Industry Insights: Label-Free Packaging Trends in 2022

The global packaging industry is an enormous economic generator. Statistics from the well-recognized Smithers Pira organization have reported that the world packaging market value will reach $1.05 trillion by 2024. 

Recently, an interesting new trend related to PET bottle labeling has caught industry experts’ attention. Pushed by general public care for the environment issue and an increasing need to cut packaging expenses, many well-known brands started adopting label-free packaging. Other than packaging sustainability, brands’ marketing methods may also see radical changes in the near future. 

In this article, we will explore the new label-free packaging trends in 2022. Finally, we will discuss the current situation and the potential industry developments. Let us take a look!

Industry Insights: Label-Free Packaging Trends in 2022 1

Labeled PET Bottle Packaging At Glance

Bottle design elements such as the bottle shape and label play an important role in the buyer’s ultimate purchase decision. Consumers pay attention to product information printed on labels more than ever before. When picking up a bottle, they usually look at the label to learn about the product ingredients, nutritional composition, shelf life, and origin statements , which enable customers to build trust with the brand and feel safer during their purchase. 

At the same time, brands use labels for marketing communication. Labels can be designed by the company to add brand logos, highlight product selling points, and share marketing messages. Each design element is intended to attract customers’ attention appealing to their needs (e.g., aesthetic needs, emotional satisfaction, class belonging, etc.). However, not just the packaging design plays a key role in buyers’ decisions. In recent years, more and more customers have started to be concerned with products’ environmental impact. 

Latest studies shared by National Geographic report that in 2018 around 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic has been produced, while just the 9% has been recycled. Over 79% percent of plastic is accumulating in landfills or sloughing off in the natural environment as litter. The article also states that if the trends continue, by 2050, there will be around 12 billion metric tons of plastic in landfills ( 35,000 times the weight of the Empire State Building). 

As a matter of fact, the manufacture and recycling of PET bottles (including labels and caps) are critical for environmental protection. Beverage bottles are often made of recyclable PET, yet the labels and the caps are usually made of different materials such as PVC. After the bottle is thrown into the trash, the label and bottle body must be “separated” in the recycling factory. However, PVC and PET material density are too similar to be separated by simple flotation. Ultimately, the recycling process brings additional costs to society, consumes more resources, and generates pollution. 

To give you an example of the actual impact of labels in the recycling process, we can look at Nestlé. In 2018, it was reported that Nestlé reduced the size of its bottle labels by 35% in North America. As a result, the company saved nearly 30,000 metric tons of plastic and 4,500 metric tons of paper annually. Needless to say, this change had a positive impact on the company revenue and the environment. 

Label-free Global Packaging Trends

The analysis mentioned above brings us to a possible revolution in the packaging industry. Recently, we have observed different leading brands and smaller realities of the beverage industry opting for label-free packaging. So far, these brands have been carefully testing the market by just focusing on specific regions and distribution channels. The initial feedback seems promising, yet experts are still considering what would be customers’ response without the colorful label on the bottles. Nevertheless, we have already had a glimpse of the possible packaging developments involving product recycling and marketing. 

First of all, removing the label of PET bottles can reduce the use of plastics in the manufacturing and simplify the recycling process. Thus, many companies are expected to choose a 100% recyclable label-free PET solution. 

As for marketing, products may display the brand logo and product information on the secondary packaging, such as the outer carton. Another interesting possibility is that brands may consider customizing their packaging by laser printing such information on the PET bottle body. Barcodes with more detailed information could be printed directly on the bottle cap.

Below, we have analyzed some of the most compelling examples of this new trend.

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Label-free 100% Recycled PET Bottles

According to a Kantar global research report, 87.5% of consumers care about whether the products they buy meet the “reduced packaging” standards, and 20% take actions to reduce daily packaging waste. Thus, it comes with no surprise that we have leading enterprises such as Coca-Cola among the first to embrace the new trend.

In November 2021, Coca-Cola was named the world’s largest corporate polluter for the fourth time. Following the news, Coca-Cola debuted in South Korea with a label-free PET bottle called “Coca-Cola Contour Label-Free” to improve recyclability by eliminating plastic bottles labels. The new product was sold online in boxes of 24 bottles X 370 ml.

In addition, Coca-cola has debuted with a 13.2-oz. bottle made from 100% recycled PET in the United States. At this point, it is clear that product sustainability will play a key marketing role in the years to come. 

Industry Insights: Label-Free Packaging Trends in 2022 3

Label-free PET Bottles Marketing Communication

According to a survey conducted by Ipsos, 72% of American consumers say their purchase decision is influenced by packaging design. For example, custommers prefer to choose bottle labels that can convey canny marketing messages through colors, slogans, or bottle shapes. 

Then, how to promote a “naked bottle” design?

Removing the label from bottles does not mean giving up essential marketing elements. On the contrary, it can become a chance to develop innovative designs to attract more customers. For instance, a label-free PET bottle can become the key for a marketing campaign focusing on audiences sensitive to ecological issues. 

In this regard, the well-known Evian brand has recently launched its first label-free, 100% recyclable PET (rPET) bottle in Singapore. Both the bottle cap and body are made of recycled plastic and have been embossed with micro-labeling. The material used in the cap is different from the rPET used in the bottle. The caps are made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and oriented polypropylene (OPP), which are recyclable.

Evian’s label-free bottle displays the company logo and basic label information directly printed into the bottle body. The brand is enhanced through a clean yet accurate design, which makes writings clearly visible despite the bottle transparency. Ultimately, style and ecology are the two elements that the brand has chosen to highlight through its communication strategy. 

As it stands, Evian mainly promotes its product through hotels and restaurants. The water bottles are sold in boxes where printed barcodes provide further information about the product. 

However, not only leading brands are following the new trend. Even smaller reality are showing new ways to promote their products and inform the customers. 

The popular C2 Thai mineral water brand has come up with an original product design. The label-free bottle body portraits animals in their natural scenery laser printed on the surface. (e.g., a polar bear under the snow or a deer in the forest) Through the animal images and 100% recyclable PET composition, C2 products reflect its brand’s mission to environmental protection.

In addition, as opposed to the previous examples, the bottle is sold directly in retail stores. In fact, the company has printed a barcode on the top of each bottle cap. In this way, consumers can easily scan the barcode with their smartphone and quickly know all the product-relevant information.

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The Future of Packaging 

At any rate, these new trends need to face many different challenges related to countries’ legislation towards packaging. In many regions, food safety law stipulates that packaging should be labeled. Therefore, unlabeled beverages cannot be used in retail channels like ordinary supermarkets and convenience stores. At the moment, brands are still testing to sell unlabeled products mainly on e-commerce or in restaurants.

Eventually, based on the current events, we may buy boxes of unlabeled beverages in a not-too-distant future. No doubts such a solution has the potential of bringing great benefits to the customer, manufacturers, and the environment alike. As usual, we will keep you informed on the newest industry developments and packaging trends in 2022. 

Switching to label-free packaging is simple

Founded in 1998, TECH-LONG Packaging Machinery is one of the pioneers of developing sustainable packaging solutions. Among our products, we offer water treatment and beverage pre-treatment systems, filling machines series, blowing-filling-capping series, labeling series, conveying series, secondary packaging equipment. 

Our solutions reflect our core values and assure product sterilization, standardization, and modularization (SSM). Following new packaging trends, we provide our partners with customized services and installations according to their business needs.

Contact us to explore potential partnership opportunities.



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