Variable information printing (VIP) is the generic term given to any printing technology that gives the capability to print unique human readable data, barcodes, or graphics on individual items – whether this be a label, tag, ticket, poster, or direct marking.
This is a growing requirement in today’s world of mass customization and has become a part of our everyday lives. Product identification is important for consumers and manufacturers alike, not just at item level but even at component level. Supply chain efficiency has increased significantly across retail and manufacturing industries worldwide with the adoption of barcode technology throughout their distribution network.By AWA | Alexander Watson Associates
Pressure-sensitive label market overview
To understand the significance of the pressure-sensitive VIP label market, it is first necessary to look at the global pressure-sensitive label market. In 2020, AWA estimate the global pressure-sensitive label market grew by 3.9% to a volume of 27,520 million square meters, equivalent to 40% of the total global label market.
AWA defines four principal application categories for pressure-sensitive labels:
- VIP labels
- primary product labels
- functional/security labels
- and promotional labels
VIP labels currently account for 48% of the global pressure-sensitive label market. Primary product labels are the second category at 43% of the global market, followed by functional/security labels and promotional labels with 5% and 4% shares, respectively.
Over recent years there have been shifts in the application segments that show the highest growth and greatest future potential. All pressure-sensitive label application segments show growth for the year 2020. However, in 2020, both VIP and primary product label application experienced significant growth across all regions as the demand for food, healthcare & personal care, household chemicals, and transport & logistics/e-commerce increased. This was especially the case between the second and third quarters, when most countries entered quarantine/lockdown related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Global pressure-sensitive VIP label market
Globally, VIP pressure-sensitive labels represent 13,166 million square meters in 2020. The application category grew 5.3% in 2020 and is forecast to keep a healthy annual growth rate of 4.8% between 2020 and 2023. Linerless labels account for about 5% of VIP labels globally.
The VIP label application, now more than ever, has been supporting manufacturing and logistics during the COVID-19 pandemic by supplying the necessary label products used for conveying information related to movement, traceability, size/weight, and other variable information. Not all end-use segments were impacted equally by this outbreak. Companies serving e-commerce experienced a surge in demand as consumers opted for online shopping, as they became hesitant or could not shop in-person – physically.
End-use market segments
Transport & logistics is the largest end-use segment for VIP pressure-sensitive labels, accounting for 30% of the global market. Retail is the second largest segment and represents 17% of the global market.
Much of the global growth in VIP label applications is a direct result of the expansion of logistics activities such as e-commerce resulting in increased use of labels for distribution, stock and inventory management; transportation; track-and-trace; and product authentication, etc., that constitute an increasing part of the complex logistics chain. Asia is the largest regional market for this segment.
Retail applications represent another growth driver for VIP labels, particularly in relation to the major supermarket chains’ continuing need for price/weigh information, as well as RFID-enabled labels. Europe holds the highest market share within this end-use segment.
Globally paper account for most of the material used as pressure-sensitive VIP label facestock. Thermal paper accounts for about 50% of the pressure-sensitive VIP label market. This is divided in direct thermal and thermal transfer. Thermal transfer labels have a durable image stability, as the labels can withstand temperature extremes, ultraviolet exposure, chemicals, sterilization, and more, making them ideal for industrial applications. Direct thermal labels are perfect for applications requiring only a short shelf life. Shipping labels and receipts are suitable applications, for instance, while product labels are not. Growth for direct thermal labels is driven by their simplicity to operate compared to most other print technologies because there is no ink, toner, or ribbon to monitor or replenish.
Coated paper accounts for 32% of the market. Coated labels are known for glossy and smooth properties, making them ideal for containing variable information, such as traceability or inventory. This type of label often has a short lifecycle, but it is essential to provide basic information for efficient and fast warehouse management.
Asia is the leading region for pressure-sensitive VIP labels with a 35% share of the global market, followed by Europe at 31%, and North America at 27%. Asia also showed the highest growth rate in 2020 at 7.2%. North America and Europe experienced good growth rates as well at 4.5% and 4.3% respectively. Looking forward to 2023, we expect Asia to show the highest annual growth at 7.6%, followed by Africa & the Middle East at 4.5%.
VIP labels account for 50% of the European pressure-sensitive label market and represent 4,129 million square meters. Pressure-sensitive VIP labels experienced a growth rate of 4.3% in 2020, with a forecast CAGR% of 2.7% between 2020 and 2023.
Within the European pressure-sensitive VIP label application, transport & logistics has the biggest market share at 26% and this segment will continue to hold its position with the growth of e-commerce. This is especially the case within Western and Central Europe, which is the largest e-commerce market in Europe. Retail is the second-largest segment and accounts for 23%.
In 2020, due to COVID-19, sales through e-commerce expanded rapidly. Recently online grocery shopping in Europe has seen significant growth – the main reason behind the change is convenience. The industrial segments for VIP suffered the most due to lockdowns as the production halted globally for several months. Positive opportunities are presented by durable labels for the pharmaceuticals and consumer durables markets.
AWA estimate that the total volume of pressure-sensitive labels used for VIP label applications in North America in 2020 approximated to 3,494 million square meters – equivalent to 52% of the total North American pressure-sensitive label market. North American pressure-sensitive VIP label application experienced a growth rate of 4.5% in 2020, with a forecast CAGR% of 3.8% between 2020 and 2023.
Key factors behind the use of North American VIP label volumes are strong e-commerce activity increase in North America, strong retailer networks across the US and Canada, established distribution centers and networks serving the manufacturing and retail sectors, increasing demand for additional variable information, e.g., in the printing of labels for mail order pharmaceuticals, and increased demand for mobile printing.
Papers command a significant share of the North American VIP facestock market with films and synthetic materials continuing to increase slowly, and still representing a significantly smaller VIP label market share.
VIP pressure-sensitive label applications in 2020 are estimated at 4,671 million square meters or 45% of the total Asian pressure-sensitive label production. Pressure-sensitive VIP labels experienced a growth rate of 7.2% in 2020, with a forecast CAGR% of 7.6% between 2020 and 2023.
Key factors that drove the VIP market growth in Asia include the growth of e-commerce. This was already booming in Asia prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, but the pandemic increased its popularity. The Asian e-commerce market is expected to continue to grow in the coming years, leading to an increase in logistics activity and increased demand for VIP labels. Another factor has been the development and expansion of retail operations and distribution networks in emerging markets.
Within the Asian pressure-sensitive VIP label market, transport & logistics accounts for the biggest end-use segment with a market share of 46%. In Asia this segment is primarily driven by its high volume due to its large base of customers, including China and India – each with over one billion people. Retail is the second largest segment and accounts for 20% of the market.
In 2020, VIP pressure-sensitive labels grew in South America due to COVID-19 – as applications in the transport and logistics segment developed and expanded. Pressure-sensitive VIP labels experienced a growth rate of 2.9% in 2020, with a forecast CAGR% of 2.5% between 2020-2023. VIP labels currently represent 45% of the South American pressure-sensitive label market.
Retail is the largest end-use segment for VIP labels in South America, and accounts for 28% of the market. This is followed by food at 18% and transport & logistics with a 14% share.
Africa and the Middle East
VIP applications are in various stages of evolution across Africa and the Middle East. They represent an estimated 784 million square meters, or 31% of total pressure-sensitive label use. Pressure-sensitive VIP labels experienced a growth rate of 3.9% in 2020, with a forecast CAGR% of 4.5% between 2020-2023.
Retail and transport & logistics are the two biggest end-use segments for Africa and Middle East pressure-sensitive VIP labels, and account for 23% and 22% of the market, respectively.
The online retail industry in Africa and Middle East is undergoing a pivotal shift as e-commerce changes consumer behavior, which was accelerated by COVID-19, and disrupts traditional business models. One of the main challenges in the development of e-commerce is the logistics – as most of the countries in Africa & Middle East have a poor addressing system, which impacts the quality of the service. Further innovation and improvement in this space will directly impact the growth of e-commerce and consumption of pressure-sensitive VIP labels in this end-use segment.
Impact of COVID-19
This global pandemic has impacted consumer behavior profoundly in terms of what and how they are purchasing, and we might continue to experience this for the long term. Consumer priorities have become centered on the most basic needs, sending demand for hygiene, cleaning, and staples products soaring, while non-essential categories slump. E-commerce has also seen a boost as new consumers migrate online for grocery shopping – a rise that is likely to be sustained post-outbreak. Due to the radically different lifestyles caused by self-isolation, social distancing, and working from home, consumers prioritized spending more on essential items, such as food, health & personal care, and household chemicals.
The pressure-sensitive VIP label industry has been supporting manufacturing and logistics by supplying the necessary label products used for conveying information related to movement, traceability, size/weight, and other variable information. Not all end-use segments were impacted equally by this outbreak. For instance, companies serving e-commerce experienced a surge in demand as consumers opted for online shopping, while companies serving industrial segments, such as automotive and consumer durables experienced a downturn. Pharmaceutical is an end-use segment for pressure-sensitive VIP labels that grew significantly because of COVID-19, due to the demand for testing kits from various end users such as hospitals, laboratories, and academic institutions.