The art & science of decorating beer

Brewer World Conclave – 26-28 May 2022 in Bengaluru

In India, Bira was one of the first to embrace the mascot trend. Photo Bira

Somya Bhargava from Kumar Labels gave a presentation on the art and science of decorating beer at the Brewer World Conclave held from 26-28 May 2022 at the KTPO in Bengaluru. Kumar Labels are one of the largest liquor label producers in the country. 

Beer labels are really tricky, and any consumer product with immense competition around it needs to stand out to be better or at least be on par with the competitors. In a cluttered market, and you need to distinguish your brand and call out to your customer. And this is where the beer label comes into the picture. 

Unlike premium scotch whiskey, which adorns the bar, a beer bottle is pulled out of the fridge, opened, consumed, and discarded. Understandably, the entire packaging solution around it needs to be really economical.

Several technical challenges are also associated with beer labeling. You may have condensate on your bottle at the time the label is getting applied, Your bottle might be at an ambient temperature, or it might be colder than the room temperature. The speed at which the bottles are moving on the conveyor can be a challenge. Moreover, multiple labels such as the back, front, and neck labels are getting attached to the bottle simultaneously and the transfer of each label requires the same timing and accuracy in application.

Beer labels have to undergo temperature changes as they are stored at 15 C degrees but transported at 55 plus Centigrade. To add to that when beer bottles are recycled, brands want them to stick long enough until the stuff is consumed and also want the labels to be washed off or peeled off immediately at the recycling plant. But, at the same time, some leading beer brands such as Heineken want their labels to endure, or stick around to up to five or six cycles of recycling.

Current beer labeling trends

With the somewhat contradictory qualities that brands expect from their beer labels, it becomes quite a task to incorporate all the desired features in a single label. Fewer and bolder colors make the beer bottle stand out while resulting in a higher recall value. If you observe the transformation of some of the most iconic beer brands, you will see how they have gone from labels that are more complicated or lighter to bolder or cleaner designs. Adding cult mascots also leads to a higher recall and connection with the customer. In India, Bira was one of the first to embrace the mascot trend.

Being minimalistic – simple yet eye-catching – adds to the aesthetic appeal of the beer bottle. The choice of substrate for beer packaging also plays a crucial role in the visual appeal of the end product. Ninety percent of today’s beer labels are cut and stacked on wet strength paper with wet glue technology. They have limitations – you cannot add much value even though they are cheap.

There are other options available today for beer labeling. Shrink sleeves can get full coverage for beer bottles or cans, with scope for more value addition. Further, they are easy to recycle and easy to remove at recycling plants. PSAWL (pressure-sensitive adhesive wrap-around label) is another emerging trend that allows manufacturers to put a sticker label around the beer can. There are limitations to these, however – they may not give complete coverage on the bottom or the top but can still serve the purpose. However, there is tremendous scope for value addition in this approach – embossing, foiling, and decoration to give the beer label a distinct tactile feel. Also, it is easy to peel off for recycling purposes.

Sensory effects appeal to end users as they emotionally address their senses – visual, tactile, and olfactory stimulation helps in enhancing recall value. Sticker labels have the advantage of adding sensory effects with labels that can react to changes in temperature or pressure, emit light or release a fragrance unique to the product or brand.

With a bundle of options to choose from, beer manufacturers are spoilt for choice.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

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– Naresh Khanna

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