While we've been talking about in-mold labeling (IML) for nearly two decades now, the technology is still a niche application, with a 2% share of the global labeling market. With all of the advantages of IML, one of the biggest deterrents is the long, complex supply chain that often means greater up-front costs. "The supply structure is complex with myriad suppliers," noted Corey Reardon, President and CEO at Alexander Watson Associates (AWA; Amsterdam), in his keynote presentation at the annual IMLCON/IMDCON conference that was held in Miami, FL, on Feb. 18 and 19.
That said, it is a dynamic industry. Europe is dominant, with the largest share of the global IML market in 2014 at 54%. North America has a 26% share. The Asia-Pacific region has 13% of the global IML market, Brazil holds just 3%, and Africa has 4%. "With an IML growth rate of 5.1%, North America has the most attractive growth opportunities," said Reardon. "It's less in Europe (1.8%), where there are high penetration levels of the technology."
The majority of in-mold labels are injection molding applications (69%), while thermoforming represents a mere 1% of the market. The extrusion blow market is doing well with 30% of the in-mold label market. "Extrusion blow is seeing higher growth potential for in-mold labels," commented Reardon.
Some of the trends in IML include increasingly higher expected growth rates for the IML injection molding format in North America and higher growth rates for the IML extrusion blow format expected in Africa and the Middle East, "but this has to be placed in the context of the low starting volumes," Reardon noted. "In Europe, both IML extrusion blow and IML for injection molding growth are modest in line with a mature market profile. The region is still the single largest market for in-mold labels."
North America continues to develop domestic production of IML injection molding and enjoys high growth rates for this format, while the IML extrusion blow market is stabilizing. In Asia, growth for both IML injection molding and IML extrusion blow is expected to be lower in 2014 than in 2013. South American growth for both formats is also expected to be lower than in 2013. In Africa and the Middle East, growth rates look promising with a forward-looking CAGR of nearly 5%, but that is partly due to the low starting point, Reardon explained.
In spite of the complex IML supply chain that includes the mold designer/moldmaker, label maker, molder, resin supplier and customized automation supplier, Duncan Henshall, Market Director for Taghleef Industries Inc. (Dubai, UAE), sees good opportunities in the pipeline. Taghleef develops, produces and markets BOPP, OPP and BoPLA film for the graphics arts industry, food packaging and label applications such as pressure-sensitive and self-adhesive labels.
Henshall remarked that the expanding North American market for IML applications is driven by big brand promotions, new IML functions, new brands coming into the market, new product segments and even an increase in popular consumer items such as baby diaper brands.
New IML functionality along with innovation will allow IML to meet new technology demands such as its use in barrier packaging; creating marketing appeal such as textures, metallic looks and tactile labels; and variable information. "We're also seeing greater teamwork amongst suppliers with a focus on integrated IML solutions," said Henshall. "Innovation is a result of a network of connected ideas and knowledge. It's taking an idea and turning it into a customer solution."
Henshall noted that he's also seeing new packaging applications in high-value markets such as paint pails and neutraceutical containers with in-mold labels in high-impact, decorative and eye-catching metallic colors, which also allows differentiation among family groups of products.
For any brand owner looking to make the dive into IML, particularly for high-value packaging applications, Henshall advises them to "choose partners with great networks and networking capabilities, and to partner with dedicated, knowledgeable and experienced companies. Then network, network, network!"