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A constantly evolving sector

A deep dive into the challenges and opportunities for label converters

June 21, 2024  By Chiara Bezzi

Upcoming regulatory changes to packaging is a major challenge for label printing companies. Photo : Noel Hendrickson / DigitalVision / Getty Images

The label printing sector has always been a dynamic market. Brand owners are looking for increasingly innovative labels to differentiate themselves and convey current and targeted messages to consumers. The current trends are leading suppliers and converters toward solutions focusing on sustainability and innovation. In recent years label converters have also felt the need for automation at various product life-cycle stages.

A printed label is the visiting card of a product, the first step in communication between the brand owner and consumer. On the shelf, the label contributes to the buyer’s perception of a product. The label’s graphic design, colours or embellishment can impact their purchase choice. For the same price and brand, we know the product with the most liked label and the ability to create positive expectations is chosen. To explore the role of this communicative tool in wine purchasing, UPM Raflatac commissioned a neuromarketing study from consulting firm SenseCatch, in partnership with Argea, one of the largest Italian wine groups; Kurz, a manufacturer of hot stamping and cold stamping technology; and Krämer Druck, one of Germany’s leading printers in wine labelling.

The study was conducted in Germany. A group of consumers was shown 32 labels on the shelf with the same design but different from each other in terms of paper type and refinishing. The entire customer journey was reconstructed, from shelf observation and wine choice to product tasting. After choice, participants could observe, touch, and evaluate the bottles one at a time. Throughout the entire decision-making process, consumers’ experience was analyzed using neuromarketing methodology.

In the first ‘moment of truth,’ in front of the shelf, the results showed that the bottles attracting consumers’ attention during the first five seconds of observation were those characterized by visual, colour, or material juxtaposition contrast, such as those with dark paper and shiny, metallic ennoblement. On the other hand, the most observed labels were characterized by light-coloured paper with gold or bronze ennoblements. Additionally, consumers’ attention focused on bottles labelled with rough and textured papers and embossed embellishments with a glossy effect.

During the second ‘moment of truth,’ which is when the consumer physically interacted with the bottles, labels with textured papers and embellishments of the same colour were considered interesting and mysterious. The study found they stimulated the ‘tactile imagination’ that anticipates the interaction experience.

The thicker, embossed paper and the embossing made the lettering more visible and enhanced the design, changing the perception from an empty and unattractive label—in the case of an embellishment of the same colour as the paper, devoid of embossing—to a label that was curated and intriguing, enhancing expectations about the product. In this case, consumers imagined a premium product.

Finally, the results showed that the combination of paper and embellishing influences expectations and has a positive effect on the perceived liking and taste of the wine. The same wine served from the bottle with the most appreciated label obtained a higher rating than when it was served from the bottle with the least appreciated label.

The effect also occurred at a subconscious level; in fact, the emotional involvement measured through psychophysiological parameters was higher (+13 per cent) when tasting the wine served from the bottle with the preferred label. In addition to influencing the likability of the wine, the label also influenced perceived taste.

A label’s design, colours and finishing influence purchase decisions. Photo : Prostock-Studio / iStock / Getty Images

Market trends

According to Mordor Intelligence, the print label market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 4.2 per cent between 2023 and 2027. Different factors are driving growth during the forecast period, such as an increasing demand for more attractive brands from print label customers, and a rising demand for manufactured goods. The growth of the e-commerce industry is also expected to fuel the adoption of printed labels over the forecast period.

Challenges the sector faces include a reduction in average job lengths and life cycles for mass-produced products, and an increase in the regulatory content on the label.

Digital printing technology enhances the possibilities to provide new applications in label design, meeting a growing market demand. Printing technology suppliers are also developing hybrid solutions.


Label converters feel the need for automation due to staffing issues. Automation and interconnectivity have turned from cost saving topics into a necessity. In the area of workflow, cloud-based ecosystems will become the norm. Today, automation and digitalization are a must have. Automation means integration of systems into the factory production processes that allows remote service, real-time machine monitoring and reporting production data. Among the advantages of automation are waste reduction, fast set-up, automated colour management, and reduced manual interventions. Other possible steps in advancing technology will happen through the application of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. For example, AI makes the design procedure autonomous. At the same time, they can help identify defective products.

Sustainability factor

The biggest challenge facing brand owners is meeting the changing landscape regarding packaging and embracing the complexity of emerging directives around sustainable operations. Self-adhesive label manufacturers are developing eco-friendly solutions that are also more economical and efficient. The focus of these manufacturers would be on reducing the amount of material used. Release liners that are used as carriers for labels fulfil a crucial role in the production, conversion, and application of self-adhesive products. However, after fulfilling their role in this process, these liners can be valuable feedstock for new processes and products. Currently, many projects based on release liner recycling have been developing to collect a proportion of spent release liner for reuse or recycling. Release liner recycling is environmentally friendly, as it helps reduce the carbon footprint of the label company. Nevertheless, the best solution for our industry and for the planet is to ultimately eliminate liners.

In the food sector, designers and printers are facing another challenge regarding space limits of labels. In fact, international health and safety legislation will require space on labels. This will encourage the use of multilayer leaflet labels and clear-film labels on clear-container substrates, giving products the ‘no-label’ look and enabling back-printing on the label.

This article appeared in the March/April 2024 issue of PrintAction. It was published as part of Drupa Essential Series of Print. Chiara Bezzi is editor-in-chief of Rassegna Grafica, the Italian B2B magazine for the graphic arts industries.

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