By AWA Alexander Watson Associates
Bottles, cans, and now flexible packaging… Beverage labels in general are a major component of the end uses for labels, and they employ all the major formats of printing and product decoration – glue applied labels (cold (wet) glue applied and wraparound); pressure-sensitive labels; heat shrink (TD) sleeve labels; in-mold labels (for crates); direct-printed glass bottles, PET bottles and metal cans; and large and small metal kegs, either labeled or direct printed.
Beers and wines today are also employing a wide variety of the currently-available packaging technologies, which in turn is creating new opportunities for label print. AWA’s research documents the changes that are additionally redefining the profiles of these two major end-user markets in every respect, in terms of products, sources, and volume consumption.
The Global Beer Market
The global beer market has been a focus for change for several years now, and continues to be an active source of emerging trends. While volume consumption of beer in the traditional markets of Europe and North America is reducing, the world’s leading beer market – China, representing 46% of global demand – is continuing to grow, albeit at a slower rate than before; and South America (16% global market share) and the Africa/Middle East region (12% global market share) are forecast to enjoy the highest-volume demand growth.
Regional Beer Label Demand by Volume
Both on a regional and global basis, there is considerable industry consolidation, and the marketplace is increasingly dominated by fewer, more powerful, brand owners and private-label brands from retailers. Interest in micro-breweries and craft breweries has been strong — many are now under the ownership of the major volume beer brands — and there has also been an increase in the creation of premium brands and ‘specialty’ beer flavors.
While China and the growth markets of India and Africa are focused on glass beer bottles, cans are now seeing growing popularity, particularly for craft beers, and are the packaging of choice in South America. In Europe, glass bottles dominate, but PET bottles are also popular in the east-European growth markets. In North America, cans dominate – particularly for craft beers – except in the region’s growth- driver area, Mexico, where bottles are largely still preferred.
Global Beer Packaging Styles
Label format choices
For both beer bottles and cans, glue-applied labels (including cold (wet) glue-applied and wraparound glue-applied labels) continue to dominate demand around the world, representing some 89% of usage, with pressure-sensitive labels at 10% of usage. Regionally, only in North America do pressure-sensitive labels enjoy a higher market share – some 40%. Heat-shrink sleeve labeling is making only a limited appearance in the beer market as yet – in Asia.
Choice of label format and substrate is influenced by choice of packaging style, which may include PET bottles as well as glass and metal cans; by the growing emphasis on sustainability factors/recycling; and by brand owners’ desire for ‘premiumization’, which may involve haptic and optic print qualities.
Long-run wet-glue and pressure-sensitive beer label print is mostly accommodated by sheet-fed offset and gravure. Narrow-web flexo and combination presses are, however, increasingly finding use for premium pressure-sensitive labeling applications, where label design, shape, substrate and combination of print processes deliver high-level brand quality. Digital technologies – alone or via combination presses — offer the flexibility for shorter runs and increasingly-popular customization, as well as the introduction of brand security devices.