“Share a Coke” campaign: How to print 1+ billion custom labels

Greg Bentley of Coca-Cola EuropeFrom the consumer’s perspective, the recent “Share a Coke” campaign across the European continent is a fun, exciting experience: Go to your local retailer, find a bottle of Coca-Cola labeled with the name of someone you’d like to share it with…and share it! From the perspective of Coke, the bottlers, the label converters and other segments of the packaging supply chain, however, the 18-month adventure (aka Project Connect) was an initially insurmountable challenge that eventually became the new standard to beat in the world of custom, digitally printed labeling.

Gregory Bentley, packaging innovator with Coca-Cola Europe (Brussels, Belgium), detailed some the project parameters in his presentation Tuesday during the HP Indigo Worldwide VIP Event in Israel.

  • “Share a Coke” campaign is running in 35 countries in Europe
  • 150 of the most popular first names in each country; five alphabets used
  • Eight different label sizes for 375-, 500-ml and 1-liter PET bottles
  • Six bottling partners; five conventional label printers; seven digital printers
  • Total volume of 1+ billion custom labels digitally printed on HP Indigo
    WS6000/6600 presses (below right)
  • The regular, Coke Zero and Coke Light products hit stores May 1

HP Indigo WS6600 Digital PressBentley says that Coca-Cola chose HP Indigo for the project “due to its high image quality, color accuracy, customer press availability” and the company’s ability to develop a proprietary Coke Red ink color that has since become the standard for digital printing across Europe.

HP Indigo WS6600 outputDutch labelmaker Eshuis managing director Peter Overbeek next gave the converter’s technical viewpoint
on Project Connect. Basically, conventional labels were at first printed in wide-web gravure or flexo with gaps in them into which the different names in different languages and alphabets were digitally printed. Converters Eshuis and Printpack guided the printers, and bottlers Hellenic and Coca-Cola Enterprises helped jointly managed the program. When all was said and done, “The conventional printer was responsible for the quality of the finished label rolls to the Coke bottlers, as it is today,” Overbeek explains.

Some stats and process flow are detailed below:

  • Five conventional printers (CP) were chosen from among dozens of Coca-Cola labeling suppliers across Europe
  • Thirty-one digital printers (DP) were pre-selected based on their capabilities/capacity; this was reduced to a network of seven (WS6600 output shown above left)
  • Exxon Mobil 38LL247 opaque white OPP film was used for Coke regular and Coke Zero; metallized-OPP film for Coke Light; all substrates were treated with Michelman Digiprime coating to better accept the digital printing
  • Conventionally printed film was slit into 330-mm-wide rolls, shipped to the DPs and inserted on the digital presses in-register with narrow tolerances in operating windows, then digitally printed in one color—2 Coke Red or 2 Black.
  • 25 million linear meters of digital printing was done; 11,000 cans of special Coke Red ink from HP Indigo were consumed; and the job ran to 110 million clicks on press

Marc on 500-ml Coca-Cola bottleMy Thoughts:  As far-reaching, complex and technically challenging as the “Share a Coke” campaign is, perhaps the most surprising aspect was the close cooperation of competitors in Coke’s labeling supply chain. They were basically asked to reveal details of their operations to each other—both the conventional and digital printers. But despite this, the suppliers came together for the good of the project (oh, and their ultimate customer—Coke).

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