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A labelling labour of love

The value of packaging to the appeal of products is commonly underestimated

Being temporarily on the wagon – it’s a Lent thing – no surprise then that booze has been very much on my mind lately.

Going without a drink for 46 days is no great hardship. The smug satisfaction of self-denial can benefit the soul. Even so, all the hair-shirt virtue of voluntary abstinence can shrivel into self-pity at the sound of three little words: “What’ll you have?”

Still, if you can’t touch a drop, you can at least look at it; the come-on is an indispensable element within the total experience. And the anticipation generated by the pack outer so often outscores the reality of the contents. The bottle’s clarity and well-rounded contours and the label’s exuberant ‘drink me’ invitation spell pure expectation. Regardless of the final outcome, who says packaging doesn’t deliver?

Given the service they provide, not only to the wine and spirits trade but to countless other product lines, too bad then that the UK’s 600 or so label printers continue to find life in the supply chain uncomfortable. Most are reliant upon sophisticated flexo presses and front-end peripherals to meet growing customer demand for faster, shorter, cheaper print solutions. Fortunately, flexo is an excellent print process, which explains why it has a 36%+ market share of all packaging print currently produced: around £19bn worth throughout the EU every year alone.

Acutely conscious that gaining market share is one thing, but holding on to it is an altogether different ball-game, not just label printers but the flexo-based packaging community en masse will be out at the NEC this month for flexo 2005 [15–17 March]. Adding digital print technology to the armoury – on show at this niche sector-focused event for the first time – adds a fascinating new angle.

Hopefully, visitors will find what they’re looking for. In the meantime, any brand owner who believes packaging is merely a commodity item should contemplate how any number of market leaders might have fared without the on-shelf warm-up routine so consistently performed by their packaging support act.

Failing that, just try giving up the product for six weeks for a whole new perspective on the subtly complementary interdependence between taste and appearance. A rose might smell as sweet by any other name, but maybe not if it looked like a thistle.