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I was asked to write something. I wrote it and submitted it. It wasn’t what they wanted (too much opinion apparently - I’m a blogger, not a journalist). So, rather than waste my hard work, here’s an edited version of the feature (plus if they do use any of my words then here’s proof of what I wrote and they can pay me). A lot of it is the business side of things aimed at the global brand market but towards the end, under The Future, are some interesting and different possibilities for extra-sensory beer labelling, which I think is pretty cool.

Three billion square meters of labelling was used for beer bottles in 2008 - enough to wrap around all of the land on earth twice – but in increasingly competitive markets how do brands stand out on the crowded shelf and what technology exists to help them?

Beer is the largest packaged beverage market in the world, surpassing even water.In a saturated market – on- and off-trade – breweries need to mark themselves apart from the rest, whether this is with the graphic design, the blurb on the back of the label, the container or additional packaging. The global brands succeed by filling shelf space, often helped by large, boldly branded multi-packs. The national, regional and micro-breweries, along with imports, face tougher challenges, needing to appeal more broadly in cramped conditions. The container and the design create the first impression but in an industry with many geographical differences, having a brightly-coloured logo isn’t always enough.

The worldwide figures from 2007 showed that 65% of beer was packaged in glass bottles, 31% in metal cans and 3% in PET (Polyethylene terephthalate – plastic bottles). Alexander Watson Associates, who have extensively researched beer bottle labelling, estimate that in 2008, 84% of labelling was paper and wet glue and 8% was made up of PSL (pressure-sensitive labels). Additionally, 5% of global label volumes were glue-applied wrap around film materials, which accounts for a large number of the PET market. A significant volume of the PSL market is also film-based, including full-sleeve labels, which can be heat- or stretch-applied to any shaped bottle wrapping it in a 360-degree design, and the ‘no-look’ transparent label.

Pressure-Sensitive Labels

“The use of filmic pressure-sensitive labels first featured in the US as breweries looked to revamp their image and realize greater appeal to younger drinkers with changed bottle shapes and more ‘modern’ labelling. The answer was a clear ‘no label’ look film pressure-sensitive material replacing the traditional opaque white or metalized paper,” says Dr William Llewellyn, of Alexander Watson Associates. “The trend is toward film-based materials taking increasing shares of the label market – in general and for beers.”

The use of pressure sensitive technology is continuing to grow - in 2003 the PSL market was less than 2%, now it’s approaching a 10% share - but what benefits are there to using PSL over paper and glue? What you get with PSL is much greater variety and a modern premium brand look, as Matt Davies, Marketing Manager of Spear, says: “Graphics can utilise clear, metalized, opaque, film and paper substrates while also incorporating unique die-cuts and special effects like stamp foils.”

“PSL performance is far more durable and allows for pre-fill labelling with the ability to survive pasteurization and ice-baths,” says Davies. “Application of PSL is more exact in placement, more efficient in up-time while eliminating the need for glue start-up/clean-up and half the changeover times of paper and glue... Because of the PSL application process brewers regularly see double digit through-put improvements that often times more than off-set the slight increase in label price to provide the lowest total applied labelling costs.”


While glass might be the market leader worldwide, in developing markets it is facing strengthening competition from PET where, as Sidel’s Business and Communications Manager, Sylvie Rak, says: Many factors are spurring the change, including new legislation regarding deposit and recycling systems, marketing strategies, shape and format diversification – especially for larger sizes – and energy-saving issues.” In difficult economic times, the desire for cheap products is seeing PET do increasingly well in Eastern European and Asian markets, taking a 10% market share (compared to the overall worldwide share of 3%). Here, beers can be packaged in PET bottles up to 2.5 litres in volume, a size which is not economically viable for glass, particularly at the lower-price end of the market where plastic sees the most gains. But it isn’t just at the economy-price level and PET bottles penetrate the whole market where the combination of lightweight package and lower transportation and storage costs mean that PET offers good profitability throughout. Adding to these benefits, the bottle design can also be highly progressive, taking in any shape the brewery desires and appealing visually on the shelf: “Sidel is challenging the beer market, shaking up the beer bottle’s traditional image with really innovative shapes,” says Rak.

The growth of PET and PSL, together and individually, has been influenced by the different geographical beer markets. “PSL are most often found on premium positioned brands regardless of the region or bottle format,” says Matt Davies, but “the number one labelling driver is if the market is primarily a one-way or returnable packaging format.”

Davies explains: “PSL was first introduced in the one-way market and it has a much higher market penetration in this arena (USA and Western Europe) than in the currently evolving returnable PSL market (Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa).”

“In some markets, the law regarding deposits is significantly boosting the market share of beer in PET bottles because the material is light, clean, shatterproof and recloseable,” explains Sylvie Rak. Now technology is developing to facilitate the return market, “Spear, CCL, and Avery [developed] label facestocks using PP [polypropylene] and PET laminates that react to the temperature of bottle washing baths and ease label removal,” explains Dr Llewellyn.

Beyond these labelling techniques, plastic and glass bottles can also be directly printed onto, so why use a middle man when you can go straight onto the package? The popular ‘no-look’ label is taken to the next stage: the ‘no label’. Glass and plastic can be blown into imaginative shapes too, have text embossed onto them or designs incorporated, adding an extra tactile feeling to the bottle. They can also be spray-coated in matt or gloss, making them any colour, which can then be printed onto. The bottle cap could be used as the identifying factor along with the bottle shape. Or 6-packs could be the only branding with the card box showing all the necessary information. With these new developments, and the increase in design possibilities, could labels soon find themselves an unnecessary extra?

Can the Label

Along with plastic and glass, aluminium is the other dominant material used for beer. Cans account for over 30% of the worldwide beer market, they are recyclable, environmentally friendly and lightweight and they don’t require any labels as they are printed directly, allowing for metallic finishes, bright colours, 360-degree design and great visual appeal. Beyond this is the Rexam Fusion aluminium bottle, essentially a bottle-shaped can, and it’s printed in a similar way to regular cans. The designs look great with the possibility of a multitude of finishes, from matt to gloss and full colour, incorporating embossing if it’s desired, while also making it possible to print photo-quality onto the container. As Stephen Howell, Breakthrough Innovations Manager at Rexam Beverage Can, explains: “It’s cold to touch, giving the anticipation of refreshment; there’s the visual impact of silver metal; it’s lightweight and portable; it’s cool, trendy and new; sustainable and 100% recyclable with a low carbon footprint; it’s also resealable for 'on the go' consumption.”

Budweiser’s ‘World cup’ bottle, which has launched in the UK, is an example of the new aluminium bottles, developed by Exal. They will “create ‘talkability’ in a bar environment, with their eye-catching design,” says Budweiser Marketing Director for Western Europe, James Watson. It’s a matt-finish silver and red with the trophy glowing golden in the centre, designed to appeal to the beer-drinking, football-watching crowds where one bottle at 473ml is ‘perfect for 45-minutes of football’. The beer inside the container is exactly the same as it always is, but it will appeal differently, renovating the brand for a short burst and perhaps turning drinkers towards the idea of aluminium as a real option for the future.

The Future

The possibilities of PSL are vast and the next generations are constantly being developed – better wash-off label technology, UV inks and custom holograms are just some being worked on. An interesting view on the next generation is taken by Pete Hollingsworth of FutureBrand, who believes that “opportunities for growth in sensorial design in the drinks industry are huge.” In this, brands are able to connect with the consumer in new ways in the off-trade with designs which appeal to all the senses.

Hollingsworth uses Guinness as an example: “Imagine picking up a multipack that has used a soft silk print finish. Not the usual varnish or laminate. Here the consumer will receive a direct sensory link to the product... Why is this important? Senses trigger memories, recall brand experiences. And combining certain sensory points in the same product can result in indelible brand associations, strengthening loyalty and helping to drive increased sales.” Imagine a barrel-aged beer packaged in a wooden box or a fruit beer with a scented label, these extra cues are simple but can be very effective, particularly in making them stand out. Even using a higher-quality paper can have a huge impact, particularly with high-end products.

The label design can also prompt taste in its extra-sensory ability. A label of a sun-bathed beach with palm trees and lapping blue waves is synonymous with relaxing in the warm sun on holiday and it creates a desire to drink an ice cold beer – if the beer inside that bottle can reflect this taste then it will be successful (a Proustian Madeleine in the shape of a beer bottle). It works with other examples: a label covered in bold green hops will be...? A cherry-red label will taste like...? A black label with coffee beans on...? Using these cues an expectation of taste can be appealed to and particular thirsts can be elicited meaning that the brewer (and the marketers) can influence flavours and anticipations.

Looking Beyond

Beyond the container and design, breweries are using extra tricks to help shelf standout. Four- and six-packs fill more space on a shelf, making them more visible than a single bottle, while also providing extra packaging and therefore extra branding space. Scottish brewery BrewDog have recently introduced a ‘Win’ neck tag on bottles in UK supermarkets. The neck tag is a reflection of their facetious nature, drawing you in to look but then telling you that there is no prize because: ‘At BrewDog we spend our money onawesome ingredients and on brewing thebest craft beer we can, not on frivolouscompetitions.’ Whether impressed with the bluff or not, a browsing customer will likely pick up the bottle and look at it closer. Other additions could include (real) competitions, a branded bottle opener could be attached to the bottle neck, perhaps a branded glass can be offered once six bottle caps have been collected (get the glass, put it in the cupboard, then every time the customer opens the cupboard they’ll see the glass and think about the beer), or thermo-chromic colour-change technology which tells you when your beer is cold enough to drink.

Shelf standout is more than simply looking good, particularly on a busy shelf. In a world where 2 litre plastic bottles can compete with 275ml glass bottles, and cans can now be shaped like bottles, the continued success and strength of the beer industry is its ability to renovate itself and perpetually develop to better suit existing and new markets, geographically, physically, visually and economically. Bottles and paper-and-glue labels are still number one but other techniques offer vastly different and broader options. Breweries need to become smarter and more conscious of what they can do with their packaging to help them stand out on the tightly loaded shelves where a consumer likely knows what they want to buy. Extra-sensory labels might offer that ‘something different’ or it might just be a nice idea in principle, cans might be the future, plastic bottles could increase worldwide... The packaging and the label is the shop window, if you want someone to come inside and take a look around then it needs to attract the target market in its particular area. There is no one right answer to what works and what doesn’t, but there are many options for a brewery to think about.

Can you see any changes coming in the labelling and packaging market? What attracts you to a new bottle? What beers stand out on the shelves right now?