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Baker Labels works with commercial printers and print management companies

Label Opportunities

Much like its packaging sister market, the printed labels sector has witnessed tremendous levels of growth during recent years as brands and retailers seek to help their products stand out in what are often crowded segments.

Whether this is producing an eye-catching label for bottles of beer or cider, or even labels that present crucial information on packs of medication, these applications come in all shapes and sizes, with each requiring a quality finish.

Here, we speak with companies active in the market and specialist suppliers about growth opportunities in the labels sector, as well as the type of machinery and materials print service providers (PSPs) need to be aware of if they are to move ahead of the competition and capture the most profitable contracts.  

Driving Demand

Starting us off is Baker Labels, a trade label printer that works with companies in all areas of the UK. Commercial manager Jamie Doogan says the label sector is generally considered to be busy and vibrant, seeing as this type of application is an essential component of various industries such as packaging, manufacturing, retail, pharmaceuticals, and logistics.

Jamie Doogan, commercial manager at Baker Labels

He adds that after the uncertainty of the last four years, Baker Labels is now seeing everyone feeling more confident in getting back to pre-pandemic business.

“Several factors are driving the demand for labels in the UK market,” Doogan explains, adding: “For product packaging, the growth of e-commerce and the need for attractive packaging, labels play a crucial role in creating eye-catching designs and providing important product information. Labels are an integral part of brand identity and help in product differentiation, making them a key component in marketing strategies.

“In addition, various industries, such as food and pharmaceuticals, have strict regulatory compliance labelling requirements for ingredients, warnings, and traceability, driving the demand for accurate and compliant labels.”

With this in mind, Doogan says there is scope for growth in labels, picking out a number of stand-out trends to be aware of. One of these is sustainability, with Doogan picking up on a growing focus on environmentally friendly labelling solutions, including the use of recyclable materials, biodegradable adhesives, and eco-friendly printing processes.

Another major trend shaping the market is the continual rise of digital printing technology, which Doogan says allows for shorter print runs, quicker turnaround times, and more customisation options, meeting the demand for personalised labels.

Homing in on sectors where the most opportunities may lie, Doogan says that food and beverage, pharmaceutical and healthcare, and personal care and cosmetics immediately come to mind. However, he also emphasises the need to keep a broad mind in order to capture more work.

“Labels are needed in every market sector; once you start noticing them, you’ll see them everywhere,” he says, adding: “Key businesses to look for are the SMEs; those looking to grow their brand and build a presence within their market. Start-ups and mid-sized companies with scalable opportunities and a clear pride in their brand identity.

“The market is heading towards increased customisation, shorter print runs, and more sustainable label solutions. Digital printing technologies will continue to play a crucial role in meeting these demands, allowing print companies to offer quicker turnaround times and cost-effective solutions for smaller runs. Brands are currently driving the demand for sustainable options but there does need to be a balance between the brands’ demands and the viable solutions suitable for consumers.”

Baker Labels is very much in tune with the changing demands of the market and is adapting its processes to deliver what customers want. One of the most recent additions to its offering is digital embellishments, which Doogan says allows the company to deliver fast turnarounds on short runs of labels with spot varnish and cold foil without requiring any delay or cost of plates.

New Investment

Another specialist in labels is DecTek. Director Mike Beese explains that in order to keep up with demand and changing requirements, investment in new technology is important. The company recently took on a new Konica Minolta AccurioLabel 230 and Titanium 330R reel-to-reel label cutter, with a sheeter to follow in the near future.

DecTek recently took on a new Konica Minolta AccurioLabel 230 to support label production

“These additions to our existing wide-format capabilities have increased our capacity and enabled us to produce labels on rolls for the first time,” Beese says, adding: “We believe we are only scratching the surface of the labelling market opportunity. With our new technology investments, we are confident in capturing more market share through our innovative, technology-led, approach.”

With this, Beese draws attention to how customers now expect labels to be more advanced and functional. He explains that the most significant trend in the market is the adoption of digital printing, with this opening up all manner of opportunities in label production.

“Digital printing brings advantages such as the ability to include dynamic elements on labels including QR codes, bar codes, serial numbers, or personalised information, making labels more functional,” he says.

“One area of great opportunity that we see is asset labelling. At its simplest, this can be achieved through barcodes. However, with the advancement of RFID and Bluetooth communication technology, which can be embedded into labels, we are witnessing the emergence of a ‘smart label’ revolution.

“These labels work in conjunction with installed sensors and monitor where and how assets are being deployed. Dectek has expertise in designing and implementing such systems, along with the labelling requirements to ensure their success, providing brands with impressive returns on investment.”

Aside from this, DecTek specialises in domed labels, which add a premium high-gloss, 3D finish to the label, making it stand out from the crowd. Beese says many brands prefer this high-quality method to promote their products and services.

“With our monthly capacity reaching the tens of millions, DecTek can offer opportunities to bring high-volume label work back from overseas suppliers, reducing reliance on Far East manufacturers,” he adds.

Standing Out

Next, AM Labels provides solutions for both labels and barcodes. Managing director Tony Mariani says demand for certain label types differs, picking out horticultural, food and drink, and pharmaceutical and healthcare labels as growth areas. However, demand is currently down for labels designed for luxury items due to rising energy bills and the cost-of-living crisis.

AM Labels recently opened a new Technical  Experience Centre, where businesses can view and trial labelling, barcoding, robotics, automation, and RFID equipment

“The food and drink market is extremely competitive and, as a result, brands are striving to stand out on crowded supermarket shelves,” Mariani says, adding: “Many companies are using labels and packaging to attract customers and increase brand recognition, providing a fantastic opportunity for print companies to produce vibrant, informative, and appealing food and drink labels so their customers’ products stand out from the competition.”

As for the trends PSPs should be aware of, Mariani also picks up on sustainability. However, despite the market recovering from material supply chain issues caused by strikes in Finland and the Covid-19 pandemic, the key issues now are with the supply of environmentally friendly materials.

As for other challenges, Mariani explains significant labour shortages impacting companies across industries including warehousing, hospitality, and agriculture are leading businesses to look for labour-saving equipment.

“Consequently, we’ve witnessed increased demand for label finishing solutions, robotics, label applicators, and print-and-apply systems, all of which can help save time and resources,” he says.

Solutions available from AM Labels include the OKI Pro1050 colour label printer, which Mariani says is ideal for creating vibrant, professional, and high-quality labels. AM Labels recently supplied the printer to a fish processor that exports shellfish overseas, enabling the company to print quality, durable, full-colour labels that can withstand freezer temperatures and transportation.

“This model stands out from others in the market as it offers white as a fifth colour, providing greater design flexibility, as white can be used as a background on transparent and dark materials, such as metallics,” Mariani says.

Also supplied by AM Labels is the Epson C6000 colour label printer, which it recently sold to a trading card grading company, enabling it to create vibrant and eye-catching trading card labels for customers.

Move To Digital

Rounding off the discussion is Bobst, which supplies solutions to both the labelling and packaging sectors. Steve Lakin, sales manager for labels and narrow web at Bobst UK and Ireland, says when it comes to the trends that are shaping the market, there are a wide range of macro and micro market trends involved.

Steve Lakin, sales manager for labels and narrow web at Bobst UK and Ireland, says digital print has opened up new opportunities in labels

“Digitalisation in print and processes is accelerating the speed, quality, costs, and response times of the label industry,” he says, adding: “There is also increasing demand for fast turnaround, short-run work as brands seek to compete in ever more competitive global markets. This is driving demand for digital presses and digitalisation.

Digitalisation in print and processes is accelerating the speed, quality, costs, and response times of the label industry

“PSPs should also consider shifting consumer purchasing behaviours, with demand for mass customisation, personalisation, and product experiences; and engagement is driving demand for different label types with variable data and connectivity.

“There is also the issue of sustainability as brands and consumers seek sustainable label types backed by sustainable supply chains. In addition, increasing regulatory requirements are emerging for issues such as compliance, traceability, allergens, and provenance, which is placing pressure on label designs.”

Having identified that the labels market is rapidly accelerating towards digital printing and converting, Lakin says Bobst is in a strong position to support label printers with its range of solutions.

O Factoid: Studies suggest the global labels market will grow to $41.75bn (£32.94bn) by the year 2026 O

This includes the Bobst Digital Master line, an all-in-one system that digitalises and automates production, encompassing printing, embellishing, and cutting. The machine is capable of up to 100m/min at full native resolution of 1200dpi, in four or six colours with the option for digital white.

“Built to be modular and upgradable, the Digital Master range demonstrates our long-term commitment to building strong customer relationships and providing solutions that will continue serving market needs for years to come,” Lakin says.

“The technology is designed to reduce waste in production, and with automation features operating alongside cutting-edge technologies, it enables our customers to achieve high performance without compromising on sustainability.”

From speaking with market specialists, it is clear that there are plenty of opportunities for growth and expansion in the labels sector. Ensuring you have the right sort of kit in place and are targeting the areas with the most potential will likely put you on the path to a profitable future.

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