rapidly in popularity, particularly among those producers operating in well-established markets. The larger area available for graphics naturally presents designers with much more creative opportunity when compared to the limited space of traditional labels.
As the designer’s role is to make the packaging as attractive as possible to the consumer, this freedom generally leads to more innovative and eye-catching layouts. The extra space also allows the positioning of data such as volume, contents, barcode and other legally required information, in addition to enabling producers to add messages and communications of their own choice.
By applying film sleeves to entire bottles or parts of bottles, the SSL application involves shrinking the film with heat, causing it to follow the shape of the container to which it is being applied. As it shrinks into place, it adapts to any surface and eliminates any irregularities or restrictions due to container shape.
The film can be used to cover the bottle in a number of different ways too. It might cover part of the bottle—just the cap and shoulders, for example—or the whole bottle. Other means of application include stretch sleeves and roll-on, shrink-on (ROSO) systems.
By covering the whole bottle, including the cap, the label sleeve can serve effectively as a seal and, in the case of sensitive products, it can also be used as a light barrier to protect the contents.
Full-body sleeve labels additionally enhance the potential for further lightweighting, as they can strengthen the bottle walls, improving handling performance and the whole consumer experience when applied to lighter bottles.
To take advantage of the many positives that the sleeve labelling process and the new substrates offer, equipment manufacturers have been working to develop machinery that fits in more closely with producers’ needs.
This has led to the production of machines that combine the simplicity of consolidated roll-fed technology with shrink-sleeve processes for high-speed applications.
Mark Faviell, Vancouver, Canada
Within most labelling equipment, labels are applied to the bottles by machinery separately handling each bottle. This handling might weaken an ultra-light bottle in some manufacturers’ systems. This can result in poor quality labelling and reduced machine efficiency.
To overcome the problem, some producers are ‘nitrogen-dosing’ their beverages—that is, adding liquid nitrogen to the filled bottle prior to capping. When a droplet of nitrogen is added to the filled bottle and trapped by the capping process, it expands as it vaporises. This greatly increases the pressure within the bottle and has the effect of strengthening the bottle.
Naturally, leading equipment manufacturers are already building labelling machines that can handle even the most lightweight bottle and manage the extra demands of bottle lightweighting—without the need for nitrogen dosing.
Inventing ways in which the consumer experience can be made more personal is a current trend within packaging, whereby smaller batches—with their own specific labelling—are produced in very short lead times.
Often undertaken in connection with a public celebration or sporting occasion, this kind of personalisation of the standard ‘everyday’ label often starts with a marketing idea. This then has to go through the design and production phases for production of the necessary artwork as well as the storage, transportation and distribution of the customised packages.
The whole process for even a short-term change of label can, in fact, take well over four months from concept to delivery of the products to the point of sale.
The Coca-Cola 2013 summer campaign entitled ‘Share a Coke’ was one such example of product personalisation. Running in over 30 European countries and featuring each participating country’s 150 most common names in place of the company’s iconic logo, the campaign made the most of shorter, adaptable printing runs. It proved an outstanding success and demonstrates the impact of effective labelling.
The introduction of ‘iprinting’—which allows printing directly onto the bottle—is adding even greater possibilities for personalisation. We are already seeing the development of machines which allow consumers to mix their own drinks, with the potential for them to also have their own image printed onto the bottle.
The same labels that have such an impact in a beverage product’s success can also have a substantial effect on the performance of the machinery upon which they are produced. So compatibility of labels and equipment is always a key issue.
Manufacturers of today’s leading labelling equipment collaborate closely with the manufacturers of the labels in order to respond jointly to feedback that together they actively seek from producers. However, there is more to successful labelling than the efficient application of an attractively designed label.
Labelling solutions need to be designed to maximise both the impact the packaging makes on the consumer and to minimise the commercial and environmental cost of production. This requires boosting productivity through accelerated label application and cutting costs in terms of both materials used and in production maintenance.