Wine labeling – much like the liquid encapsulated within – is a science. There is a premium on diversity, and in most cases, the wine label impacts the sale.
“The category is so crowded that people need a reason to stand out. Just being ‘me too Pinot Noir’ isn’t cutting it,” explains Scott Pillsbury, president and owner of Rose City Label. “Most need a defined strategy – linked to a family, a farming style, a very niche type of wine making, or an attachment to a specific place/hill/soil/AVA. Those defining core values of the brand will help inform the label design.”
Standing out, however, is an inexact science. What might be effective for Cakebread Cellars will not likely hold true for your local store’s deal of the month. An effective wine label must convey quality, however.
“Today’s consumers have hundreds of wine choices available and they make their purchase decision in seconds, largely based on label design,” says Brendan Kinzie, president of wine and spirits at Fortis Solutions Group. “The label must stand out in a sea of bottles on the shelf and make an emotional connection with the consumer. The design is key to making this happen. We are seeing wine label designs trend towards richer, thicker uncoated paper stocks and an increasing amount of tactile features such as embossing, debossing, foil stamping and screen high-builds.”
According to AWA Alexander Watson Associates, the figures match the optimism. Wine labels are seeing an annual growth rate of 2.4% for the period of 2019-2022, and global label volume growth estimates have increased from 2013-2015 levels. AWA, in its “AWAreness Report Global Wine Label Market 2020,” estimates the global market for wine labels at 688 million square meters as of 2019.
“Wine and liquor labels have undergone constant changes, all focused on product diversification to achieve a high appearance value that goes beyond product quality,” notes Enrica Lodi, sales and marketing manager at Cartes. “Therefore, products are constantly aiming at looking good, regardless of the price or market rating. The large number of substrates – now available with textures and visual effects – as well as the technologies that help enhance these effects, are intimately connected to the creativity of the designs. These all characterize a worldwide trend that is growing by leaps and bounds.”
AWA also refers to the global wine label market as a highly fragmented one. The top 20 wine producers hold an estimated market share of nearly 20% of the global volume.
While films have their place in the wine label market, paper comprises the vast majority of labelstocks – 88%. In 2019, paper facestock materials were estimated at 605 million square meters, while films accounted for 83 million square meters globally. Pressure sensitive label formats have continued to capture market share from glue-applied labels, cites AWA. It is estimated that, in 2019, 540 million square meters of global volume were pressure sensitive labels, while glue-applied labels were estimated at 126 million and sleeve labels at 21 million square meters. PS labels are expected to grow annually at 2.9%, glue-applied at 0.6% and sleeving at 0.8% in 2019-2022.
While the label is crucial in selling the wine, it differentiates from segments like craft beer. A flashier label does not necessarily make the wine more attractive to every buyer. “Brands generally stick to the vineyard or brewery legacy, for they are proud of that and rarely pivot,” adds Jim Arrey, production manager at Rose City Label. “Although design is kept in mind for market share and shelf space, it isn’t often they design for marketing over legacy when it comes to wine. I would add the importance of the material as well as when your design isn’t 100% coverage – the material can really cheapen the look of a great design and vice versa.”
However, even that trend is varying, especially when looking to appeal to different consumers. “We are seeing more and more wineries move away from the more traditional designs in favor of differentiated and unique designs as they increasingly look to appeal to younger consumers,” says Kinzie. “Wineries are increasingly looking to personalize the experience for consumers and want packaging that will cause their brands to resonate emotionally with them.”
Chris Martin, Creative Labels’ vice president and a Xeikon digital press user, says, “Taking a close look at the target audience is vitally important. For example, millennials are often attracted by design elements like clean lines and bold colors. On the other hand, baby boomers favor a more traditional look-and-feel, perhaps with metallic embossing and other embellishments.”
The design of a wine label also depends on the cost of the wine inside, adds Martin. High-end wines have more white space and less specifics about the product, while mid-range wine labels focus on the taste of the product, using words like “fruity,” “buttery,” “robust” or full-bodied.” Less expensive products focus on features like personality, attitude and experience.
There are several trends impacting wine label design, too. “For design trends on labels, we are seeing a lot of illustrations, ranging from simple line drawings to illustrative artwork,” says Vanita Marzette, senior product manager, wine and spirits, Avery Dennison. “Typography is ever evolving on wine labels. Bold, clear typography tends to give a modern appearance, while the whimsical scripts often represent more traditional brands.
“The design needs to work with the materials,” adds Marzette. “The materials enhance the design and branding, whether through a sensorial tactile feel like felt, embossed paper or velvet, or with a smooth parchment look that enhances the elegance of the design.”
The substrates utilized for wine labels must check numerous boxes. In addition, labels must withstand a myriad of conditions that include moisture, abrasion, and immersion in an ice bucket.
“The trend we are responding to is accentuated feel, with depth, thickness, and deeper textures growing in demand,” explains Jim Sheibley, executive VP of sales and marketing at Wausau Coated Products (WCP). “These can be applied at the paper mill or on-press with rotary or flat-bed stamping equipment. Adhesives must also be specific at solving certain market needs with the flexibility to run on all types of paper.”
According to Sheibley, uncoated papers in bright white or natural white continue to dominate wine label demand. For WCP, the Neenah Papers Estate Label family is the largest category, while other textured uncoated papers and cast gloss (high gloss) follow behind.
Sustainability is also rising in prominence throughout the space. “Brands and converters alike are aware that sustainability matters to the consumer,” states Lee Green, segment manager, wine, spirits, craft beverage for the Americas, UPM Raflatac. “While the label is only a small part of the complete package, it is the spokesperson for the package. Pressure sensitive facestocks and liners that have recycled content have a strong appeal. At UPM Raflatac, sustainability is in our DNA and part of everything we do, from sourcing sustainable materials to sustainable manufacturing processes to end-of-life scenarios for the label materials, and matrix and liner waste. Our drive is to have the most sustainable wine range in the marketplace, and we are already trusted partners for sustainability consultancy.”
UPM Raflatac offers a broad range of uncoated papers, as well as films and coated and metalized papers. UPM Raflatac also recently partnered with Mohawk Fine Papers to launch a line of pressure sensitive label products constructed from Mohawk Renewal Straw (30% straw + 70% post-consumer waste) and Mohawk Renewal Hemp (30% hemp + 70% post-consumer waste) that have been designed for wineries looking to incorporate renewable and PCW in their packaging materials.
While uncoated papers serve as an optimal vehicle for embellishments and color treatments, brands are beginning to explore other options. “There are an increasing number of brands that are adopting more unique papers that help set them apart,” states Marzette. “They are using glossy papers like we at Avery Dennison have in our luminous collection, in addition to papers with tactile finishes like you would find in our sensorial collection.”
Avery Dennison has also seen a surge in requests for sustainable materials when it comes to wine labeling. “There has been an increase in requests for materials that are FSC verified, recyclable or made from organic materials that are sourced in a responsible manner,” adds Marzette. “Avery Dennison has met these needs with sustainable options that have 30-100% recycled content, in addition to including material made from cotton, citrus, hemp and barley.”
For many label converters, wine is big business. According to Pillsbury and Arrey, wine is a significant growth area for Rose City Label. While this Oregon-based label printer has always been active in the space, continuous upgrades over the last decade have allowed Rose City to pursue virtually any wine label. Anyone producing under 10,000 cases per year is a great prospect for Rose City – and that is about 90% of the 750 Oregon wineries.
Meanwhile, wine labeling is so important to Fortis that it established a Napa location to better serve the industry. “The wine industry is a very tight-knit, relationship-based industry full of incredible people,” states Kinzie. “Because of the industry dynamics, it is important to have a regional presence in order to best serve our customers. Our Napa location was a strategic decision that puts us within a two-hour radius of the bulk of the wine production sites in North America. By having a regional location, we are easily accessible to designers and winery clients for new package development ideation, on-site press approvals and rush deliveries. We also offer on-site technical bottling support, which would be difficult to do if we were not local to our customers.”
Fortis has also leaned on HP and Gallus to manage the full product life cycle of short-run and long-run labels, with both flat-bed and rotary embellishments for quick turns.
Embellishments are a great design technique used to convey luxury and quality to prospective wine shoppers.
“Embellishments give depth to the design and add to the tactile look and feel of a label,” comments Fortis’ Kinzie. “Embellishments, like foil stamping, embossing and debossing, enhance brand equity by adding to the luxury positioning of the wine brand while at the same time communicating the promise of quality to the consumer.”
According to Cartes, special effects are constantly sought after for anti-counterfeiting, differentiation, brand footprint, advertising impact, an attractive appearance to match product quality, among others.
“The wine and spirits industry is increasingly focused on attracting consumers by embellishing every detail of the product,” explains Cartes’ Lodi. “A very important part of these developments has been applied to the label, as there are several possibilities to make it stand out while keeping costs contained. A large number of wines and spirits displayed on the shelf are gift items, and so the best-looking ones always resonate more. Furthermore, fierce competition from emerging markets has forced traditional products to step out of their comfort zone to make a difference, since many times the buyer is not aware of the product and ends up buying it only for the appearance.”
Cartes has specialized in providing equipment to better serve this market. The company has developed technologies to ensure the premium look of the label. Cartes’ machines can be configured to highlight the products with top-end added-value applications, adds Lodi.
“The versatility of our machines is outstanding, as they can be specifically configured according to customers’ needs – plus, they can be upgraded with new units and special devices,” she states. “For wine labeling, several configurations can be combined with units for digital and conventional flat-bed screen printing, hot stamping and embossing, flexo coating and printing, flat-bed and semi-rotary diecutting, as well as laser converting applications. Our special gadgets can also be added to create multiple effects such as labels on labels, cut-off window, metallic doming, invisible laser cutting, IML processing and more.”
“The Zero Moment of Truth is all about catching the consumer’s eye,” notes Rose City’s Pillsbury. “This isn’t as critical in the moment for club members and existing fans, but getting a bottle off the shelf and into the shopping cart of a first-time buyer is heavily dependent on the label. Bling sells, and standing out is critical. A diecut shape, color scheme, or bold graphic will catch eyeballs. Then, once caught, that vibe/brand/aura has to resonate with that consumer on that day – this all ties back to the authentic brand message.”
“Customers react to shadow and feel – deboss, emboss, texture all show success in capturing the attention of the consumer,” says WCP’s Sheibley. “If you can get a consumer to pick up a bottle to look at it, you’ve raised their likelihood of buying it significantly. If their fingers convey a positive message, all the better. Shine and metallics are symbols of price and quality. Interestingly, those vary widely across continents. Our Chilean clients, who export 70% of their product, will vary the labels for the same wine with the European labels being quite different from the Chinese
Of course, there is also a cost-benefit analysis that will need to be explored. Creative Labels’ Martin explains, “Some embellishments can easily double the cost of the wine label order, especially with shorter runs. But they clearly have a positive effect on sales, creating a much more high-end feel for the product.”
Wine labeling is the latest market segment to optimize the capabilities of digital printing. A growing number of wineries, personalization opportunities, and an added number of unique blends have required faster design and production turnaround with new looks, colors, shapes and materials.
“The last few decades have seen enormous growth in micro-wineries,” says Creative Labels’ Martin. “They operate on a much smaller scale than the well-known brands. Just yesterday, we got an order for 145 labels. We’ll print them digitally on our Xeikon Cheetah CX3 and still make a small profit.
“There is also a healthy market for short-run special occasion wine labels,” he adds. “Weddings, retirement parties, golden anniversaries – we do all of these.”
According to Donna Covannon, Xeikon’s director of marketing, North America, digital printing is the latest technology to be used for wine label conversion. With no plates required, a converter like Creative Labels can adeptly accommodate a 145-label run. “Frequent design changes, multiple designs for several different SKUs are easy work for digital printing,” she notes. “In addition, personalization can be an added value element on the label. The label converter can offer this as a differentiator to the wine producer/distributor for orders processed online and their own websites. Digital printing also offers good quality color and resolution.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic leading to a greater emphasis on safety and authenticity, digital printing also has a natural tie-in with brand protection. For example, labels can be printed with security features such as sequential numbers or codes.
“Wine label printing does have specific requirements, especially the capability to print on porous materials like those used for wine labels,” comments Covannon. “Therefore, we recommend our dry toner technology with 1200 dpi and food safe, FDA-certified toners. The Xeikon Cheetah (CX) presses and our Xeikon 3000 series presses serve many label converters worldwide in producing great wine labels. All of Xeikon presses are fitted with our X800 digital front end workflow system, which includes the functionality to produce personalization and security features.”
Xeikon also offers an off-line embellishment technology: the Fusion Embellishment Unit (FEU). The Xeikon FEU offers label printers and converters enhanced flexibility to meet the demands of brand owners and designers. Xeikon’s FEU provides UV spot varnish, tactile varnish, foiling, 3D textures and holograms across a wide range of substrates, including clear-on-clear, common BOPP and paper facestocks up to natural structured papers.
Vintage 99 Label, (V99), a medium-size label manufacturer that specializes in “technically challenging” wine labels, has upgraded its entire print inspection and quality control systems. The company put TubeScan 100% inspection systems and PowerScope viewing systems from BST North America on every press, and TubeScan 100% inspection on its rewinder.
Vintage 99 then linked every machine and the quality control department with the TubeScan WorkFlow package. The impact on productivity and quality of this six-figure investment, according to the wine label converter, was “better than expected.” As a direct result of that investment, overall machine use and productivity has increased substantially, downtime and waiting have been eliminated completely, waste has decreased, and running speeds have increased dramatically. In some cases, they have doubled. Job delivery counts are now achieved first time every time, and finished product quality and operator confidence in delivered quality (both on-press and on the rewinder) have helped operators run more efficiently.
In Livermore, CA, USA, Vintage 99 prints flexographically and digitally on three presses – Nilpeter, Mark Andy and HP. It prints and converts on an ABG Omega Digicon, and it finishes on a CEI rewinder. Vintage 99 Label has always strived to streamline processes to improve plant productivity and quality.
Up until last year, Vintage 99 was performing all of its print inspection visually – both on-press and on the rewinder. A few years prior, Vintage 99 had purchased a 100% inspection system from another manufacturer and installed it on the CEI rewinder. The experience with that vendor was less than desirable, the company says.
When the other 100% inspection system would not identify the defects Vintage 99 required, the supplier requested additional funds for an upgraded system. According to Bill Bartee, vice president of plant operations, “All it did was catch paper defects. It was so complicated, with 12 parameters and every one of those had a lot of settings.”
Kathleen Gonzales, Vintage 99 president and co-owner, comments, “That system was not what we needed.”
Then, Bartee received an invitation to a demo of the TubeScan 100% inspection system from BST North America. Tubescan is an economical, 100% inspection system that is available in multiple configurations to fit various customer needs. The system has the ability to detect defects as small as 0.1 mm. Besides effective 100% inspection, TubeScan has options for variable data inspection, barcode ANSI/ISO grading, PDF inspection and more. TubeScan systems on presses and rewinders can be integrated with its’ WorkFlow package, allowing for maximum impact on productivity. Over 2,000 TubeScan systems have been installed in over 80 countries.
Bartee was intrigued with the possibilities, but Gonzales wanted assurance the product could perform the difficult inspection tasks required, both accurately and effectively. She recalls, “I was not going to get caught up in another nightmare, and Mark (her co-owner) was sure another failed system was going to paralyze production.”
So, Gonzales and Bartee requested extensive tests be performed before committing to a new inspection system. After the BST demo, they sent sample rolls to BST for evaluation and testing. In return, they received a complete report back, followed up with a visit to the North American facility specifically to see TubeScan working, and to address questions about the system’s capabilities and effectiveness. Gonzales was impressed by BST’s operations, she notes. She felt that the company was careful to not oversell the equipment, was sensitive and responsive to Vintage 99’s needs, and open, forthright and honest.
Ultimately, the team at Vintage 99 decided to install new inspection technology from BST on all their presses and their rewinder. They then linked everything, including their quality control department, using the TubeScan WorkFlow.
TubeScan is used on-press to provide 100% inspection of defects, register shift, print quality, foil quality, emboss quality, and all the other quality parameters. Meanwhile, the PowerScope is used on-press to visually monitor critical print areas during the run. All TubeScan systems have WorkFlow systems that are linked to the rewinder. WorkFlow tracks every defect on every roll and every job. If desired, the press operator can mark areas of the web for removal or review by the quality control manager prior to finishing.
This combination of technology would allow Vintage 99 to effectively identify and manage their print quality during production, and would also allow them to remove defective labels during finishing on the rewinder. It would be equally effective on both the flexo and the digital presses.
The economical cost of the TubeScan systems made the investment and the potential payback reasonable and attractive. The potential upside to the investment was huge, the company adds. The implementation was done in stages. Phase one included the Nilpeter press, CEI rewinder and WorkFlow. Together, BST and Vintage 99 put together a set of 40 acceptance criteria that had to be met in order to follow through with the complete purchase. Bartee claims, “BST and the TubeScan passed with flying colors.”