Shrink sleeve labels reshape European packaging trends
Shrink sleeve labels are becoming the game-changer in the European packaging industry, allowing brands to showcase their products with vibrant 360-degree designs. By Laura Syrett.
Shrink sleeves are labels heat-wrapped around products like bottles or cans. Credit: monticello via Shutterstock
This summer, Ferrero Rocher launched a Belgian eye-catching limited-edition range of its flagship Nutella 700g glass jars, featuring 11 different must-see sights from Antwerp’s train station to Villers-la-Ville’s abbey, mirroring a ‘Love Your Country' campaign that has run in Ferrero’s home country Italy.
This June, it launched a ‘Savour the Beauty of Canada’ campaign displaying landscapes, such as the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia and Niagara Falls in Ontario.
These campaigns would not have been possible without shrink sleeve packaging, a boon for manufacturers wanting to highlight products with verve.
As Lancaster, Ohio, USA-based Blue Label Packaging said in a note:
“When you want to brand your product from top to bottom, shrink sleeve labels give you a way to create 360-degree coverage for your products. Shrink sleeves – in the common and relatively cheap polyethylene, LPDE or LLPDE have grown in popularity over the past few decades after making an initial splash when Tylenol [owned by American medical products company McNeill Laboratories] used them to combine attractive labelling with tamper-evident sealing.”
Indeed, according to the recent report from India-based market researchers Mordor Intelligence, the European shrink and stretch sleeve label market is expected to grow from USD1.52 billion in 2023 to USD1.85 billion in 2028, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4% during the 2023-2028 forecast period.
Market leaders are Berry Global, CCL Industries, Fuji Seal International Inc, the Huhtamaki Group and Amcor PLC.
Advantages and innovations of shrink sleeve labels
These full-colour labels are applied with heat to conform the label to the shape of the container. Labels are typically printed on either plastic or polyester film material and are commonly used on aluminium cans and glass or plastic bottles.
Advantages include 3D modelling, top-to-toe covers and an easy open seal.
For example, Brown-Forman Beverages has in the past used Eastman Embrace LV copolyester for shrink film labels, for example, covering an entire 70cl bottle of Southern Comfort for a limited-edition package launched in the UK.
The shrink label included the neck and cap, acts as a tamper-proof seal and gives the impression of being a wrapped gift.
And despite quality issues cited by Illinois, US-based BW Integrated Systems, such as seaming problems, pre-press and distortion issues, fold lines and application and shrinking problems, manufacturers are improving these techniques. Innovative shrink sleeve technology incorporates digital printing or uses new materials such as compostable polylactic acid (PLA).
In its latest quarterly statistical survey, the European association for the self-adhesive label industry (FINAT) said the shrink sleeve and stretch sleeve labelling market is doing well: increasing by 2.3% in summer 2023, compared to the same quarter in 2022.
Meeting brand identity and sustainability demands
In the UK, Berkshire Labels are just one expert in the field, with clients including Smirnoff, Baylis & Harding (packaged toiletries) and Pilot Beer (Leith Lager): “Our shrink sleeves give brands an opportunity to fully develop their product, allowing for greater creativity in preserving their brand identity,” said a note from the Hungerford, Berkshire-based company.
The company’s managing director Paul Roscoe added print runs from can be as little as 1,000 sleeves, offering “an extremely cost-effective alternative to printing on the container and eliminates the necessity for large MOQs [minimum order quantities] and inflexible lead-times, something the market has long demanded”.
Mordor also notes how label producers are increasingly conscious of the need to market sustainable products and to meet increasingly stringent European Union (EU) laws, such as the revised European Union (EU) packaging regulation with its call for 30% recycled content in plastic bottles by 2030 and the ban on single-use plastic items.
A look at shrink sleeve solutions
The risk for the shrink and stretch sleeve sectors is that due to such demands, brands may opt for less packaging altogether and choose models using direct-to-container or on-can printing that eliminates the need for labels entirely. Stand-up pouches are also gaining popularity due to their reduced plastic usage, although they are not recyclable.
But EU packaging experts are confident labels and sleeves will not hamper recycling. Alexis Van Maercke, secretary general of APEAL, the Association of European Producers of Steel for Packaging, told Packaging Gateway:
“The type of label or sleeve used by brands on steel packaging does not adversely affect the recycling process,” adding: “Steel is the most recycled primary packaging material in Europe, with a recycling rate of 85.5% in 2020.”
Adeline Farrelly, secretary general of the European Container Glass Federation (FEVE), agreed, saying: “Labels are separated from glass in the recycling process, and I am not aware of any technical issues resulting with recycling glass once the label can be separated.”
Nonetheless, to address sustainability concerns, companies are launching sleeves in new material formats. Morangis, France-based Sleever International has been improving the performance of its long-established ‘LDPET’ line, a low-density PET line helping the recovery of used PET bottles.
Also, in September 2020, Terjärv, Finland-based Rani Plast launched RaniCollationShrink EcoL – a high-performance beverage shrink film manufactured from 50% recycled raw material.
And, in February 2021, global label giant, Framingham, Massachusetts, US-based CCL Label launched EcoStretch, a sustainable stretch sleeve option which after use is recycled at the company’s facility in Austria and returned to the manufacturing process.
Perhaps it is consumer choice that will drive the shrink sleeve and stretch sleeve labelling market, Ms Farrelly told Packaging Gateway: “The advantage of glass is that one can decorate or print already directly on the glass, and you can also use labels too, whatever the customer prefers.”