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.
While the market for wines remains globally flat, it represents a strong opportunity for label print. Europe remains the largest wine producing region, with a 60% share, and a parallel share of label volumes; and North America and South America share second place, each with a 12% share. While China’s wine consumption – currently only 5% of the global market — is forecast to grow in parallel with its economic growth, India is currently offering a better medium-term development opportunity.
This is a highly-fragmented market. A label converter’s contact point with a customer may be the viticulturist/wine growing community, a local sales company, a distributor, or – in the case of a large-volume wine production company –a retail conglomerate. The top 20 wine producers hold an estimated market share of just <20% of global volumes, so from a packaging and labeling viewpoint this is unquestionably a regionally/locally focused marketplace.
Now retail dominates
Globally, wine production is currently evidencing a number of trends and innovations. Low-alcohol wines are enjoying popularity, as are single-service bottles. Most wine is now sold from the supermarket shelf and, as consumer studies indicate, 80% of customers who choose to pick up a bottle from the shelf will buy it – and therefore high-visibility product labeling is a strong requirement.
While, globally, the choice of packaging for wines remains focused on glass bottles, there is increasing evidence of the use of PET bottles and flexible packaging pouches – particularly for ‘on the go’ consumer consumption.
The increasing importance of the retail shelf for wines is also encouraging the use of a wider range of product decoration options, including direct-to-container digital print on glass and PET; decorative head-to-toe plastic shrink sleeves; and limited editioning/personalization. The ‘label’ also forms an integral part of the packaging for bag-in-box wine applications, gable-topped cartons and flexible pouches – all of which are gaining market share for high-volume wines today.
Wine label specification
While glue-applied labeling still claims 18% of the world market, pressure-sensitive labeling dominates wine label print, with a 79% global share in 2018. Typical glass wine bottle labeling will generally accommodate, as well as the main label, a back label, which will incorporate product authentication/brand security and regulatory product information requirements; and a neck label. For both ‘special’ bottles and supermarket wines, paper — both coated and uncoated — remains the leading choice of label facestock, but pressure-sensitive film labels have also brought the popular ‘no label look’ to retail wines – particularly apposite for white and rosé wines.
Another part of the label specification – particularly for white wines — may be the requirement to withstand immersion in an ice bucket when the wine is served, without delaminating from the bottle. Paper label qualities with built-in barrier coatings are available to meet this requirement, and this is an area where a plastic film label – an impermeable substrate – can offer a real advantage, retaining its good looks throughout its working life.
Applying the labels
As well as a wide choice of label substrates, pressure-sensitive wine labels arranged and printed together on the same release base offer another benefit for the wine industry. Costly-to-repair wet glue label application lines can be replaced with pressure-sensitive label applicator lines, which cleanly and accurately apply front, back, and neck labels to each bottle in a single machine pass. Such machines are now widely employed in individual vineyards to apply their own labels, and mobile bottling/labeling lines are also accessible for wine producers, particularly in California, at appropriate times of the year; and in many wine-producing countries,
Another economical solution for wine producers is to have eye-catching ‘generic’ pressure-sensitive labels printed in large quantities and then, annually, add details of vintage, varietal, etc as required by overprinting.
For the labeling and packaging of beer and wines, there is considerable activity in terms of innovation and creative print – and both these important features can be successfully explored by label converters, in both short- and long-run print jobs, and using the wide choice of printing technologies available to them.