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30-08-17 - Jules Lejeune, FINAT
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Some thoughts on labelling today and tomorrow...

In a world that is currently undergoing the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’, it is not surprising that our world of labelling is also experiencing major change – at all levels…

Labels have never seemed more central to the overall packaging sector! As any converter will tell you, they are today not just glue applied or self-adhesive, but also shrink, stretch, and sleeves, folding cartons, and in-mould labels, and even undertake the role of ‘label print’ on today’s increasingly-popular flexible packaging pouches.

Brand owner benefits

This has brought a whole new range of options for our brand owner customers: different ways to enhance their supermarket on-shelf appeal promote their products. In fact, in Europe, as our FINAT RADAR market survey shows, the ‘label’ market will grow this year at nearly 3.5% overall on average. But although they are definitely employing all the available imaging options, the brand owners contacted in our survey told us that more than 70% of them do not intend to migrate away from the core technology -- self-adhesive labels – to any other label format in the near future. In recent years, of course, many have embraced shrink sleeves as an additional, trendy option, but it begins to look as if that market may be maturing because last year, 26% of them said they would switch some business to sleeves, but this year, only 17% claim they will do so.

Staying with the brand owners, there are also those new and striking label-related options for promoting to consumers: mass personalization, like the hugely-successful Coca-Cola named bottle campaign, and, indeed, ‘limited editions’ of drinks and other products for leading sporting events and music festivals.

Our digital partnership

These options are, of course, the result of the considerable developments in the digital print technologies, which have now unquestionably moved into the mainstream label printing arena, both in-line with the traditional print processes and as standalone providers. FINAT label converter members have always been keen innovators, and in today’s market where customers demand just-in-time delivery, enhanced graphics, shorter run lengths and, of course, lower costs, the digital options are enhancing both their pressroom capabilities – and their profitability.

While digital print has been a major contributor for many years now in terms of variable information print, its enhanced capabilities for high-quality graphics are enabling many more applications. Multi-versioning of products – particularly in the personal care products market – and, of course, language changes for an increasingly-global brand marketplace – are additional opportunities for digital print today.

Returning to the product identification and authentication sphere, the massive increase in online consumer purchasing has brought even more business for VIP applications via thermal transfer and laser on individual consumer packaging for mail delivery.

For sure, all the possibilities for digital print have not yet been explored, and we can look forward to many more enhancements to both its capabilities – and its uses. One aspect which we need to watch in relation to labelling is the development of direct-to-container digital ‘label’ print, which is claimed to bring environmental and cost- and time-saving benefits over traditional labelling methods, and which changes the entire route to market.

Label materials – an amazing portfolio

The available choices in label substrates, across the board, are also broadening. The growing share of labelling films in total self-adhesive materials consumption, particularly in water-sensitive end-use areas like personal care products – has encouraged usage beyond the ‘no label look’. Papers, with their broad range of qualities ranging from ultra-smooth, pure, low-gram-weight options to lovely rich ‘touch and feel’ luxury finishes, are also contributing in wider application arenas, including tamper-evident seals and, of course, and covert security solutions within the paper itself.

The environment, the law

Environmental concerns are a major focus for the entire labelling industry around the world, and FINAT – along with the regional label associations and some of the world’s leading material manufacturing companies – continue to work on defining and developing systems for making labels earth-friendly. Release liner is a good example – technically ‘label waste’ once used, it is still a high-value, high-quality product with plenty of second-life opportunities. The challenge is that, compared to other waste incurred in packaging plants and at brand owners’ premises, release liner volumes are comparatively tiny, so arranging material-specific collection and recycling can be problematical. We’re all working on it – and beginning to see results!

Another platform where the label industry is deeply involved is that of international and regional legislation, coupled with health and safety issues. In FINAT, we monitor all such developments, both in the EU and worldwide – such as the REACH chemical legislation -- for the benefit of our members, and keep them updated. A good example is the safety of inks for use on food packaging -- a strong area of current attention, particularly in relation to the possibility of migration from label print into the actual product within a container. While, together with the national associations, we have issued guidance for members and we work with other industry associations to ensure across-the-board compliance, this is something we have to keep watching – particularly in view of today’s huge choice of packaging substrates.

Market challenges for label converters

While the label converting industry today is both an innovative and exciting platform, it is experiencing some challenges. According to our most recent research, apart from customers’ price reduction pressures, the demand for shorter lead times is creating a significant day-to-day challenge that their businesses face today.

We are all aware of the difficulty today of attracting young talent to the industry – both in terms of skilled pressroom operators and administrators. We want to renew the appeal of ‘labels’ as career opportunity in today’s digitised world, as they were considered fifty years ago when the self-adhesive label industry opened its doors – primarily as the small, local, family businesses which today are involved in both generation change and considerable merger and acquisition activity. We’re working on it!

A positive future

There is no doubt that prospects for the labelling industry in 2018 and beyond are looking good. Our statistics show that FINAT converter members grew their businesses, on average, by more than 5% in 2016. I’m sure `that – as imaging technologies, mainstream packaging options, and the wide-ranging influence of the ‘digital’ world expand – our expert, extended supply chain will continue to meet customers’ most challenging needs in the international and sometimes global arena that is today’s label marketplace.

labelling | packaging-sector | label-industry | brand-owner-benefits | digital-partnership | label-materials | market-challenges | environment