In the first of a series of articles being written , I dwell on the background of packaging and package printing, and assess the role played by labels.
Over the years packaging experts continue to draw inspiration from nature. Nature has provided packaging for its creations and has ensured its protection from dust, pollution and maintaining its freshness for the lifespan that nature has attributed to the product before it is consumed. There is no shortage of examples; bananas, oranges, coconut, nuts, eggs etc. Carefully observe each of such products, it has a covering depending on its need for keeping qualities and freshness. Furthermore, the packaging is organic, environmentally friendly and bio-degradable once it has delivered its purpose and is ready to be disposed off. To have an orange juice we have to use packaging that is polluting the environment and adding to unnecessary waste. It is though no real necessity, as a fresh orange is more nutritious and has all the good values that we need, yet modern day urbanisation has brought with it the need to process foods and create products such as orange juice to substitute peeling off a fresh orange and eating it fresh. Hence there is the need for attractive packagings that will enhance the shelf life of product and tempt the consumers to buy the processed/packaged products. In earlier years these natural packagings solved our purpose and it was all that was necessary because people bought fresh and ate fresh. Not long ago in India the street vegetable or fruit vendor would come to the colonies each morning after the men have left for offices. They would be shouting, “Aloo lo, Piaz Lo, Tamatar lo!” (Means take Potatoes, Onions or Tomatoes) and instantly you would have women popping out of their balconies and asking the vendor to wait. They would then be seen around the vendor’s cart, gossiping with their neighbors, buying vegetables and fruits from the street vendor. This is still prevalent in many semi-urban and rural areas in India. I am sure in the earlier part of the last century this kind of selling must have been existing in the western countries also. With evolution, literacy levels in urban India started to rise resulting in increased employment and higher disposable incomes, bringing about a change in lifestyles. As more members of urban households started to venture out to seek gainful employment, time became a commodity that was in short supply. There arose a need to buy for many days in one go. Initially the refrigerator was enough to store food but as the need to store food for a week, fortnight or a month was felt, scientifically created packaging that could prolong the shelf life as also tempt the customer to lift the products off the shop shelves  in modern day retailing, became an imperative. With this also emerged the need for a highly decorated and eye-catching labels!



When we walk in front of the shop shelves of any big retail store, it is observed that each time there is an urge to lift a product off the shelf it is because of the label that we establish the first eye contact with the product as a consumer. The label is the most communicative part of a package as it stirs the initial impulse to lift and read it. The label establishes the identity of the product, and it is the direct link between the product and the consumer. Once the consumer has taken the product in hand there is an instant desire to read the label and know more about the product. A good label makes the product identifiable and delivers the desired communication from the manufacturer to the targeted consumer. It is the unique selling tool once the product is in the buyer’s hand and delivers more value than a salesperson may by having the consumers focused attention while perusing the label. Consider any product, let us say two liquor bottles or shampoo bottles. Put them on a shop shelf without any label. We can be sure there will be hardly any person who will pick the product. Even if people do reach out for them, they are likely to go back on to the place where they were sitting. Today’s consumer is very well informed even in countries like India where still large number of consumer durables is sold unpacked. With the advent of television and mobile phones information is reaching out to smaller towns and villages in the remotest parts of every country. This situation has given a boost to the organized retail and with that as I explained, the importance of label has escalated.



A package in totality would consist of a primary packaging that would contain or hold the product being sold, a secondary packaging that would hold the primary packaging carrying the main product and finally the tertiary packaging or the shipper carton that would be used to transport the finally packaged consignment to destination. The label as we refer to it as the face of any product is affixed on the primary packaging. However, it also finds use on the secondary and tertiary packaging, serving various end purposes. The primary packaging is the most important part which is designed and decided depending on the product whether it is a powder, liquid, semi solid, solid or tablets, etc. The all-important label must be on the primary packaging and stay with it during the lifespan of the product in use. At times, the label becomes an integral part of the primary packaging. In case of pharmaceutical tablets, they would be blister packed in strips and the foil or laminate covering the strips would become the label. In case of toothpaste the tube itself would be printed to serve as a label. However, most other products especially liquids whether in food, pharmaceuticals, liquor or FMCG segment are packed in plastic or glass bottles. These must be labeled suitably and call for high end decorative design and production. Flexible packaging also is employed but largely in food and lubricant segment. Here again the packaging itself is printed to serve as a label, however flexible packs once opened need to be used in full and cannot be stored. In recent product innovations, flexible packs also come fitted with pouring devices and caps so that the packaging is not destroyed immediately but has an extended shelf life. In case of a secondary pack, here again most of the time the package, in case of consumer products is printed, same is the case with tertiary packaging however a large part of the shipper cartons is made of brown Kraft corrugated board with none or minimal printing. While the secondary packaging is imperatively printed or decoratively labeled, the secondary and tertiary packs also need to be labeled depending on the need. These labels can be barcodes, for inventory control, product information labels, simple logistic labels or mandatory for some products; track and trace labels.


The package



In urban organized retailing the package itself plays a very vital and sensitive role. Every housewife now wishes nice looking packages containing sauces, juices, milk, and other food item to adorn the shelves of her kitchen and the refrigerator. Designers continue to innovate and create packaging to catch the shopper’s fancy. I cite an example of changes in the packaging of shampoo in India. Initially it was glass bottles or shampoo bottles. In an endeavour  to increase the reach of the product to rural areas and make it affordable, someone decided to package the one-use shampoo in a small, printed plastic sachet to retail at just Rupee one(1.1 cent Euro) per piece. The product was an instant hit and marketers were talking about it and felt it was the brightest of ideas. It did not take long for people to realize that they were tasting shampoo each time they tried to open the sachet. Try opening one in a shower, it is a nightmare! Invariably you will end up using your teeth to cut open the pack and will taste some of the shampoo. Health concerns came to the fore with changing lifestyles and fancy shampoo bottles with highly decorated fancy labels were back in the bathrooms across the nation. Indians across the nation, make their local bread “ROTI” fresh each time they sit for a meal. The dough is kneaded fresh and the rotis come fluffy and blown to the table while they are hot! The floor for the bread or ROTI, locally called, “ATTA” used to be a passion to source at one time. Each household used to buy whole wheat from farms and take to the local colony floor mill to get freshly ground. They used to tell their guests with pride that their ROTIs were fresh and healthy! With a burgeoning literate middle class, all that is changed, the atta comes nicely packed and for the busy working executives. Pre-rolled semi-cooked rotis come vaccum packed and labeled with enhanced shelf life. They are available on shop shelves of retail stores. One could go on writing about packaging developments and innovations, but all these products need to be well labeled to deliver information to the consumer. An urban consumer today decides the quality of the product by perusing the packaging, its aesthetics and finally by reading the label. Growing health awareness makes them ascertain the manufacturing date, expiry date, contents, quality certification, brand authentication and calories, before they make a buying decision. A discussion and study on the package remain incomplete if the label is not discussed in same line of thought hence having dwelled on the package we now move on to labels.




I have in the preceding paragraphs emphasized the role that label plays as an important part of the package. Before we dwell on the construction and development of labels, we need to understand the types of labels. We have wet glue labels, wrap around labels, shrink sleeves, in-mold labels and Self-adhesive labels. The subject of labels is quite exhaustive but for this series of articles I will try to restrict myself to self adhesive labels. Self adhesive labels or pressure sensitive adhesive labels as the name suggests are pre-gummed labels. These labels have contact adhesive that is sensitive to pressure and get activated on application with normal pressure. When manually applied, thumb pressure is adequate. The labels are broadly spread into three main sub-categories.



1.       Paper labels

2.       Filmic Labels

3.       Other special labels

The paper labels could be diverse types of papers like Matt uncoated, Coated semi-gloss, High gloss, Coloured papers and Textured papers. The selection primarily depends on the product and application. We shall discuss in detail as we move on to the designing of labels. Filmic labels find application for cosmetic and toiletries where high level of decoration is imperative. Transparent film labels are used for applications that call for a clear no-label look. The special labels can be anything that is coming out of a designer’s mind. One could have a cork sheet as a label material for a wine or liquor bottle. Other label face materials employed could be textile, aluminum foil, foam, multiple layered laminates, etc. 

In the following parts of this series, I will dwell on construction of labelstocks, important inputs needed before designing the package and label, the final label design and innovations in labels with examples.

Written by Harveer Sahni, Managing Director Weldon Celloplast Limited, New Delhi August 2014