Packaging's Road Map of Progress: Labels
Dan Muenzer, president of TLMI, sees innovative structural design as a “massively growing area” of opportunity for label producers. He notes that unique applications in piggyback, extended content and removable/reappliable labels tend to be invented more by printers and converters than by materials suppliers. He thinks this should spur producers to differentiate themselves by developing proprietary labeling solutions that “do something no one else can do.”
Solutions could include features that make labels “smart,” with functionality beyond print. According to Muenzer, labels with near field communication (NFC) tags that activate messaging on mobile devices are coming into wider use on premium packages.
Another technology gaining ground is augmented reality, which turns labels into gateways to multimedia experiences. Good examples, says Muenzer, are the interactive labels on 19 Crimes, a line of Australian wines in bottles that tell the grim stories of convicts transported to that continent; and labels bearing Heineken’s ubiquitous red star, used as an AR trigger for localized messaging about the beer around the world.
Labels of all types are benefiting from improvements in the film and paper stocks they are printed on, Muenzer notes.
Multilayer laminates of thin films add strength, reduce weight, save expense, increase functionality and improve recyclability. Paper stocks are standing up better to damage and environmental effects; surface treatments give them special properties such as germ resistance. And, as a glance down the wine or spirits aisle will show, paper label stocks are also getting better at looking good.
“There are very many aesthetic things that you can do with paper that you can’t do with film,” Muenzer says.
Making it all come together are multi-process production routines that combine printing and finishing techniques for high-efficiency label output, often in a single pass. In digital label production, says Muenzer, it isn’t uncommon for printers to spend three or four times as much money on finishing assets as they do on the press, so they can get the combinations of special effects their customers want. Becoming must-have for conventional production are in-line digital printing units that add variable information to the static content of press sheets.
Muenzer says that TLMI, a trade association for label industry suppliers and converters, is encouraged by the “megatrends” its strategic plan is keeping track of. Members report, for example, that their client conversations are taking place more on the brand side than on the purchasing side; an indication, Muenzer says, that the status of labels is “increasing exponentially” as an element of brand strategy.
Changes in consumers’ shopping habits are also reasons to keep an upbeat view. TLMI’s leadership, according to Muenzer, doesn’t expect labels to suffer from a shift away from in-store buying to ordering via computers and mobile devices. “We haven’t seen the importance of the label diminish at all in online retailing,” he says.