Inovar Packaging Group tackles latest digital label trends

Bill Kral notes that the proliferation of this technology has allowed brands to make a local and regional impact.

Greg Hrinya, Editor02.21.24 Digital label printing is no longer a luxury, as more converters are turning to the technology than ever before. The top industry suppliers have responded with cutting-edge equipment, allowing converters to better serve brands on a multitude of levels.

While digital printing technology is not new, the quality has certainly reached never-before-seen heights. Digital equipment has rapidly evolved to mirror flexographic, or conventional printing, with the ability to add on equipment that diecuts and rewinds labels, manages longer runs, and works in a faster and timelier manner. Digital printing works alongside flexo, and in some instances – such as hybrid or high-speed standalone digital – it can replace flexo for certain jobs.

“Advancements in digital equipment have enabled brands to expand their product offering, elevate their products and quickly refresh their brand,” explains Bill Kral, chief commercial officer, Inovar Packaging Group. “The development of new printing technology, such as digital tactile bars, hybrid printing, and inkjet printing, has also allowed for foil and tactile embellishments to be added to labels. These digital embellishments have brought digital labels into the realm of high-end products in the spirits and beauty verticals, and even for short run production like craft spirits.

Cost is not a deterring factor any longer, either. “Digital consumable costs, like inks, have gotten less expensive allowing for cost-effective longer runs,” adds Kral. “The threshold between digital and conventional printing continues to get moved out, enabling larger brands to take advantage of digital flexibility without dramatically increasing their packaging costs.”

Digital printing has addressed a wide range of trends in the label and package printing space. From sustainability to personalization, digital can meet a host of customer demands. For small and new-to-market brands, digital allows for rapid change and short-run production. For historic brands, digital provides the ability to reenergize the brand through social media campaigns, shelf appeal, personalized packaging, or regional packaging.

“We have seen these trends play out locally and regionally in many different ways,” states Kral. “Major brands are able to market their products to local and regional markets, allowing them to cross market their brands with local sports teams, universities or even state/city nicknames. We have even seen brands create campaigns for specific events using digital printing. For example, Bud Light used HP SmartStream mosaic digital technology to create unique can shrink sleeve designs for a marketing block party event. Using similar technology, universities and sports franchises across the country leverage digital printing to develop custom branded merchandise for mass customization. Additionally, brands can use digital printing technology to trial many different packaging concepts with ease during the test market phase.”

Digital printing has advantages if the customer is seeking a fully recyclable product or sustainable packaging, notes Kral. Sustainable packaging is a huge trend for a lot of CPGs, and most can lend themselves to digital printing whether it’s for a PS label or a shrink sleeve. 

“Digital uses less waste for setup and printers can switch from SKU to SKU instantly with less waste,” he remarks. “Over the course of the past few years, consumers have become less brand loyal, forcing brand managers to work harder at grabbing consumers’ attention at the shelf or cooler. To do this, brands have expanded their SKUs to become more focused on matching consumer needs and wants. Due to SKU proliferation, volume per SKU has decreased, which has made digital packaging a better fit.

“Buyers are increasingly investing in self-care, personal care/skincare products, and private label products, which are all ideal for digital printing with multiple SKUs and constant new product testing,” he adds. “Younger consumers are always looking to try something new and unique. Traditional brands are responding to this demand by refreshing their products – and the quickest, least costly way to do so is by changing the packaging. Digitally printed packaging allows the brand manager to easily test new ideas, refresh their brand or market to consumers on an individual basis.”

Digital printing has been advantageous for brands, too. “Campaigns such as Share a Coke, Pepsi Emoji, Nutella, and Lays are all great examples of this customization,” says Kral. “The craft spirits vertical, in particular, has been utilizing digital printing to create embellishments that can be done digitally for short runs, including tactile finishes and foils. Finally, digital offers brand managers the opportunity to interact with their consumers in new ways through individual codes that take the consumer-to-web content and related loyalty programs. Obviously, the data gleaned from these codes is extremely valuable for companies to understand specific consumer behavior and trends that will impact their product development and marketing plans.”

These campaigns allow brands – both large and small – to direct their marketing efforts to the individual. According to Inovar, today’s consumers desire a personal experience with the brands they use or are considering buying. Personal care, vitamin, and haircare companies are all seeing a surge of unique, personalized products, which are developed through ordering concepts specialized to the consumer such as custom developed shampoos and single serve vitamin sachets.

“These brands are typically private label and custom develop labels for their products, as well,” says Kral. “Many brands have also developed loyalty programs that make it easy for consumers to log their purchases and for the brand to ensure that the program is not being compromised. Traditional UPC barcodes can be scanned multiple times because they are not unique. However, brands can use a unique, digitally printed QR code, which can be scanned only one time.

For example, General Mills’ Blue Buffalo brand puts a digitally printed coupon inside their dry dog food. The consumer can join their loyalty program and scan that unique barcode with the “Fetch” app to get additional benefits. Having consumers download an app and interact with the brand every time they make a purchase is extremely valuable. This type of program has been used for a long time by retailers and restaurants, but individual brands can now use digital packaging to develop the same type of programs, more efficiently.

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