The beverage industry is full of challenges that require manufacturers to constantly innovate and adapt to stay relevant and profitable. Today’s manufacturers are producing a wider variety of products and using more materials than ever before. To capture the attention span of consumers, beverage manufacturers are constantly altering flavors and formulas, reworking labeling and packaging, and finding other creative ways to incentivize customer engagement and consumption. To keep up with these rapid changes and pivots, production lines must also adapt, using coding and marking technology that can provide the necessary flexibility without sacrificing quality.
While 2020 was a challenging year for everyone, the beverage industry faced some unique hurdles. Below we examine some of the top beverage coding and marking challenges of 2020, how they were overcome, and what they’ll mean for 2021 and beyond.
The following five beverage coding and marking challenges in 2020, most of which weren’t even directly related to the pandemic, are issues that will continue to test the beverage industry as technology changes and consumers become more environmentally conscious.
In recent years, there has been more consumer and producer demand for different beverage sizes. Rising production costs are forcing beverage manufacturers to downsize their packaging sizes while retaining the same sales prices. This process is known as “shrinkflation.” At the same time, the 2020 pandemic caused consumers to visit the grocery store less frequently and to eat and drink more at home. The demand for larger beverage sizes has increased as a result. Many soft drinks are now available in mini (7.5 oz), standard (12 oz), and large (16 oz) aluminum cans as well as in varying sizes for bottles made with polyethylene terephthalate.
Some beverage companies are also finding new ways to innovate standard aluminum cans, as was the case with La Colombe’s self-heating coffee cans, which launched in February 2020. As beverage manufacturers have jumped on these trends, they’ve needed to adapt or expand their lines to accommodate the variety of packaging sizes and types.
In addition, consumer trends for beverage packaging have been shifting toward more convenient and eco-friendly materials, and manufacturers have been finding more efficient and flexible container types as well. For example, drink pouches made particularly for fruit juices and alcoholic beverages are convenient for customers because they’re easier to fit into bags and refrigerators, and manufacturers love them because they’re cheap to source and transport. However, these new materials and containers have forced some manufacturers to change their ink formulas or even their printhead technologies to maintain the quality of their marks.
Consumers have been pushing beverage manufacturers to use more natural and organic ingredients, forcing companies to alter their beverage formulas and packaging materials. For example, in 2020, brands such as Burger King and McDonald’s announced partnerships with the Terracycle Loop zero-waste program, which uses 100% reusable packaging and containers.
Not only have these companies had to change their labeling to market their all-natural ingredients but they have had to ensure their printers and inks can still produce a high-quality mark on the sustainable packaging materials. This challenge isn’t going anywhere, and the beverage industry will need to continue innovating to meet future demands for more environmentally conscious production.
Over the past few years, requirements for beverage traceability have been increasing globally. In the EU, for example, wine manufacturers must be able to trace their ingredients as far back as to where the grapes were grown.
In the U.S., new FDA regulations were announced in 2020 that require increased traceability and reporting for specific types of food, including some fruits, herbs, and vegetables that are used in beverage manufacturing. This has led many in the industry to begin upgrading their traceability, coding, and vision systems to meet these new and upcoming regulatory demands.
The beverage industry has been using modern technology to help engage their customers and innovate their product lines through QR code promotions. These codes are printed on the beverage label, cup, or other packaging and scanned by customers using their smartphones, where they’re incentivized (with a discount code, or entry into a contest, for example) to answer a survey, subscribe to a mailing list, or take some other action to engage with the company’s marketing campaign.
In 2020, the use of QR codes in the retail beverage and restaurant industry exploded, with the COVID-19 pandemic necessitating an increase in contactless interactions. Companies like Starbucks, 7-11, and Dunkin’ Donuts now allow customers to scan QR codes on their product packaging and pay right from their phones without needing to come within six feet of a cashier.
To take advantage of this technology, manufacturers have needed to implement systems for printing and tracking QR codes and their corresponding customer interactions—for example, using traceability software that integrates with their CRM.
Another method that’s used to drive customer engagement is printing 2D codes inside bottle caps that customers can input to a website to earn points toward receiving free items, for example. In addition to the tracking systems mentioned above, these codes often require different printing technology to achieve adequate mark quality on the inside surface of a bottle cap that suffers from high moisture condensation.
Counterfeiting has been and continues to be one of the biggest coding and marking challenges in the high-end wine and spirits industry. It also has always been a problem in online marketplaces like Amazon, and with the pandemic-related surge in online shopping in 2020, the food and beverage industry saw a correlated increase in fraudulent products being sold.
Manufacturers have continued to find ways to create and mark unique, hidden, and traceable codes onto their products to help identify fakes. The software needed to control and track these codes has also been expanding and improving to meet the challenge.
Many of the beverage coding and marking challenges of 2020 are still ongoing, and manufacturers will need to continue innovating to meet consumer demands and maintain the quality of their marks. These innovations are driving change within the coding and marking industry as a whole, which is why we’ll be keeping an eye on future developments in beverage coding and marking.
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