Shrink Sleeve Segment Shows Continued Growth
As brands seek new ways to grab the attention of valuable consumers, packaging companies continue to provide more economical and flexible offerings to draw the desired response from buyers. As a result, shrink sleeves are becoming an even more popular packaging solution for a growing number of products.
James Dwyer, CEO and president of R.B. Dwyer Group based in Anaheim, Calif., notes that shrink sleeves are a booming market for his company and that he has encountered further growth opportunities in the past few years. R.B. Dwyer Group is a converter and supplier of tamper-evident heat-shrinkable preforms, seamed and seamless roll stock, cut flat bands, and printed labels. It has been producing shrink sleeves since 1990.
“As the equipment gets better and more cost-effective, a lot of the household products like detergents seem to have embraced it and opened up a whole new area,” Dwyer says, adding that the trend toward more tamper-evident packaging is still going strong and is used widely on numerous products.
“And I am sure the pandemic will make it more popular — I see many applications growing,” he says.
R.B. Dwyer Group produces shrink sleeve products on a combination of flexo and digital presses. It purchased its first HP digital press in 2008. The company now has six HP digital presses spread through its three locations in Anaheim, Memphis, Tenn., and Wilkes Barre, Pa.
Dwyer specifically points to the beverage market as being a hot spot for shrink sleeves. To ensure that clients can have their short- or long-run orders produced quickly, the company invests heavily in stocking its multiple production locations with preforms and other materials.
“The other thing we are seeing is, with the restaurant business being down, more people are eating at home and purchasing packaged items,” Dwyer continues. “This is putting a strain on the supply chain, and there is a high demand for products on the shelves. Certain product categories are just flying off the shelves.”
Dwyer maintains that many brands are discovering the economic and creative advantages of shrink sleeves. Instead of buying a printed container, brands can purchase a generic white container and do what they want with it by adding a shrink sleeve.
“This makes it easier to re-brand products without losing warehoused inventory,” Dwyer says. “We found a market for small runs and there are customers that have stuck with us for longer runs because of the quality, the ability to make changes, and [providing] a better lead time.”
Minneapolis-based AWT Labels & Packaging offers packaging solutions for the medical, industrial/OEM, food and beverage, personal care/health and beauty, household, and specialty markets. The company moved into the shrink sleeve arena to stay up-to-date with industry trends and to satisfy customer demand.
“The fact that AWT already had extensive equipment capability and expertise in flexo printing was a factor in the decision,” Chip Fuhrmann, senior VP of sales and marketing, says. “There were also several existing customers who were either currently using shrink sleeves on some of their products or looking to move some products to shrink sleeve decoration.”
Since AWT had already invested in narrow- and wide-web flexographic printing equipment, the company had a short learning curve to begin printing on shrink sleeve material.
“It also helps round out our package decoration offering and gives us more versatility,” Fuhrmann states. “While our experience with flexible packaging was helpful in bringing shrink capabilities on board, the longer learning curve with shrink sleeves involved materials, inks and coatings, and seaming, all of which are big considerations in shrink sleeve production.”
The addition of shrink sleeve creation also enhanced the company’s customer service abilities.
“We can objectively recommend the best decoration method for a given situation without the bias of a converter with only one decoration capability,” Fuhrmann says. He notes that the ability to decorate the entirety of the package is an attractive attribute of shrink sleeves.
“This gives designers a lot of real estate to create unique, attention-getting graphics,” he says. “Brands that want to stand out in the same shelf space as the competition often choose shrink sleeves for this reason. There is a lot of room for decoration, branding, and product information.”
Fuhrmann says he does not see the trend toward more shrink sleeve packaging slowing down any time soon.
“We are still fielding orders and inquiries for shrink work on an expanding variety of packaging,” he states. “Sustainability will only increase in importance, and there are some established and emerging materials that provide an eco-friendly shrink sleeve solution. As more brand options appear in an already crowded retail arena, shrink sleeves offer a way to grab consumer attention.”
Kim Young, marketing communications specialist at Inland Packaging based in La Crosse, Wis., notes that shrink sleeves continue trending as a popular packaging option due to their versatility.
“Shrink sleeves work on many different container types — plastic, aluminum cans, glass — which covers numerous end-use markets,” Young says. “The biggest factor that plays into the popularity of shrink sleeves is its ability to cover 360 degrees of the container. As consumers, we are asking for more transparency from brand owners to disclose as much information as possible about a particular product, so to have an entire container to communicate relevant information to consumers is crucial.”
Inland got its start more than 75 years ago as a commercial printer and quickly grew to be a leading label manufacturer in the beer industry. Much of the company’s focus was on cut-and-stack and pressure-sensitive labels. But that changed when Inland acquired its Neenah, Wis., facility in 2016. The company expanded into end-use markets such as beverage, food, consumer products, and health and beauty.
Today, Inland produces shrink sleeves across two flexo facilities in Neenah and Downingtown, Pa. The majority of the shrink sleeve business is produced in Neenah on flexo presses as well as an HP Indigo 20000 digital press.
“We can also produce shrink sleeves utilizing our rotogravure press which supports much longer production runs,” Young adds. “One of the biggest advantages of having two flexo facilities is the ability for the second facility to support customer growth and capacity throughout its ebbs and flows.”
Young sees a rise in shrink sleeve applications within the beverage market due to a greater focus on can utilization. Preprinted cans come with a heavy commitment to long production runs, Young says.
“Larger companies may be able to handle this requirement, but many small to medium companies are not able to swing that,” she says. “Shrink sleeves provide the ability for these smaller to medium-sized companies to order blank cans and utilize a shrink sleeve to diversify their products. This allows brands to have multiple different flavors of a particular product and try new things without an extensive amount of risk.”
Additionally, Young points to a pair of options that are becoming commonplace in the shrink sleeve space — matte coatings and perforations.
“Matte coatings are increasingly popular with shrink sleeves as they provide the look and feel that consumers have been drawn to in recent years,” Young says. “This non-gloss look has become very prevalent as you look around on store shelves.”
Meanwhile, perforations allow products to have a tamper-evident seal while providing a safe and easy-to-open package for end-users. Also, perforations can bring recyclability benefits.
“Including a double perf down the side of a container provides consumers the opportunity to easily remove the shrink sleeve label from the container so that a container made of plastic, glass, or aluminum can easily be recycled,” Young explains.
Looking to the future, Young says she expects even more growth for the shrink sleeve market.
“We’ve been seeing this market grow for years, and do not anticipate that changing anytime soon,” Young says. “We hope to continue to see more innovation with shrink sleeves and continue to see this label type grow.”