Pressure-sensitive label market

Written by Corey Reardon

The self-adhesive label market is growing. With increasing globalization of brands, population growth, urbanization trends, and general global economic prosperity, it is no surprise that the label and packaging industry is enjoying an all-round upsurge in demand. But despite the influx of competitive methods of product identification, decoration, and even packaging format, the pressure-sensitive label remains the dominant technology choice around the world, claiming 40% of the market.

Regional market data

AWA’s research indicates that the global market for pressure-sensitive labels grew by 5.2% in 2017, with growth in North America at 3.6%, in Europe at 5.2% , and in Asia – with the largest share of the total market – at around 6.9%, primarily driven by volume growth in China and India. South American pressure-sensitive label market volumes recovered from previous declines and grew at 2%; and for the emerging packaged goods market in Africa and the Middle East, growth in 2017 was estimated at 4.1%, with South Africa, Israel, North Africa and the Middle East the most active markets. Other product identification technologies also grew in the region – glue-applied labeling (which has the largest market share) at the same level as pressure-sensitive labels; sleeve labels (3% growth); and in-mold labeling (4.5% growth).

Substrate choices

In terms of choice of label substrate globally, 75% of all pressure-sensitive labels are printed on paper – with the increasing usage of VIP and industrial labels the main contributors. Today, PS VIP labels actually claim 45% of the total global PS label market, while prime labels take a 44% share. However, film substrates are enjoying increasing popularity because of their physical characteristics – no-label look, water-resistance, etc – and, of course, lighter weight/more labels per reel. Film facestocks are growing at a higher rate than paper facestocks in both the emerging and developed label markets, as is the use of film-based release liner materials. BOPP film is the leading PS film facestock, but PE, PET, and PVC are also used.

Print technologies

While digital press installations are, according to FINAT data, exceeding those for analog presses in Europe, there is globally strong interest in the benefits of today’s enhanced narrow- and mid-web flexo technology base – particularly with UV and EB ink curing, both of which deliver high-definition print results, enhanced color gamut options, and 20-30% faster print speeds. In the last decade, in response to – in particular – the packaging print industry’s needs, the flexo process has seen much refinement in machine development and in optional extras, software, ease of use, productivity, and reduced on-press waste.

Flexo presses are also valued today in the PS label market for their ability to deliver special ‘add on’ in-line processes like foil stamping, decorative over-varnishing to create embossing and, currently of high interest, creating in one machine pass multi-layer labels for pharmaceuticals and OTC medicines to accommodate all the ingredient/usage data and remove the need for a separate leaflet.

Flexo, hybrid, and pure digital label presses are all today increasingly serving the label industry for both long and short print runs, greatly expanding the pressroom options for converters, and making it possible to meet brand owner customers’ just-in-time delivery and versioning/special editioning requirements.

It is a fact of life today that converters are no longer restricting their output to the single PS label technology. We are seeing increasing numbers of converters engaging in the production of sleeve labels, cartons, and flexible packaging, as well as in the addition of specialist enhancements such as augmented reality devices to act as on-pack ‘communicators’ with their individual customers, which represents, for brand owners, an invaluable data source. Along with the ever-increasing need for VIP labels to meet the requirements of today’s transportation and logistics industries – in terms not only of track-and-trace and stock and inventory management, but also for product authentication (for example, RFID-enabled labels) – these are unquestionably areas where converters will add to and enhance their portfolios.

Environmental concerns

Today, of course, one of the prime issues facing the packaging market in general is the question of recyclability – and PS labels are not immune. The relatively small amounts of waste incurred at label converters, compared to other packaging; and the mixed nature of such waste (clean adhesive-coated label laminate, printed/diecut laminate, matrix waste, siliconized release liner); have created the need for special waste collection/recycling. It is true to say that today there is an increasing number of such solutions available to label converters that make it possible for the high-quality raw materials employed by PS technology to find a second life – and this statement is increasingly true around the globe.

Food labels: ink migration

The faster on-press ink cures possible with UV and EB on today’s label presses are contributing to a solution for an additional international concern, headlined by international brand owners such as Nestlé: printing ink migration from labels/packaging into the foods themselves. With a 27% global share, food labeling is, of course, the largest overall end-use market segment for PS – mainly for prime labels – and the flexo print process is well-equipped to cope with food’s special requirements.

Looking ahead

AWA conducts an annual online survey with leading players across the global label and product decoration value chain, and last year’s survey confirmed a positive future for the PS label market. Asked to say which label technologies offer the highest future growth potential, heat shrink sleeves were identified by 31% of respondents and pressure-sensitive labels by 23% – the highest scores for any relevant technology.

The growth rates for PS labels in developed markets are increasing slightly slowing and, at a CAGR to end 2020, generally forecast to exceed the growth in GDP at 5.6%. Since penetration levels in key end-use markets are already high – especially in the developed North American, European, and Japanese markets, China and India are the major regional drivers for growth, and Brazil is expected to continue to recover after the volume declines of recent years.

The rate of development of volumes in new or different end uses will unquestionably be frustrated by competition from alternative labeling formats and packaging systems. Cost pressures will certainly rise, given the complexity and nature of the PS laminate construction; and environmental considerations will intensify in their scope across the entire value chain, from raw material supplier to brand owner and consumer.

Film-based labelstocks will continue to grow at a faster rate for prime labels than paper-based stocks, but VIP labels will drive overall pressure-sensitive label growth globally.

In the developed geographical markets, one potentially important driver for growth in PS volumes is the currently-underdeveloped decorated products market – toys are a good example – and the ease and flexibility offered by the PS format to change label design and content, including language, to better target regional consumer groups. End-use markets for future development also include food (prime label and VIP); beverage (prime label); transport and logistics (VIP); pharmaceuticals (prime label and security label); and personal and healthcare products (prime label).

This is certainly confirmation that the extensive specialist supply chain that represents the pressure-sensitive label industry can expect to continue to enjoy successful and growing business in the increasingly-competitive packaging print market, which can unquestionably look forward to an extremely positive future.

%d bloggers like this: