The Craft Consideration
About one year ago, St. Helena, Calif.-based Tapp Label developed Tapp Boutique, an internal label division, to serve its customer base of smaller wine producers, whose wants and needs matched its larger counterparts, but its production quantities didn’t. Ali Bowyer, director of marketing and public relations, explains that the choice to launch Tapp Boutique was all about economies of scale. Boutique clients, she says, tend to have a higher number of jobs at lower run quantities, whereas larger clients tend to print fewer total label jobs, but in higher quantities. In these situations, it helps to offer solutions that meet all needs while treating everyone the same.
With the boom in craft beer production, boutique wineries and local distilleries, there has been a significant increase in the amount of low quantity label orders placed with package printers. Much like the household name brands in these industries, craft producers value quality labels at an affordable price, but there are some factors that need to be taken into consideration when working with smaller companies.
One of the considerations that spurred the inception of Tapp Boutique is that not only do smaller wineries require shorter runs, they are also operating with a smaller workforce, Bowyer says. In these situations, Tapp Boutique steps in to assist with challenges including sales, prepress, production and customer support.
Another consideration was that most small wineries require shorter lead times. One reason for this, Bowyer says, is that “mother nature doesn’t allow you to plan that far in advance.” Many times, larger, more established brands are able to forecast which varietals and blends will be ready at any given time further in advance, allowing for a longer lead time.
Adam Heissler, director of business development at Prime Package & Label based in St. Louis, points out that lead times are also affected by the time it takes to secure approvals required from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau and state and federal regulations in regards to new formulations and labels. Sometimes, by the time a beer, wine or spirit goes through the approval stage it ends up being a rush order.
Embellishments for Everyone
Traditionally, smaller wineries and breweries have mainly been interested in semi-gloss paper for labeling, but there has been a shift, explains Heissler. Now, companies of all sizes are turning to high levels of customization and additional embellishments to stand out because modern technology has made it more accessible on low-volume orders.
One of the reasons Heissler says small breweries are investing in premium labels is due to the higher price point of the product.
“The barrier to entry is less significant due to some of the new digital units and short-run hot stamping and embossing units,” Heissler says. “It allows [smaller brands] to get into more premium packaging without a drastic increase in their price. … More craft guys are driving high-end embellishments than you see on a macro level.”
Bowyer explains that brands often seek out embellishments to achieve an outstanding label, but sometimes cost can be a limiting factor. In those circumstances, she says that Tapp Boutique can guide customers to alternatives.
Spot gloss and metallic inks, she says, can replace expensive foils and simply adjusting the size of a label even slightly can save money on materials. Using a PET liner instead of the typical 44#PK liner could be a good solution because it is less expensive and biodegradable. She also stresses the importance of digital technology, which many times is the best option for smaller companies, but can sometimes even be the best option for larger brands.
“We believe digital is the future,” Bowyer says. “We will run some longer runs on HP digital if there is variable data, and then sometimes finish on offset.”
One major difference between beer and wine consumers that Heissler says should be considered is the loyalty of craft beer consumers. He says that the consumer base is “unlike any industry” he’s seen and that craft beer drinkers are often exceedingly knowledgeable and loyal to their favorite brands, which can often make the label a secondary consideration.
“I think if you went and talked to your average craft beer consumer, they’re much more knowledgeable than your average wine drinker,” he says. “Wine drinkers will go to the shelf for a general price point and pick the prettiest label.”
Some wine producers however, have taken a page from the craft beer book and are now offering wine in a can — a stark departure from the traditional glass bottle with a label. Travis Linz, VP of contract services at Tripack, a provider of shrink sleeve equipment and services, says he has found that some wineries are opting for a single-serve option, which he points out, is also recyclable, easily portable and completely prevents light from reaching the product.
Cans can be expensive though, and ordering printed cans comes with its limitations. It can be a longer process than printing labels, which can be detrimental to the quick-turn needs of smaller breweries and wineries that require short lead times. Another drawback is that some beverage can producers have high minimum quantity orders, which may work for larger brands, but may not be feasible for some smaller breweries and wineries.
Shrink Sleeves And Other Solutions
One solution for brands deterred by the cost of printed cans comes in the form of shrink sleeves.
“Besides affordability and lead time, it also gives [companies] the chance to work with colors and designs they might not have been able to work with on painted cans where they are limited to six-color flexo,” Linz says. “Shrink is virtually unlimited in color scheme, especially with digital printing.”
Brands can work with eight to 10 colors on shrink and can opt for numerous premium embellishments, similar to pressure-sensitive labels. Brands can choose from embellishments such as matte, tactile, holographic and foil options, Linz says.
He continues by explaining that it’s not only wineries and breweries that are experimenting with shrink sleeves, but that some spirit brands have also been using shrink sleeves, including Malibu rum and Svedka vodka. Recently, Tripack worked with Sailor Jerry rum on a large run of shrink sleeves for its bottles.
Shrink sleeves may also be a more sustainable option for brands concerned about ease of recyclability. Bowyer points out that for some strict recycling programs, such as Canada’s, labels need to be easily removable and shrink sleeves fit the bill because they can be removed relatively snag-free.
Linz does point out that some brands may not like the look or feel of a shrink sleeve, compared to using labels or printing directly on the can or bottle. But while there might be some initial hesitance, he says brands are often happy to try the technology.
“When we first entered this market there were many people who said absolutely not,” he says. “And many of them are customers today.”
While minor distortions can occur when working with shrink sleeves, Linz says that it’s nothing that can’t be managed or improved upon.
An example of shrink sleeves being used for beer on a macro scale was when Bud Light utilized HP SmartStream Mosaic technology and HP Indigo WS6800 digital printing to create 200,000 unique cans for the Mad Decent Block Party series of music festivals. Prime Package & Label, the printer behind the festival cans, was able to work with Anheuser-Busch to get the cans ready in a short amount of time. Heissler explains that this was possible because of the company’s digital capabilities.
And although Prime Package & Label did see success with the Mad Decent Block Party project, Heissler says that the trend is now shifting toward pressure-sensitive labels instead of shrink sleeves.
“It was always a faux pas to put pressure-sensitive on a can because of how much aluminum was exposed and people didn’t really care for the look,” he says. “But now we’ve actually heard feedback from customers and at trade shows that consumers of craft products actually find it more ‘craft’ to have a label on a can versus a shrink sleeve.”
While brands in the beverage market now have more options than ever to choose from, Bowyer explains that no matter what labeling format is selected, branding remains a consistent value of both large and small companies.
“The most important thing to our clients is their brand,” Bowyer says, “and the first step is the label. It’s the same for small or large clients.”