The golden age of labelling?
As label technologies have continued to advance, and digital print offers increasingly versatile output, converters are enjoying a period of innovation, where packaging design and label integration are delivering regulation compliance and striking design. Dave Howell investigates these developments.
Whether a label has a functional application, or is used to enhance brand communication, the development of new substrates, coupled with the innovative use of digital presses, has created a space where label technology can enhance every aspect of a brand’s packaging.
Converters are partnering with specialists to use labels as one component of an integrated design.
Royston Labels recently launched a new label technology called Zebra. It achieves image movement through the use of texture and micro-etched patterns, and is achieve with sculpted foiling dies. When used with embossing techniques, the result is a visually-attractive and tactile label that consumers will want to touch and interact with. This new technique reduces costs over expensive patterned foils. Phil Bradnam, sales and innovation manager at the company, explains that the innovative labels deliver “high impact, immaculate definition” and boost “shelf presence and brand awareness – particularly when paired with in-line embossing”.
Converters are also making dramatic changes to how they use equipment. Grafiche Amadeo, for instance, is leveraging its Omet XFlex X2 370 flexo press to produce a unique label design for their customer. The dual-shaped label required the machine suppliers to modify their machine to remove the inner label before it moves to the stripping unit.
"After the cutting process, we use a cold foil and a flexo unit to apply a layer of UV glue on the shape already die-cut, to facilitate its removal,” says Andrea Delfino of Grafica Amadeo, explained their process. “The label and the film substrate are coupled by means of a nip roll, the UV lamp activates the glue, and the removable shape sticks to the plastic film that strips it away. The following steps consist of a traditional die-cutting process and matrix rewinding to obtain a special label with both internal and external die-cutting shapes.”
Marks & Spencers have taken its labelling to the next level with the introduction of its laser-labelled avocados. Instead of a traditional printed label, the essential information is etched into the fruit’s skin. M&S claim their converting partners can save ten tonnes of paper and glue each year using the system. First seen in Swedish supermarkets two years ago, the so-called ‘natural branding’ is an innovation from Spanish developers Laser Food. With a consumer push to reduce packaging and emissions, this technology – at least within a narrow range of foods – could become the norm for labelling.
The function of labels is also diversifying. IC Optix has developed a magnifying label technology. The label can be removed from the packaging and used to magnify the text on the underlying label. Clearly for the pharma sector this is a great innovation, which patients will appreciate. At Interpack, the company stated that the labels had been produced without issues on conventional flexo presses. And as the magnifying label film is manufactured on reel-to-reel, these labels can be produced without converters investing in new machinery.
One of the most highly competitive markets is wine and spirits. According to figures from the Beverage Information Group, 2016 was the 18th consecutive year that the sectors saw growth. Pressure-sensitive labels have clearly shown they can elevate a wine brand with attractive graphics and textured effects. There is also a current trend of using multiple techniques, or one or more labels, which can include die-cutting and reflective substrates designed to catch the light and the attention of passing consumers.
The advances in digital print technology are also expanding the capabilities that converters can offer to their brand partners. More personalisation is clearly an area that will continue to expand. Earlier this year, Nestlé used the capabilities of HP Indigo to offer customised KitKat bars to their customers. Gido van Praag, vice-president and general manager of Graphics Solutions Business, EMEA at HP says, “As marketers continue to look for ways to win at the shelf and truly connect with their audiences, we will see digital packaging continue to rise in popularity. Nestlé’s latest campaign is a testament of the growing trend of personalised packaging.”
More functional information is another key area that label converters will need to further support. Pharma is an obvious market where label regulation continues to influence the output from label converters, but other sectors are also seeing changes as well. A good example is the push to include more nutritional information on alcoholic beverage packaging. Already Diageo have announced that Guinness will be the first global brand to include full nutritional information on its 500ml cans in the Republic of Ireland.
Diageo Ireland Country Director Mr. Oliver Loomes said: "The new Guinness labels are part of our on-going commitment to engaging with and empowering Diageo consumers so they have the tools to make positive and informed choices about what they drink. While this is a global standard and will eventually feature across all brands in all markets, the decision to expand to Guinness 500ml cans means that almost 40 per cent of the Irish beer market will be covered by the new labelling standard, making Ireland a market leader in this regard."
In the food sector, the linerless label has continued its expansion. Natalie Bonner, senior marketing and events manager for Revenwood Packaging explains, “For meat and fish, especially, skin pack packaging and sleeving is a trend that continues to gain momentum. Skin pack linerless labels are becoming the label of choice for many food brands and manufacturers. We also offer a sustainable and cost effective ‘label’ solution for ready meal food manufacturers. Our ground-breaking ‘slideable ready meal sleeve’ is a reinvention of the traditional cardboard sleeve, yet labels come supplied on a roll and are machine applied. A growing number of high-end ready meal food manufacturers are adopting this type of label.”
The future of the labelling market is to offer more choice to brand-owners. Converters are investing in new technologies that will move labels from passive information repositories to dynamic delivery mechanisms.
“Converters will need to offer added functionality for label companies to stay competitive,” says Eva Weber, senior product manager at software company ABBYY. “We believe that ‘traditional’ text labels will evolve into a tool that enables customer interaction. This means they will no longer be just text and images, but technologies such as QR codes or RFID chips will be broadly implemented.”
“We’re likely to see other modern technologies for smartphones and other electronic devices – such as virtual or augmented reality – included too, to inform customers and drive engagement as companies look to build brand loyalty,” she continues. “While we expect the core function of a label to stay the same, a full information service can be offered to buyers when the vendors deploy technological innovations in packaging and labelling systems.”
Future trends across the labelling industry are a continuation of trends seen developing over the last three years. As Richard Burhouse, API’s commercial director tells Converting Today, time is of the essence: “There is increasing pressure to reduce lead-times, especially where the packaging supply chain has adopted a ‘just in time’ attitude. It is therefore, important for us to invest in service, stock and distribution, and to work closely with our customers to understand their individual foil stock requirements, and forecast any future needs.”
Label converters have seen the industry rapidly change. Today, personalisation and a demand for bespoke designs have pushed the humble label to its central position within the production process. Food and beverage, and the pharma sectors are clearly the core drivers behind the label innovations we have seen over recent years.
The converting industry as a whole has responded to their customer demands. With an array of substrates, print effects and additional finishing processes on offer, converters have become much more than simple label producers. Today, they are not just a technical service, but a part of the creative process too.
To create the stunning visuals used on the SnowFox Vodka bottle label, the brand turned to API for a cold foil that was applied via a shrink label by specialist Spectrol. Converting Today spoke with Richard Burhouse, API’s Commercial Director, who outlines the company’s unique approach to the project:
“We worked hard to understand the customer and brand requirements, and having taken the brief, we selected the API 1000 TA foil to depict the piercing gaze of the iconic Canadian Snow Fox on the Vodka’s shrink label.
“The customer wanted to create an effect that wasn’t already available off-the- shelf,” he continues. “Applying the over-printable TA to the front graphic panel of the shrink label produced a striking glow-in-the-dark effect, causing the electric-blue eyes of the snow fox to illuminate dramatically in low-lit areas such as nightclubs, thus drawing the attention of consumers.
“The final label for SnowFox perfectly exemplifies the packaging trend ‘Second Skin,’ identified our API trends folio, which recognises when the packaging becomes a seamless extension of the product inside.”
Vishal Sahadeo, account manager at Spectrol, also comments: “Originally, we were using a different foil and experiencing some problems, but when we switched to the foil from API, everything clicked into place. We wanted to create an effect that wasn’t already available on the shelf, and the result, with the amazing blue eyes of the snow fox, certainly achieves this. It’s one of the most visually arresting labels we have ever produced.”