Heat Shrink & Stretch Sleeve Labels

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This study analyzes the United States market for heat shrink and stretch sleeve labels. In the context of this report, a label is defined as any material adhered to an object to indicate contents, pricing, ownership, directions, destinations, ratings, warnings, or other information.

Demand is segmented by type (heat shrink labels and stretch sleeve labels), as well as by stock material:

  • polyethylene (e.g., low density polyethylene, linear low density polyethylene, and biobased polyethylene)
  • polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
  • other plastics, such as oriented polypropylene (OPP), oriented polystyrene (OPS), polyethylene terephthalate glycol (PETG), and polylactic acid (PLA)

Furthermore, demand is analyzed by market:

  • food processing
  • beverages
  • pharmaceuticals
  • cosmetics and toiletries
  • other primary packaging (e.g., automotive chemicals, household cleaning chemicals, medical devices, apparel and textiles, lawn and garden production, paper and plastic products, sporting goods, tobacco, toys)

Demand is also discussed in terms of printing technology, such as flexography, digital printing, gravure, and lithographic printing.

Excluded from the study are:

  • graphic films
  • heat-seal labels
  • wraparound labels
  • label/form combinations
  • labels printed directly onto containers without the use of an intervening substrate
  • unprinted shrink neckbands

Historical data for 2010, 2015, and 2020 and forecasts for 2025 and 2030 are presented in current US dollars at the manufacturers’ level (which are not adjusted to account for inflation).

Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic

Heat shrink and stretch sleeve labels were the only types of labels that saw growth in 2020. While their widespread use in food and beverage labeling supported gains, sales were also boosted by the growing use of sleeves for over-the-counter (OTC) pharmaceuticals such as cold medicines and pain relievers. Accounting for 20% of total pharmaceutical label demand in 2020, sleeves – especially heat-shrink sleeves – are increasingly used in these applications for their ability to provide tamper evidence:

  • Sales of OTC pharmaceuticals spiked amid heightened consumer health concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • In the healthcare sector, while many elective procedures were canceled, the increase in COVID-19 patients bolstered demand for OTCs used in hospitals.

Demand growth for food labels was similar in both 2019 and 2020, with stay-at-home orders encouraging consumers to shop for food less frequently, boosting demand for shelf-stable products, which are more likely to be packaged than fresh foods. Labels for food delivered from grocery stores to consumers also benefited in 2020.

In 2021, demand growth for heat shrink and stretch sleeve labels is expected to normalize as the pandemic recedes and consumers begin dining out and traveling more often. As such, the strongest advances are expected for the beverages market, although food labels will also see increases as foodservice establishments continue to reopen and expand service.  


Demand by Material

Demand for heat shrink and stretch sleeve labels is forecast to climb 5.2% annually to $2.2 billion in 2025. Developments in plastic resins will continue to affect material choices, particularly for heat shrinks, going forward:

  • PE is used primarily in stretch sleeves, as it offers high performance at a low cost, and will benefit from its use in recyclable polyolefin blends for shrink sleeves; however, PVC will continue to lose ground to alternative resins as brand owners seek environmentally benign materials.
  • While PVC will continue to lose share based on potential environmental and human health hazards, it remains the leading material used in the fast growing shrink sleeve segment.
  • Other resins – such as OPP, PETG, and PLA – will offer good growth opportunities as OPP continues to capture share from PVC in heat shrink labels, and PETG and PLA find use in high-end shrink sleeves.

Demand by Market

Demand for heat shrink and stretch sleeve labels is forecast to climb 5.2% annually to $2.2 billion in 2025, supported by:

  • the cost efficiency of heat shrink and stretch labels, enabled by the rising popularity of digital printing
  • their excellent aesthetics, which boost the shelf appeal of products using these labels

Developments in production technologies and printing techniques – including advances in shrink tunnels, flexography, and digital printing – are widening heat shrink use beyond food and beverage markets. Primary heat shrink labels are increasingly used for:

  • cosmetics
  • toiletries
  • OTC pharmaceuticals
  • nutritional supplements

Heat shrink labels’ range is also expanding beyond primary labels into:

  • multipack collation films and overlabels
  • labels on large caps like on laundry detergent for added promotional space
  • tamper-evident printed neck bands

Demand by Type

Demand for heat shrink and stretch sleeve labels, also known collectively as sleeve labels, is forecast to climb 5.2% annually to $2.2 billion in 2025, the fastest growth of any major label type. Strong growth will be driven by:

  • excellent aesthetics – including a broad promotional area, glossy and colorful graphics, no-label look, and ability to contour to unique container shapes – enabling sleeves to compete effectively against alternatives
  • a growing range of applications beyond plastic and glass bottles and jars, such as plastic tubs and cups, plastic canisters, cosmetic tubes (e.g., lipstick), and overlabels for multipacks
  • improvements to digital printing technology, resulting in better graphics at a lower cost and making sleeves a more viable label choice

Despite lower costs associated with improved material and converting technologies, sleeve label production remains a more expensive process compared to other label types and significant capital investments in machinery are required.


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