Peachtree peach liqueur

International Sleeve Label Conference addresses issues across the value chain

Sleeve labels represent 19% of the total global label market and will continue to grow at more than 5% annually.

Reynders Etiketten received an award
for its heat-shrink TD sleeve labels for Peachtree liqueur from De Kuyper
Royal Distillers.

A plethora of issues facing the sleeve label value chain were on the front burner at the AWA International Sleeve Label Conference and Exhibition held in Amsterdam this year. President and CEO Corey Reardon delivered the opening remarks to more than 120 delegates attending the two-day event.  

Reardon provided a review of the overall labeling and packaging market, showing “where sleeving fits in.” The data he presented confirmed that not only does it fit in, but today represents 19% of the total global label market. Its market share is equal to that of pressure-sensitive labels in primary product labeling. Reardon projects that the sleeve label market will enjoy a continuing healthy growth rate of 5.4% per annum.  

Reardon put sleeving in the context of growth trends across the full packaging and labeling landscape, from pressure-sensitive labels and flexible packaging to folding cartons and direct-to-container print, as well as M&A activity and industry consolidation. Sleeving covers different formats—heat shrink TD (trans-directional), stretch, ROSO MD (multi-directional) and RFS MD sleeving—and the outright winner in terms of volume, growth and popularity with brand owners is heat shrink TD sleeving. It enjoys an 89% share of the global sleeving market and is, of course, a very popular choice today in the beverage segment.

Jörg Schönwald, President of international business consultancy Schönwald Consulting, explored the ongoing success of flexible packaging in the European market as well as the challenges it faces, including the “huge variety of laminates,” which can be a problem both in production and the environment. In terms of overall flexible packaging volumes in 2018, usage was centered on the food & beverage and pet food sectors, which together absorbed 86% of the overall market. Schönwald underlined the possibilities for finding material solutions in the circular economy for flexible packaging; he also cited bioplastics, which are projected to grow 25% over the next five years but represent a tiny 1.5% of flexible packaging substrate consumption in Europe today.

Yo ho ho and a bottle of shrink-sleeve-wrapped Malibu rum

Then it was the turn of the first of the “customer voices” to be heard. Pernod Ricard Production Specialist Lucas Helferty informed attendees that his company uses "shrink sleeves to maintain our premium brand position, purchasing around 11 million shrink sleeves per year.” He detailed the case history of leading brand Malibu rum, which has benefitted from shrink sleeves in different manifestations for a number of years. Shrink sleeves, Helferty said, are the company’s choice for a number of reasons: They offer a 360⁰ printable area, which provides more flexibility to place design features and print mandatory information; print high-detail design elements; and, importantly, achieve consistent, high-visibility shelf standout.  

Pernod Ricard has also explored the latest option to drive consumer engagement and insights—the use of near field communication (NFC) and augmented reality. By embedding small, programmable NFC tags into labels, companies can create a dynamic interaction with consumers. A special version of the product’s packaging with this feature has already been launched in Germany and the UK; it will launch in the USA later this year.  

Helferty was uncompromising in his view of the future for sleeving. He urged brand owners to “continue to think big . . . and challenge converters and their suppliers to create solutions for your ideas.” Film and resin suppliers, ink suppliers and equipment manufacturers should aim to provide better performance without compromising current standards and, of course, deliver good environmental sustainability. “The future of shrink sleeves is everyone in this room,” were his parting words.

A consumer-centric approach

A consumer-centric approach to brand evolution and product lifecycle impact was addressed by Erik Troost, Retail and Trade Marketing Manager for L’Oréal’s Professional Products Division. He explained that the brand owner’s agenda for designing, producing and selling products today is very different from the traditional view of “the market,” which identifies four age categories, four income categories, two gender categories and four race/ethnicity categories. Today, the market is an “omni channel,” as described by Troost, just a single tribe with common values, and whose prime influences are social media and other online manipulators. In addition to this new marketing agenda, brand owners need to innovate in their choice of ingredients, manufacturing processes and, of course, packaging to ensure that they are sustainable. This is a broad challenge, but one that L’Oréal is already actively pursuing by offering refillable bottles and a shower-safe paper bottle, and using recycled and recyclable plastics.

Sleeves and recycling

Recycling challenges have long dogged the sleeving market. How sleeves corrupt recycling was the subject of the opening presentation in a conference session devoted to sustainability issues. The topic was addressed by Vincent Mooij, Head of Suez Circpack, a global resource management company.  

“The design focus of sleeves,” Mooij said, “has been centered on marketing factors and reduced-cost production, and this has created problems in recycling processes, for example, with NIR identification of sleeves versus bottles in sorting, and in mixed recycling with PET bottles and perforated sleeves.”  

Mooij provided a useful set of design guidelines for PET bottles and their labels and sleeves in the context of the requirements of the European Packaging Regulations. He invited the audience to “co-create the design for recycling and new recycling technologies.” His suggestions included chemical recycling, the use of robotic automation and AI, image recognition technology and watermarking.

Recycling was also addressed by Will Schretzman, Vice President of Packaging for Verst Group Logistics, an international provider of warehousing, transportation and contract packaging services. “Get in sync with recycled shrink” was his subject. “Perforated sleeves, which consumers can easily separate from plastic containers after use to make recycling less complicated, are contributing positively to the recycling agenda,” he said. However, he emphasized that no single solution addresses all issues. “We must increase the availability and quality of recycled materials, reduce confusion surrounding the recyclability of packaging components and improve the reliability of recyclability claims.

Sleeve label substrates

Technologies that are key to the successful creation of sleeve labels were a key part of the conference agenda. Highlights included:

  • SKC’s innovative APR-approved clear PET heat-shrinkable EcoLabel fully-recyclable sleeve label film, printed with washable inks;
  • Flint Group Narrow Web’s new-generation ink solutions;
  • troubleshooting seaming technology and solvent with Karlville’s new third-generation machines, which officially launched at Labelexpo; and
  • Sleeve Technology’s state-of-the-art autosplicer for sleeve film webs, which delivers high-speed automatic reel splicing and changing.

Print technologies were also featured, including Gallus detailing what printers need to know when printing monofilm sleeves and HP Indigo exploring when shrink sleeves go digital.

The formal agenda was supplemented by speaker/audience panel discussions, combined with an on-site tabletop exhibition, which offered extensive networking opportunities. The program also featured the presentation of AWA’s International Sleeve Label Awards to Reynders Etiketten (Belgium), Berkshire Labels (UK) and CCL Label (Austria).

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