Packaging Evolution

While cold-activated cans are the talk of the premium beer world, on the more artisan craft side the label can often do the heavy lifting for selling the brand. Especially since most craft brewers don’t have much in the way of marketing or merchandising, the label has to do a lot of work on the shelf. So we turned to ILS, a digital label and package print firm that has worked with more than 90 craft brewers in the U.S. for some key trends taking place in labeling and packaging. Here’s what their director of marketing, Kathy Popovich, had to say:

1. Cool, iconic graphic designs are increasingly important

The craft brewery brotherhood is clearly made up of creative, earthy, and not-afraid-to-be-original folks. One look down the craft beer aisle and this is very evident.

There is no mimicry, only originality, for each of the beer brands – with graphics that really support the unique personality and flavor profile of the microbrews. The designs run the gamut from the ultra clean and simple to very ornate.

2. Pressure-sensitive labels are preferred to Cut/Stack paper labels and also pre-printed bottles

The use of pressure-sensitive labels is becoming the application type of choice, in place of both cut-and-stack labels and/or pre-printed bottles. A pressure-sensitive label has an adhesive backing that is covered with a release liner. When applied, the label applies smoothly and completely to the container at all points. On the other hand, a cut-and-stack label is adhered via a glue line at the end of the label, making it much more susceptible to degradation when refrigeration or ice is introduced. For ultimate performance, a film-based substrate with either a gloss or matte lamination is the best. Pre-printed bottles are problematic because of the cost of decoration and the risk of obsolescence. With screen print, each color involves the creation of a screen so you typically see a one or two-color graphic printed directly on the container. Once the container is decorated, if there is a change – whether for regulatory or for marketing purposes – you now have the cost of the container and the decoration costs to absorb. Instead, we are seeing an increase in ultra-clear pressure-sensitive substrates that mimic a direct print look, with the advantage of going to 4C process if desired.

3. Specialty materials and finishes are on the rise

The substrate portfolios available now from the major material suppliers are plentiful. Some of the materials we see trending now are natural white felt, metallic films and papers, and even white and clear films with matte or gloss laminations. We always recommend considering all the elements that will impact the product decoration — container shape and color, substrates, finishes – as well as embossing, hot stamps, varnishes, and laminations when beginning the design phase to maximize impact.

4. Even cans are getting shrink sleeves

A recent trend gaining traction is the use of printed shrink sleeves for cans in place of pre-printed cans. The lead times and volumes required for direct print cans are prohibitive for this market, but digitally printed shrink sleeves which are applied over blank stock cans are a great solution.

5. Digital printing is everywhere

The label and package print industry has long been served by flexographic printing. However, longer run lengths and mediocre graphic reproduction characterize this method. With the advent of digital printing, specifically the HP Indigo print platform, this has changed. Brewers are making use of it from product launch all the way through complete commercialization. Because the platform doesn’t use printing plates, minimums are a thing of the past, and print quality is superior. As well, it allows for the creation of iconic graphics for each version that speak to the unique flavor profile of that specific beer. We have seen this type of graphic flexibility allow brewers to easily launch limited edition and seasonal offerings.