Innovative developments are contributing to a booming business.

In an age where consumers can summon a reservoir of information to their fingertips through the swipe of a phone or tablet, more is available to them than ever before. For example, Approach Guides Wine is a popular application that allows prospective consumers to explore extensive wine profiles. These include everything from the wine’s region of origin right down to the different grapes used.

But as the wine industry continues to evolve, arguably the greatest development is on the bottle. Not all customers heading to a Saturday night party is wont to conduct research through all their available apps and tools. More often than not, the purchasing decision comes down to those three seconds standing in front of the shelves.

That’s where the label comes into play.
For those not inclined to become an overnight connoisseur, a bottle’s visual appeal will still win the day at the point of sale. And with designs becoming all the more sophisticated, the wine label industry is reaching new heights in developing aesthetics in packaging that drives a purchase.

For wineries looking to expand their drinking audience, now is the time, since the business is booming, globally. According to Impact Databank, the US is the world’s largest wine market after producing a wine volume of 329 million cases in 2013. France ranks second with 313 million cases. Additionally, the estimated retail value of American wine shipments increased by 5% in 2013 to $36.3 billion.

This is not a new trend, either; it’s more of a spike. Wine sales have been increasing by 2-3% in the US over the last 21 years. The Wine Institute states that of the 330 million people in the US, 101 million are wine drinkers. The group also says the US Tax and Trade Bureau approved roughly 99,000 wine label registrations in 2013. As of 2014, Wine Business Monthly states there are 7,762 wineries in the US.

With millennials accounting for the second biggest share of wine drinkers behind the baby boomers, label designers are targeting the demographic. For instance, Cornish Mead Company, a UK-based wine maker, made a drastic change to its label in 2011. After 51 years, the company commissioned design agency Gendall to redesign its bottle with a wraparound shrink sleeve that was inspired by tattoos. According to Gendall, “The challenge was to retain the existing market but identify with new audiences. The new tag line ‘Let the good times roll’ captures the spirit of this celebratory drink, and a complete graphic wraparound the bottle promotes confidence and individuality. The new 360 degree design has retained the company’s unique identity by embracing shrink-wrap sleeve technology to maximize shelf impact, with tattoo and illustrative graphics inspired by the company’s nautical location and Cornwall’s association with myth and legend.”

Digital printing is also driving the wine market in new directions, allowing customization and multiple designs within a brand. Embossing remains a wine label hallmark. “Digital printing and embossing are ways that customers can produce a distinct eye-catching label without investing in large quantities of inventoried materials,” explains Jean Willson, product manager of wine, pharma, postage, security and unique papers at UPM Raflatac. “As presses (and prepress) continue to evolve, the paper quality and capability are very important to meet the demand for high-end, distinct and unique labels for brand appeal.”

The embossing process features a variation of 3-D techniques. In this finish, elements of a wine label are raised in order to project from the bottle., thus offering unique illustration and highlighting certain aspects of the artwork. Spot varnishing is also frequently used for wine labels in conjunction with embossing.

In addition to embossing, various techniques including foiling and creating 3-D effects are becoming more and more popular. “After years of high focus on cost saving and production optimization within label production, we now see more sophisticated label designs with 3D-effects, brilliance, and outstanding details on the shelves,” says Robert Wray, West Coast senior sales consultant for Danish flexo press manufacturer Nilpeter. “The trend in production moves towards a shift from rotary to flatbed embossing due to its many advantages, primarily within labels of a luxurious nature, such as wine and spirits and high-end health and beauty products.”

Screen printing is another often-used printing technique in the wine label market. This process entails the forcing of ink through a design on a tout screen and onto the object to be printed. The process results in a heavy ink deposit that is built for durability.

Tipografia Mandruzzato, an Italian label printer that recently added two Gallus label presses, has seen an increase in popularity for screen printing for its wine label customers. One of its recent press acquisitions, the Gallus TCS 250, features a screen printing unit – used particularly for opaque white – followed by four offset printing units, a hot foil stamping unit, a flexo unit, a further screen printing unit (for high volumes of ink, braille, etc.) and a flatbed diecutter.

Mandruzzato opted for this modular offset press with direct servo drives for its ability to meet the demand for shorter runs ranging from 5,000 to 20,000 labels. As brands decorate their bottles with more ornate and elaborate designs, flexibility is imperative.

Nowadays, consumers will not notice nearly as many plain vintage bottles with ordinary paper labels. With all the different design methods available, bottles are becoming more of an art form as opposed to a vessel in which to carry liquid.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art recently held an exhibition dedicated solely to wine labels. In 2010, the California museum unveiled “How Wine Became Modern: Design + Wine 1976 to Now.” The curator, Henry Urbach, delved into the evolution of the label and how wine impacts the lives of those who drink it.  He said, “This incredible spike of interest caught my attention, especially in the way wine has produced a distinctive visual culture in the last 35 years.”

Adding function to form
There is a functional aspect on which winemakers are also looking to capitalize, as well. According to UPM Raflatac’s Willson, wineries are demanding labels that meet tighter specifications and criteria such as ice-bucket testing. “Previously, testing was done for two to four hours in an ice bucket to simulate how the consumer would use the wine bottles,” Willson says. “Now, customers are looking for labels (paper) to withstand up to a 24-48 hour ice bucket test. This requires wet strength properties in the face sheet as well as high-end adhesives and/or the use of a ‘weld’ on the back of the sheets to stop water penetration through the sheet.”

The wine label’s materials have evolved as well, with winemakers going outside the box in their brainstorming sessions in order to differentiate their products. Among the possible trends, brands are looking at cans, PET bottles, and recycled paper materials as alternatives to conventional glass bottles.

When it comes to embossed labels, however, Nilpeter’s innovative inline flatbed embossing units have driven press sales to converters looking to grow their wine label business. With running speeds up to 100 m/min, the units allow for adding tactile effects inline with the flexo printing process. “The strength is that we offer to combine various types of embossing with various types of hot foil – all in one inline process,” adds Nilpeter’s Wray. “Previously, very complex labels had to be manufactured in two, three or more steps. Nilpeter’s integrated solutions offer the market the possibility to achieve perfect embellishments in one process with all the benefits and savings that a lean process entails.”

Modern-day challenges
As wine labels evolve, brand owners are trying to capitalize on the growing technology with less operating expenses. According to Willson, winemakers are going to less-expensive papers while hoping to achieve the same distinct look.

“Customers are reducing their inventories of select and unique grades and using more robust papers that can be manipulated on press to produce the desired graphics without the cost of the expensive face sheet,” explains Willson. “So, the wine sheets of today must be cost-effective in order to be the go-to sheet but also have the inherent high-end qualities that allow for embossing/debossing, stamping, etc.”

Additionally, winemakers are following the digital trend with specialized materials, shorter lead times and smaller minimums. This allows companies to reduce warehousing costs and minimize waste. And while the material production is getting more advanced, the specifications are becoming tighter.

“Previously, there was more allowance of flexible specifications and tolerances with uncoated wet strength sheets,” says Willson. “Now, properties like caliper, color shade and tensiles are being asked for and tracked by select customers. So, the paper mills are becoming more aligned with what the customers are requesting and are either adjusting their specs or communicating information that previously was kept more confidential.”

However, with certain techniques, such as embossing, manufacturers face some functional challenges. “The challenge of embossing within the pressure sensitive label market has always been the ability to maintain constant depth quality without affecting the liner or cracking the substrate,” says Wray.

Wine labels going forward
Wine labels experienced a wave of evolution when the industry adopted pressure sensitive technology as the preferred choice. The combination of quality, flexibility and operational efficiency spurred the change. Beyond “bolder and sharper” graphics, the industry has several key trends on the horizon.

“The back labels (are) trending toward being a generic paper or even a semi-gloss, while the front label paper is becoming more distinct and heavier. The bottles are evolving in cost-outs and efficiencies, so labels are expected to step up to address multiple bottle coatings as well as seam variations and slightly irregular bottle shapes,” adds Willson. “Another trend we are seeing, with UPM Raflatac being a global company, is our wine products being spec’d in and requested on different continents. Our larger global customers want the same wine stock in Napa as well as the UK and in Australia for instance, and we are able to meet that demand.”

Matt Rompala, product and business development manager of wine & spirits at Avery Dennison, points out the influence of wine preference and sustainability: “An increase in demand for sparkling and white wine varietals are placing a higher need for wine labels to maintain their visual appeal in ice buckets. Wine labels are increasingly being constructed with facestocks featuring wet-strength additives to reduce paper decomposition in water, and in some cases include film under laminates to improve resistance to bubbling caused from surface condensation on the bottle.”

Rompala further adds, “We’re also seeing a trend toward sustainability. Brand owners are increasingly requesting wine labels constructed from sustainably sourced and certified facestocks, such as FSC.  In addition, we are seeing a continued interest in thinner gauge PET liners.  More and more brand owners are choosing PET liners over 44#PK due to the material’s higher durability, reduced caliper, and its ability to be more easily recycled.”

AWA Alexander Watson Associates, a market research firm that specializes in specialty paper, film, packaging, coating and converting, highlighted many of the possible trends in their latest Global Wine & Wine Label Market & Technology Review. The 2013 overview points out that glue-applied label formats have continued to lose ground in the market to pressure sensitive. In 2009, glue-applied accounted for 45% of the market, but now make up just 40%.

Meanwhile, PS labels have increased from 55% to 60% over that same time period. Even with outside-the-box thinking when it comes to the decoration of a wine bottle, paper – both coated and uncoated – represents the largest portion of labelstock. Not only is paper the leading material for the PS sector, it is also preferred for cold glue applied labels. Overall, paper accounts for 93% of the wine label market while film has grabbed just 7%.

According to AWA, demand for convenience will drive packaging and decoration technologies into the future. Several other trends will impact the future of the wine label industry. This includes global wine production, which decreased from 271 million hectoliters to 248 million hectoliters from 2009 to 2012, and the regional shift in wine consumption.

While Europe has not experienced growth in the wine industry, which directly correlates to wine label production, regions such as the US and China have increased their presence. Economic downturns in countries like Italy and Spain are believed to have had a slowing effect on their markets. In addition to the economic downturn, drinking preferences, especially among millennials, have consumers leaning toward lower-to-medium priced products, as opposed to the premium wines.

Digital technology continues to make its presence felt. CCL Industries, the world’s largest label converter, recently acquired German wine label printer Druckerei Nilles and its subsidiaries. Nilles provides European buyers with custom designed labels online using proprietary e-commerce software, more than 500 domain names and digital printing. This business has accounted for approximately $15.7 million with an adjusted EBITDA of $2.7 million in 2014 sales.

“This new service gives consumers and small businesses options to either print labels and cards from our cloud-based online design tool using pre-formatted Avery products on their own desktop printers, or to have them professionally produced and shipped directly from Avery,” explains Geoffrey Martin, president and CEO for CCL. “Nilles offers a similar online service to higher volume customers with more complex label requirements on a roll, in special sizes and materials.”

The main trend, however, is still consolidation as far as label converters and end users go. But as the wine industry trends in different directions, labelmakers will no doubt rely on new and innovative technologies to try and capture eyes and sales in the wine market.

Written for: Label and Narrow Web
By Greg Hrinya, Associate Editor