A Toast to Trends

30 Mar.,2023


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The wine industry is bursting with new blends and the growing craft beer phenomenon shows little sign of slowing. More products mean that consumers have more options than ever before, but it also means that shelves are crowding. Achieving the moment of truth is becoming more difficult and beer, wine and spirits labels need to cut through the noise to trigger a purchase.

As the alcoholic beverage market expands, label printing methods, finishing options and available substrates have experienced their own growth. To succeed on-shelf, label printers need to be on the pulse of the latest packaging trends to win over customers.

More Beer, More Labels

One trend that has stood out in the label industry over the past few years is a surge in SKU proliferation, especially in the craft beer market. Dave Collins, marketing director, specialty at Avery Dennison, explains that recently the craft beer market has seen growth somewhere in the 18 to 20 percent range.

This, Collins says, is also a large reason why digital printing has become popular in the industry. Printers use digital printing as an economical response to the influx of short runs.

“There are no longer three or four holiday beers on the shelves, there are dozens,” he says. “There’s more money [being made] at grocery stores selling beer than there is ketchup. So there is an increase in shelf space being dedicated to [beer].”

For that matter, there are dozens of varieties for each season — some local, many nationally and internationally distributed. So, how is it possible that each variety can expect to stand out on shelf?

“Historically, craft beer in general has been labeled with high gloss, a glossy white label or a metallized label,” Collins says. “We see a lot of different materials being used. The materials being used are trying to get shelf appeal or differentiate themselves more than they have in the past, which is what we see in the wine and spirits market.”

One way some craft brewers are looking to create unique packaging is by using applied ceramic lettering, or ACL, to print directly on the bottles, says Helder Teles, vice president of sales and marketing of ASL Print FX, a Vaughan, Ontario-based label printer. ACL applies inks directly to the surface of the bottle and then is either heated or treated with UV lights. This technique prevents the label from being damaged or removed and serves as an interesting alternative to traditional labeling.

Dave Clements, director of market development at Oak Printing Company — which manufactures labels for more than 50 craft brewers in North America — explains that uncoated stock paper is now popular with brewers who want a rustic look and feel, versus the traditional metallic and glossy labels. There is a trend of brewers turning to the wine and spirits industry for inspiration when it comes to label design and techniques. As Teles explains it, wine has traditionally used uncoated paper, or “old world basic” stocks with simple colored inks, which are now increasingly being used in the beer label revolution.

So, what’s the reason that breweries are taking a page out of wineries’ books? It seems that many beers are moving toward a similar price point to wine bottles. The shelf impact of labels with metallized films, heavy embossing, thicker paper and tactile feels helps to further differentiation of all the brands on-shelf, Collins explains.

It’s also evident that determining a labeling technique is crucial, as it can depend on the amount of product being produced to make the most economical decision. In the beer industry, cut and stack is used more frequently for larger print runs, while smaller runs trend toward pressure sensitive.

“A lot of brewers [brewing fewer than 18,000 barrels per year] are in pressure sensitive labels because they don’t have the capital to invest in a cut and stack applicator,” Clements says. “Cut and stack is much less expensive than pressure sensitive, so that’s why brewers reaching critical volume will move away from pressure sensitive to cut and stack.”

Although the variation in packaging requires different printing techniques to match the needs of each packaging type, there has also been a shift in label placement and quantity. Clements explains that traditionally, filling equipment was very inconsistent. A neck label was applied to mask the inconsistent fill level, along with a face and back label — which was the industry standard in bottle labeling. Now, as filling equipment has gotten significantly more accurate — with a fill level that is virtually the same in every bottle — many companies have eliminated the neck label, cutting time and costs. Some bottles have even shifted to a large one-piece face label, cutting time and cost variables even further.

‘New Wrinkles’ in Wine

Material trends in general are moving toward pressure sensitive to meet the demands of more variety and fewer mass quantity labels. Traditionally, wine — an overall more mature market than beer — and more recently spirits, have used pressure sensitive labeling, which gives way to greater creativity in shorter print runs. Although wine has been using this printing technique for 20 to 30 years and spirits for around 10 to 15 years, beer has been slowly evolving to use this technique.

“Part of the beauty of pressure sensitive is that you can do a lot more differentiation in terms of material and adding value — such as embossing, stamping and complex diecutting,” Collins says.

Rather than companies using conventional rectangle or circular labels, pressure sensitive labeling allows for various shapes, complex punch-outs and multiple labels. This type of labeling also allows for more spontaneity in design. If some element of the design needs to be changed after the process has already started, it will not disrupt the entire process.

“When Smirnoff goes from two flavors to 100-plus flavors that all need different labeling, part of the appeal of pressure sensitive is changeover downtime,” Collins continues. “It allows you to do a lot of late-stage differentiation. Even in labeling cans or bottles, theoretically you can make that bottle or can decorated any way you want at any point in time during the course of the process.”

The wine and spirits industry has branched out to a broader spectrum of labeling substrates as more varietals and blends become popular. Teles explains that wineries are beginning to use brighter colors, more intricate designs, and foiling and embossing to target a younger demographic. Many wineries are experimenting with new and innovative effects such as thermochromatic inks — temperature-activated color changing inks — to appeal to a wider consumer base. To that end, many wine and spirits companies have design agencies that are heavily involved with the labeling process, delving deeper into the interests of the consumer and developing a keen understanding of what is most likely to catch their eye.

“Wineries are getting more sophisticated in understanding their markets,” Teles says. “They need print capabilities and execution that is sensitive and aware of what they’re trying to accomplish.”

The Evolution of Design

As printing techniques continue to adapt to the ever-changing beer, wine and spirits label industry, so too must the designs. Not only is it imperative that a label convey the emotion and feeling of the product inside, it must also be something consumers will be able to recall and locate at a later date.

“You may not remember the name, but you will remember a bold visual,” Christopher Hayes, principal at Forthright Strategic Design says. “The No. 1 function of a brand’s label is to help a consumer repeat a successful purchase.”

So, how has the label industry evolved in the past few decades? In the wine industry, Hayes explains that wineries began turning to black and red labels to evoke emotions of power and sensuality. But after five or six years of a black and red label explosion, a new trend of “sophisticated horror” seems to have taken its place. Hayes points out that many of these labels feature twisted trees, ravens and malevolent spirits. One wine in particular he mentions is “Carnivor” that has a black label featuring a griffin-like creature and a jagged slash diecut across the front.

When it comes to substrates, Hayes says that there isn’t one specific material that is driving popularity, rather, that the substrate must fit within the product’s “story”.

“There is no one magic substrate that is going to make a great wine label,” he says. “But the choice between coated paper or uncoated paper is always an important one.”

Hayes adds that there are more options for design when printing on a conventional web press, but that digitally printing a label is often ideal for small production wines.

Another important consideration of label design and printing is to have a thorough understanding of your target audience. Although the most sought after group of wine drinkers at the moment is millenials, it consists of a fairly wide range of consumers ages 18 to 34. Because someone in their 20s buys very differently than someone in their 30s, it’s important for beer and wine label designers to have a concrete understanding of their audience.

No matter what decision is made, the printing and design must come together in a singular, cohesive label.

“It’s the substrate, it’s the technique that you use — hot foil stamping, varnishing, the colors you choose, the name — it all comes together to support your creative concept,” Hayes says. “There’s no single one of those techniques that is a magic bullet.”

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