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SLEEVE LABEL MARKET: AWA conference covers important issues across the value chain

‘A full program focused on the issues facing the sleeve label market value chain’ was how AWA President and CEO Corey Reardon introduced the 2019 AWA International Sleeve Label Conference and Exhibition. Alternating between USA and Europe, the event was held this year in Amsterdam, and brought together over 120 delegates for the two-day agenda, representing the value chain for sleeve labeling.

Market profile

Reardon’s opening presentation was to provide 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 it represents 19% of the total global label market; holds an equal share, based on square meter volume of material used, of the primary product labeling market as that for pressure-sensitive labels; and will enjoy a continuing healthy growth rate of 5.4% per annum.

Reardon’s presentation effectively set sleeving in the context of growth trends across the full packaging and labeling market, from pressure-sensitive labels to flexible packaging, folding cartons, and direct-to-container print, as well as M&A activity and industry consolidation. Sleeving, however, covers different formats – heat shrink TD, stretch, ROSO™ MD, 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, and the challenges it faces – including the ‘huge variety of laminates’, which can be a problem in many ways, both for production and the environment. In terms of 2018 overall flexible packaging volumes, usage was centered on the food, petfood, and beverage sectors, which together took 86% of the overall market. Schönwald underlined the possibilities for finding material solutions in the circular economy for flexible packaging – which are already available, and include paper. He also cited bioplastics, which are projected to grow by 25% over the next five years, but which represent a tiny 1.5% of flexible packaging’s substrate consumption in Europe today.

Case history: Malibu rum

Then it was the turn of the first of the ‘customer voices’ to be heard, in the form of Pernod Ricard Production Specialist Lucas Helferty, who informed his audience that ‘we use shrink sleeves to maintain our premium brand position, and purchase 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, as well as their 360? printable area, more flexibility to place design features and print mandatory information; the ability to print high-detail design elements; and – importantly -- consistent, high-visibility shelf standout. Pernod Ricard have also explored the latest additional brand owner packaging option to drive consumer engagement and insights: the use of NFC and augmented reality, with a tag applied to the inside of the Malibu sleeve. A special version of the product’s packaging with this feature has already been launched in Germany and the UK and 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. His parting words were ‘The future of shrink sleeves is everyone in this room!’

‘A consumer-centric approach’ -- L’Oréal

‘A consumer-centric approach’ to brand evolution and product lifecycle impact was the topic then addressed by Erik Troost, Retail and Trade Marketing Manager for L’Oréal’s Professional Products Division. He explained that, today, the brand owner’s agenda for designing, producing, and selling products 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 Troost described it -- 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 to which L’Oréal are committed and already actively pursuing, offering refillable bottles, a shower-safe paper bottle, and using recycled and recyclable plastics.

Sleeves and recycling

‘How sleeves corrupt recycling’ was the subject of the opening presentation in the conference session devoted to sustainability issues. It was addressed by Vincent Mooij, Head of SUEZ Circpack®, the new service for brand owners and packaging producers to help improve the recyclability of their packaging from global resource management company SUEZ. The design focus of sleeves, he 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, and adjured the audience ‘let’s co-create the design for recycling – and let’s co-create new recycling technologies’. His suggestions included chemical recycling, robotization and AI, image recognition technology and watermarking.

Recycling was also addressed by Will Schretzman, Vice President of Packaging for Verst Group Logistics -- leading international providers 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, he said, contributing positively to the recycling agenda. However, he underlined, ‘no single solution addresses all issues’. We must increase the availability and quality of recycled materials, reduce the confusion surrounding the recyclability of packaging components, and improve the reliability of recyclability claims.

Sleeve label substrates, print, application

The technologies that are key to the successful creation of sleeve labels were of course a key part of the conference agenda -- including substrates and print. SKC’s innovative APR-approved clear PET heat-shrinkable EcoLabel™ fully-recyclable sleeve label film, printed with washable inks was highlighted, as were Flint Group Narrow Web’s new-generation ink solutions, designed and tested to deliver shrink sleeves’ required performance. Troubleshooting seaming technology and solvent for seaming with Karlville’s new ‘third generation’ machines – officially launching at Labelexpo -- was featured; and ‘doing more with less’ was one of the key benefits highlighted for using Sleeve Technology’s state-of-the-art autosplicer for sleeve film webs, which delivers high-speed automatic reel splicing and changing. The print technologies themselves were also featured. Gallus detailed what printers need to know when printing monofilm sleeves, and HP Indigo examined the business of when ‘shrink sleeves go digital’.

Partnering the formal agenda

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 deserving winning companies Reynders Etiketten, Belgium, Berkshire Labels, UK, and CCL Label, Austria.

The conference also offered delegates an additional optional day trip to the Empack exhibition in ?s-Hertogenbosch, featuring a special AWA market update seminar, and enabling participants to physically set sleeve labels in the context of the full packaging agenda.

All in all, the AWA International Sleeve Label Conference -- sponsored by industry leaders including platinum sponsors Accraply and SKC -- provided a detailed briefing on the current state of the market in all respects – from film manufacture through to end users and recycling – as well as representing an excellent opportunity for professional community networking across the supply chain. www.awa-bv.com.