Although the US labels industry was negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, it suffered less than many other industries. For instance, although moderate losses in demand were seen in most markets due to reduced economic activity in 2020, food – which is essential – avoided losses, while pharmaceutical, mailing, and shipping labels all saw healthy gains:
- The pandemic increased demand for pharmaceuticals used to prevent and treat COVID-19, which generated significant demand for labels, as did the need for real-time tracking of medications within hospitals that were treating increasing numbers of patients.
- Strong demand growth for labels in mailing and shipping application was spurred by significant increases in online shopping – in particular groceries and curbside pick-up, where labels are affixed to grocery bags.
Looking ahead of 2020, the US labels market is projected to expand 3.3% per year to $20.6 billion in 2025, according to a new Freedonia Group analysis. Below are some of the key highlights of the long-term forecast.
Pressure Sensitive to Remain Largest Segment; Heat Shrink Labels to Grow at Fast Pace
Among label application methods, pressure sensitive labels – which accounted for 76% of demand in 2020 – are popular due to their versatility of applications, suitability for the popular no-label look, and amenability to specialization such as extended content labels (ECLs) and smart labels. Through 2025, gains for pressure sensitive labels will be supported by the:
- growing popularity of specialized labels, including RFID-enabled and extended content types
- the promotion of higher value and higher performance labels such as more durable types for automotive, appliance, and electronics applications
Meanwhile, heat shrink and stretch sleeve labels are expected to expand at an above average pace and will continue to take market share from glue-applied labels. Though comparatively more expensive to produce, heat shrink and stretch sleeve labels have superior aesthetics and are seeing advancements in digital printing, which will boost demand for these labels. As a result, pressure sensitive labels will face competition from heat shrink and stretch sleeve labels, particularly in food applications.
Mailing & Shipping, Secondary Packaging Labels to Post Largest Absolute Gains Through 2025
Ongoing growth in e-commerce – which the pandemic helped to accelerate – as well as the increased need to track and trace inventory in distribution and transportation, will support healthy growth for labels in mailing and shipping labels, as well as secondary packaging. These two markets are expected to experience the largest absolute gains of any label market through 2025:
- Demand for mailing and shipping labels for individually packaged items instead of bulk shipping – as well as the trend of e-commerce retailers including printed return labels with shipments – will buoy growth.
- Increases in retail activity will also boost demand for labels used with secondary packaging, most notably track and trace labels.
Digital Printing to Offer New Opportunities for Labels
Digital printing will expand at by far the fastest pace of any label printing technology through 2025, when it is expected to be replace lithography as the second most common printing method. Growth will be boosted by demand for short print runs of customized packaging for promotions and customized marketing, which is more affordable when using digital printing.
Demand for digitally printed labels will also be supported by increased regulatory activity, particularly in the pharmaceutical market, which sometimes requires frequent changes to information presented on labels. Digital printing’s versatility and minimal prepress preparation time allows adjustments to be made cost-effectively.
Technological Advances Promote Sales of Value-Added Labels
While smart labels such as RFID tags and EAS labels have been around for a while – especially in retail environments for inventory tracking and loss prevention – innovations in converting and printing technologies are making these items more affordable, helping to increase their penetration in a number of markets. In the pharmaceutical market, for instance, Avery Dennison is working with Schreiner MediPharm and PragmatIC Semiconductor in December 2020 to develop a RFID label for medications that utilizes near-field communication to identify tampering, prove authenticity, and offer patients reordering information and instructions.
Temperature sensitive inks and materials are also being incorporated into smart labels to indicate whether perishable products – particularly foods – have been exposed to high temperatures during transport. Other smart labels are utilizing nanotechnology, although these applications are mainly in the development stages. For example, nanomaterials can be used in sensors that change color when spoilage or bacterial contamination is present in a food.
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About the Author:
Peter Kusnic is a Content Writer with The Freedonia Group, where he researches and writes studies focused on an array of industries.