Over the last couple of weeks, as we end one decade and begin another, I have spent some time thinking about where the label industry is headed. So here are my top five label industry predictions for the coming decade.
1. Digital printing becomes the dominant technology
This is really not a difficult prediction. We started the last decade with digital technology in its infancy in the label industry with just a few installations around the world and top speeds of 24 ft/min. Today there are more than a thousand digital label presses installed worldwide and speed has gone to 100 ft/min. HP-Indigo had become one of the top three label press manufacturers at the end of the decade, something that would have been unheard of 10 years ago. In 10 years time I expect HP-Indigo to be the leading press manufacturer in the label industry and the number two and three positions will also belong to digital manufacturers, probably Xeikon and an inkjet press manufacturer. Flexo label printing will still be alive, but it will be a niche in the label industry suitable only for the very long runs.
2. Video product labels become a reality
Last year I wrote about Entertainment Weekly and the video screen that was embedded in their magazine. This was a window into technology that will become widespread in the coming decade. I expect that a high end cosmetics or pharmaceutical company will take the plunge some time later this decade and you will see a running video on their product label. The technology is already available to do this, we just have to wait until the pricing becomes more reasonable.
3. Labels will become more personal
Personalized product labels have been around now for many years. There is an entire category on this blog dedicated to product personalization. Even so, personalization hasn’t hit the mainstream yet. This will change in the coming decade. The youth of today are used to personalization and they will become the driving force in this movement as they become the consumers of tomorrow. Now, I don’t expect we will go to the grocery store and see product labels with our name on them any time soon. Instead, what will happen is that most products will come with a personalization option. You could buy the generic labeled product in the store or you could order online and create your own personalized label. As digital printing becomes faster and more widespread the cost to offer this option will continue to fall.
4. UPC barcodes will be phased out
By the end of the decade the good old UPC barcodes that we have come to know on every retail product will be phased out. Many people have predicted that RFID will replace the barcode, but it hasn’t happened yet and I don’t see it happening in this coming decade. Instead, I expect we will move from the one dimensional UPC barcode to a two dimensional barcode such as a QR code. Scanning software could be easily upgraded to read this type of barcode and these codes have the additional benefit of being a marketing tool. Soon all phones will come standard with the software necessary to scan these QR codes, it is already a downloadable application for smartphones now. Initially these QR codes will be printed side by side with regular UPC codes until scanners and their software are upgraded later this decade.
5. Recycling will become a huge issue
It is interesting to me that recycling has not become a huge issue yet in the label industry, particularly in this country. As an industry we produce a lot of waste with spent liner and matrix currently all going to the landfill. Small steps are being made to address this huge problem and by the end of the decade I expect there will be a national recycling program due in large part to the efforts of Calvin Frost, the leading label industry environmentalist. Label buyers and consumers will demand we become more environmentally friendly as an industry, it is starting to happen in Europe already.