Jules Lejeune, Managing Director of the European self-adhesive labelling association Finat, outlines the extensive opportunities of the technology in labelling alcoholic beverages:
I believe that it is to the whisky and brandy distillers of Europe that we, in the self-adhesive label industry, should drink a long toast. They were one of the key early market sectors to realise the potential of our labelling technology – and to adopt it. I think you will agree with me that there is nothing like a full-on, solid gold foil label, heavily embossed and featuring a truly complex, ornate shape, for promoting the extraordinary capabilities of self-adhesive labelling.
In fact, along with pharmaceuticals, whisky and brandy labelling genuinely led the way, back in the 1970s, in kick-starting our industry’s advance into the major beverage market segments. Today, as well as prime whiskies and Cognacs, self-adhesive labels also adorn bottles of white spirits and an enormous selection of wines – both cherished vintages and supermarket brands.
What is a self-adhesive label?
The self-adhesive label is fashioned from an almost infinitely variable three-part laminate consisting of a face material (the printed label), an adhesive layer, and a backing paper/release liner. That ‘labelstock’ is combined with the capabilities of today’s narrow-web printing presses – which can offer all the established print processes, as well as digital offset and thermal transfer/inkjet for barcoding and authentication. Finally, the self-adhesive labels, carried on their protective release liner, are speedily automatically attached to the bottles on an extremely accurate label applicator. Even multiple labels – front, back, and neck label, if printed together on the one liner base – can be applied in the one machine pass.
The ‘no label look’
Following its success with golden spirits, self-adhesive labelling’s introduction of a clear self-adhesive plastic film that could be adhesive-coated, printed, and applied to clear glass bottles to provide what we describe as the ‘no label look’ brought the manufacturers of gin, vodka, and other white spirits on board. For them, it was possible to deliver, printed on the one label, different messages (front and back label text and design, for instance) visible as the bottle is turned. Clear plastic films and their ‘no label look’ have become the standard for white spirits today.
Wine: a world of label options
Completing the picture, most recently the self-adhesive label has established itself in the wine market. The sheer variability of the choice of label face material and label adhesive make it easy for a self-adhesive label printer to create a label for a wine producer that meets every need – both in terms of good looks and functionality. If a beautifully-textured antique laid paper label is required for a precious vintage, self-adhesive label technology can provide it – even in very short print runs. And what is more, the label – delivered on its protective release liner – can be coated with an adhesive that will last, without staining, for the stored life of the bottle, and resist fungal/damp ingress which may occur during cellar ageing. Today, self-adhesive label material manufacturers have carefully developed extensive ranges of specialty paper substrates directed at the specific needs and wants of the wine producers. They include textured, plain, and metallised qualities, as well as environmentally-friendly recycled papers and specialties such as papers made from recycled sugar cane fibre after the sugar itself has been extracted.
Ice bucket immersion
Labels for white and rosé wines, served at lower temperatures, are often required to withstand lengthy storage in ice buckets – without delaminating. Self-adhesive paper label qualities, featuring built-in barrier coatings, are also available to preserve the bottle’s brand image right through to the very last drop. And, of course, the clear plastic film label also has a role to play here. Its impermeable print surface complements good-looking white wines, and offers excellent ice-bucket performance. Water-resistant film labels -- white, clear, and metallised – are also ideal for wines destined for cellar storage, coupled with a long-ageing adhesive.
Your partner of choice
Accessing the many benefits of these clever materials is very much a question of engaging with the expert self-adhesive label printers who complement the labelstock suppliers as members of Finat. With an in-depth knowledge of the available material options, and fully briefed on the requirements of the actual label application, a self-adhesive label printer can employ the exceptional versatility of the narrow-web printing press to fulfil a number of functions. Firstly, the label printer can deliver unmatched aesthetics, printing in as many as 16 colours, with additional surface enhancements such as foiling, colour-changing inks, embossing/debossing, and tactile varnishes. But that’s not all. Particularly for precious vintages, self-adhesive label printers are able to deliver a number of visible and invisible authentication devices within the label print (and even under the label’s surface) that, together, can effectively counter the counterfeiters. This capability has proved invaluable – not just for wines, but also across the whole range of alcoholic beverages.
Limited editions and personalisation
‘Limited editioning’ of wines or spirits is also possible – down to the level of single-bottle personalisation; and some wine producers choose to purchase pre-printed quantities of their ‘generic’ master label, and then overprint, in-house, on a small tabletop press, with details of the wine varietal and year of bottling.
Automatic label application
Self-adhesive label application uses relatively-low-cost automatic equipment that can be accommodated within, or alongside, the bottling line – on site, or within shared packaging facilities. The labels are carried continuously on their release liner backing from the unprinted roll, throughout the process of printing/imaging and cutting the label’s final shape. The re-wound roll of finished labels on their protective backing then moves to the label application point on the packaging line. This presentation method means that label positioning on the bottle so accurately controlled that the final applied result looks beautiful, and will not delaminate or bubble.
Finat member companies across Europe – and their sister associations around the world – span the entire value chain of self-adhesive labelling, from raw material supply to label application. With at least 40 years of experience in delivering labels for beverages and an ever-broadening technology base that combines functionality and aesthetics, we believe we can offer an answer for the specialist needs of every sector of the industry – wines for the chai as well as the supermarket; gin, vodka, white rum, and other popular clear spirits; and, of course, our technology’s homeland: the golden spirits – whisky, brandy, and rum.
(by Jules Lejeune)