Pabst Brewing’s shrink-sleeve baseball bat bottles were a hit with Chicago consumers.

An exploration of customer preferences, problems and solutions.

by Elisabeth Cuneo, Associate  Editor

You’ve heard don’t judge a book by its cover, but in this industry, where it would sound more like don’t judge a product by its label, sometimes the label is all you have. The importance of labeling is growing with increasing dietary needs, competition on shelves and labeling regulations. But how do you create an effective label that really gets noticed on shelves? One study found that customers have a strong preference in labels.

According to a report from Eastman Innovation, a division of Eastman Chemical Co., 35% of purchase decisions are based on eye-catching product packaging. Between 40% and 70% of brand decisions are made in the store, and consumers decide within three to seven seconds of initial product interaction whether to try a product. The importance of your label is immense. What types of labels are getting noticed by consumers? Shrink-sleeves.

Shrink-sleeve labels take advantage of the superior “printability” of polyvinyl chloride, a substrate that works well for flexographic or rotogravure printing. Its high shrink rate makes it perfect for use on contoured containers and a popular choice because of its ability to cover the entire product, increasing canvas size for messaging.

A packaging study by AC Nielsen, commissioned by Eastman Chemical Co. to understand consumer preference for label format, demonstrates that shrink-sleeve labels create stronger consumer emotional connections than traditional labels, acting as a key influencer of product trial and sales. This data concludes shrink sleeves, especially combined with high-contour bottles, possess a superior overall appearance, command more shelf attention, and create stronger emotional connections for consumers. As a result, higher product trial rates, long-term sales, and brand loyalty are likely.

In addition to customer preference, shrink-sleeve labels also offer the manufacturers a larger canvas to relay more ideas. While traditional labels allow on average 40% coverage, shrink-sleeve labels provide up to 100%, 360° package coverage. This translates into 150% more container coverage and greater opportunity for emotional connection with consumers through the use of product information, imagery and nutrition claims.

This year Pabst Brewing Co.’s Old Style Beer campaign, reflecting a 61-year partnership with the Chicago Cubs, uses a groundbreaking package design utilizing shrink-sleeved bottles to make them look like wooden baseball bats. The collectors’ edition bottles are decorated using a high-speed Fuji Intersleeve applicator from American Fuji Seal Inc. paired with a steam shrink tunnel. Right away the shrink-sleeve labels were noticed by consumers. In just two months after the launch, the company reported a 58% year-over-year increase in distributor orders, a sure hit by any measure.

EskoArtwork’s bottle distortion illustrator predicts distortion before the label is applied.

Beverage company Tonic from PurBlu, uses shrink labeling to convey its healthy, colorful messaging on it natural health shot drink.  Printing partner Multi-Color Corp. utilized reverse printing on shrink film to achieve the dynamic labels. Shrink labeling offered the company a larger platform to relay messaging and a colorful look sure to please consumers. But during the labeling process, Tonic ran into the challenge of designing around the realities of the bottles and creating a distortion-proof design with consistent shrink labeling. 

A common problem associated with the use of shrink labeling is label distortion. While graphics on shrink labels are printed in a way that compensate for the shrink effect (they appear distorted before shrinking, but settle into their proper configuration once the label is shrunk), distortion can still occur. A distorted label can easily taint your product’s look and message, compromising brand integrity. That’s why new technology has been developed to alleviate this issue.

EskoArtwork and its Studio Toolkit for Shrink Sleeves, creates artwork for shrink-sleeves, and allows designers and prepress professionals to quickly create, test, analyze, communicate and produce designs with 3-D visuals, without the need to conduct physical test runs. Designers create grids on the shrink-sleeve material, wrap it around the container, run it through a shrink-sleeve tunnel, measure the distortion, and try to anamorphically size graphic elements based upon these measurements. The design is tested digitally instead of tangibly, avoiding trial and error methods common to shrink-sleeve labeling. Studio Toolkit for Shrink Sleeves accommodates asymmetrical shapes and multipacks, and works in 3-D from start to finish. The 3-D images accurately predicting the end-result can be used to approve designs faster and cheaper than making and shipping mock-ups. 

The need to add more content to labels (i.e. nutritional stats, directions for use, not to mention the product name, design and sometimes motto) increases the need for quality control of the labels so that the integrity of the message is preserved, especially with shrink-sleeve labeling.

Avery Dennison Shrink PS is engineered to survive the vacuum-shrink process without wrinkling, providing both shelf appeal and production-related benefits. Avery Dennison Shrink PS labels are applied to shrinkable bags off-line or in-line prior to filling and vacuum sealing. Compared with traditional shrink-bag labeling, the Shrink PS solution offers enhanced labeling flexibility and the opportunity to differentiate products at a later stage in the packaging process. As a result, food processors can reduce or eliminate multiple sets of preprinted shrink bags in inventory, cutting overall costs. The labels exhibit superior aesthetic appeal due to their exceptional shrinking behavior. When submerged in hot water following vacuum sealing, the shrinkable bags and attached Shrink PS labels conform to the packaged product for a smooth finish without the wrinkling sometimes associated with labels applied by hand to the packaging after its been vacuum packed and shrunk. The Shrink PS labels’ water-resistant construction and strong permanent adhesive ensure that the labels stay firmly attached. The labels can be affixed to the bags using automatic label applicators, reducing the need for manual labor.

A label holds invaluable information, represents the brand and product, relays messages and works to attract consumers. The importance of label integrity is obvious. While shrink-sleeves offer packagers a larger canvas and customer preference, be aware of the labeling method’s pitfall–label distortion. With new technology working to avoid this potential shortcoming, shrink-sleeve labeling is a highly viable option in today’s labeling market.

For More Information:

American Fuji Seal Inc.

Avery Dennison

Eastman Chemical Co.


Multi-Color Corp.

Koch’s ‘spinning’ packaging allows for 75% more label surface.

Peel-back label offers more content space: Two companies utilize peel-back labeling

McCormick Canada overcame labeling space restriction on its Club House One Step seasoning line with the use of peel back labels. The company pursued this nontraditional option because spice containers do not offer a large label canvas, and due to Canada’s requirement of including both English & French content. All Stick Label, with McCormick, produced the peel-back label, which has three panels and takes advantage of the entire spice bottle. The facestock top sheet carries the prime label, nutrition facts, ingredients list, promotional copy and company information. When the top panel is peeled back, consumers will find six recipes in both English and French, with the latter printed on the backside of the top sheet. The pressure-sensitive base stock bottom sheet wraps the entire bottle and contains the six recipes in English. The three-panel label required switching from paper to biaxially oriented polypropylene (BOPP) film. Both the top and bottom sheets are Fasson® branded pressure-sensitive film from the Fasson Roll North America division of Avery Dennison. The backside of the top panel contains a proprietary adhesive that allows the label to be resealed after peeling it back.

For more information:

All Stick Label

Koch Foods uses peel-back labeling to overcome space limitations on its line of frozen chicken breast chunks under Aldi’s Kirkwood brand. The new Koch Foods package, partnering with Huhtamaki, Inc. incorporates an innovative oriented polypropylene label, supplied by MPI Label Systems, that is placed over a specially designed round-shaped paperboard Huhtamaki Ultrakan® container. The label carries product photos plus nutrition facts, bar codes and other standard required product data, along with a clear section that reveals additional information when consumers “spin” the outer label.

Their innovative “spinning” packaging allows for 75% more label surface while costing no more than traditional plastic bags. 

For more information:

Huhtamaki, Inc.

MPI Label Systems