The Market Matures

The sleeve label in all its forms — shrink, stretch, and roll-on-shrink-on/machine direction (ROSO/MD) — has changed the face of the packaging market in just ten years. While globally it still represents only 8% of total label demand (see Figure 1), sleeving takes significant market share in many regional markets. It also shows the highest growth rate of all label types and has become a primary competitor to pressure-sensitive labels for premium product applications.

Competitive Technologies

An estimated 90% of the world's labeling needs are met by glue-applied and p-s technologies. Growth in glue-applied labels today is driven by the increasing volumes of hot melt wrap-around labels, both roll-fed and cut-and-stack, which are widely used for soft drinks, mineral waters, and canned foods. Also growing in demand are p-s labels, particularly in the emerging economies of Asia Pacific and South America.

However, sleeve labels offer a combination of benefits in terms of visual appeal, tamper-evidence, product protection (strengthened container walls, containment of glass breakages, etc.) and 360-deg head-to-toe product decoration. Such a combination of features would be hard to achieve with any other single “label” process.

Market Share

The sleeving technologies enjoy the highest market share in Asia, where they command 37% of total label demand, with North America (at 31%) and Europe (at 24%) in second and third place (see Figure 2).

Heat shrink sleeves dominate, with 65% of the global market. They are followed by stretch sleeves at 22% and ROSO/MD at 13% (see Figure 3).

Materials and Conversion

The materials used for sleeve labels primarily are polyvinyl chlorides. However, there is strong growth in alternative materials such as PET-G and polypropylene, as well as bio-films such as polylactic acid.

Heat shrink sleeve conversion by the ultraviolet (UV) flexographic process and on narrow web combination-process presses is increasing. This opens new opportunities for label converters to widen their product offerings.

Threats and Opportunities

Raw material and energy costs, however (particularly in relation to petrochemicals), are a real issue for a technology that employs only film substrates. Environmental concerns and legislation around packaging sustainability already have significantly changed European Union thinking and are becoming a focus now in North America. An additional threat, of course, is the continuing pressure from purchasers to reduce costs.

Sleeving still has a very positive future, however, supported by developments in higher labeling line speeds, substrates, and UV-curing ink technology. Sleeving's brand security tamper-evident attributes are being used more fully, and opportunities exist for incorporating “intelligent” packaging features such as EMID (electromagnetic identification) and holographic devices.

Looking to the Future

Sleeve label demand will continue to show improvements year-on-year to 2010 at approximately 7%/yr — a healthy rate, but demand will reduce slowly as the market matures. Of that overall total, shrink sleeves again will dominate, with stretch sleeves slowing to about 4.5% and ROSO/MD to about 4%/yr.

Ann Hirst-Smith is a UK-based freelance journalist specializing in the labeling and packaging businesses. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Learn More

Full details of this market research are available in “Global Sleeve Label Market and Technology Review 2007,” an AWAreness Report published by AWA Alexander Watson Assoc., Amsterdam, Netherlands;

AWA Conferences & Events will hold its second International Sleeve Labeling Conference May 12-14 at the Hyatt Rosemont Hotel (Chicago, IL). Register online at

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