“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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HP Indigo Worldwide VIP Event ahead

HP Indigo digital-print packagingHP Indigo will once again play host to likely a group of 200 packaging and commercial printing professionals next week in Israel. Its Worldwide VIP Event, a lead-in to this fall’s PRINT® 13 in Chicago, will give the provider of digital-offset printing systems an opportunity to show off its latest technology developments to a captive audience of current and potential customers, industry analysts and the press (including The Converting Curmudgeon).

Over the two-day program, Dutch labelmaker Eshuis will describe using HP Indigo digital presses to produce 800 million personalized Coca-Cola labels for 32 different, national markets across Europe for the “Share a Coke” campaign; Perception Research Services Intl. will present a report on “Consumer Trends in Packaging;”  and tours will include the HP Indigo Testing Center in Ness Ziona, the HP manufacturing and ink plants in Kiryat Gat and the Scitex facility in Caesarea.

Look for my Tweets and photos from the event June 18-19 at @CnvCurmudgeon.

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Industry pros talk automation, new product development, foreign competition at Converting Influence spring meeting

Some of the industry’s hottest topics were on the agenda at last week’s Converting Influence spring meeting, held at Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton, WI. On the trade group’s panel were converters Brett Buratti, business development mgr. with Little Rapids Printing Div. (Green Bay, WI) and Richard Goepel, sales mgr. with Sellars Wipers (Milwaukee), and Brian Lynch, director-marketing & business development with supplier Tech4 (De Pere, WI).

Leading off the discussion, which drew plenty of give-and-take among the 40 audience members, Buratti updated the group on Little Rapids’ recent expansion of flexographic-printing capabilities with an 8th press being delivered soon to its Larsen Converting operation. The company also now has a well-established relationship with Next Generation Films (OH) to supply raw PE and PET films to serve its growing customer base for these materials. Little Rapids primarily serves clients with custom specialty papers as well in the retail, healthcare, hygiene and industrial markets.

Buratti brought up trends in flexo printing as a way to grow business, particularly expanded-gamut printing. “Consumer product companies are driving it,” adding 2-3 spot colors designed for their brands to CMYK, he says. If a converter / package printer can “demonstrate the economics, cost savings of today’s expanded gamut to customers, they might go for it.”

Goepel reviewed nonwovens converter Sellars Wipers’ seven-year development process for the latest, truly flushable fabric. The new-generation hand-towel material has 2- to 3-min temporary wet strength, then once in the toilet, it breaks down completely, avoiding the downstream clogging of sewers typical of previous nonwoven products. It has been tested by the National Sanitation Foundation and has passed all INDA standards. Target markets include hotel and restaurant guest towels as well as bathing cloths for hospital patients.

Sellars Wipers also is investigating other niche end markets along with new markets in Europe for the flushable fabric, which appeals to natural-fiber product customers with its eco-friendliness. “It’s hard to get it out of the packaging without tearing it, so you can see it breaks down easily,” Goepel says. “We had to develop a balance of strength and degradation, but the more stringent guidelines made it difficult at first to pass them.”

Automation is key to competitive manufacturing today, says Lynch. “There’s an increased focus on machine safety along with a need to cut labor costs and increase productivity,” he adds. He described one client’s automation of an old screen-printer / punch press to produce logos on key fobs. Linear servos now achieve 1,000th-of-an-inch accuracy, scrap is down to less than 1/10th-percent, and business has been taken away from its Chinese competition.

Lynch (and a few audience members) told of overspending by clients on some automation due to misconceptions or outdated thinking. He described how one customer overspent by $50,000 on a packaging line because of old safety and automation processes vs. new methods. Sometimes, however, it’s simply that a client has rules about what to specify and what vendors to use, which cannot be overturned, Lynch said.

On the topic of foreign competition, everyone had an opinion. For Buratti, today’s demands for customization, shorter runs and JIT supplying mean that “people want things yesterday, not delivered in 6-8 weeks from China. We’re keeping costs low and keeping [the business] in the US.” Goepel mentioned that Sellars Wipers’ proprietary processes along with its ability to keep overall costs-per-lb low enough make it difficult for Asian suppliers to compete. And Lynch also gave the example that reduced lead times for its products in stock is helping them beat Asian competitors.

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