These days, Chinese consumers notice some popular beverages like Master Kong and PepsiCo have taken on a new look, adopting only simple and transparent PET bottles and no more colorful and fancy labels on them. As the pursuit of sustainability and carbon neutrality becoming one of the main themes in China's F&B industry, from the early efforts on abandoning plastic bag to using paper straws, then to today's label free bandwagon, the industry has been actively groping the next move towards greener packaging.
Label free leads the wave of greener packaging
Earlier this year, Chinese beverage giant Master Kong launched the first label free PET bottle packaging, which applied to two signature products, i.e., lemon flavored iced black tea and sugar-free iced black tea. The original colorful plastic labels are removed from the new packaging, and the flavors are distinguished only by the yellow and black bottle caps. The product name, production date and other basic information are engraved on the bottle through laser printing technology. This kind of label free packaging not only reduce the plastic use on labels, but greatly improves recovery efficiency of PET bottles.
Soon after the ground-breaking debut of Master Kong in the Chinese market, PepsiCo China announced to launch its label-free products soon. PepsiCo chose to retain the classic blue bottle cap of PepsiCo Cola, but the plastic label and ink printing would be removed from the bottle body and the bottle cap respectively. In addition, the logo and the circular trademark would be presented on the bottle body by reliefs.
Later, more F&B brands are joining this thriving packaging revolution. Just on the 2022 World Environment Day, several brands announced to make their endeavors in exploring greener packaging. Dairy brand Satine is one of them. As a sub-brand of dairy giant Yili, Satine made great efforts on how to achieve sustainability in product packaging, like using pure white packaging without using ink to print anything and applying more environmental-friendly and recycled packaging materials. This move shows Satine is striking for reducing carbon footprint.
On the same day, functional drink brand Eastroc also brought its contribution and innovation to the industry. Unlike pioneers like Master Kong and PepsiCo, Eastroc didn't put basic information on the bottle by laser printing. Instead, all basic information is carried in the QR code on the bottle cap, which provides a novel idea to manage the relation between green packaging and product labeling.
Major drivers of the label-free trend
1. Favorable regulations & laws
China pledged to hit the peak of carbon emissions by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2060, which has been raised to a strategic height and determined as a key target of the 14th Five-Year Plan. Against this background, the sustainable development is not a future topic but a current goal that the F&B industry is striving to achieve. From Opinions on Further Strengthening the Control of Plastic Pollution in 2020, to Plans for Tackling Plastic Pollution in the 14th Five-Year in 2021, Chinese regulators are constantly pushing the industry to reduce the use of plastics and embrace more greener packaging. Therefore, label-free packaging is accepted as a popular solution in the industry.
Notes: as per GB 7718-2011 General Standard for the Labeling of Prepackaged Foods, label-free beverages must be sold as a whole box unit, with all the required information indicated on the box. A single bottle of beverage is not allowed to be sold with label-free packaging.
2. Get closer to consumers
Brands’ efforts on green packaging are not just a whim, but an important brand image and a medium to communicate with consumers. Over the past years, sustainable packaging has been proved to be one of the key purchasing factors for consumers. More and more Chinese consumers are aware of the significance of sustainable development and are willing to contribute to environmental protection. Data shows that 43% Chinese consumers are willing to pay a premium for environmental-friendly products, and the higher the income level, the stronger the willingness to pay.1
3. A market bonus to win
Will the product packaging upgrade affect the sales performance? As per the data released from Innova Market Insights, 57% of global consumers found it more attractive when their familiar brands changed the product packaging properly.2 Removing a simple label may bring you a lot more if you play it right. Japanese beverage brand Suntory's case can be a perfect example. In April of 2020, Suntory launched a limited edition of label free green tea. The bottle packaging does not have any stickers, but only a small label on the bottle cap. In the place where the label was originally put, some "hidden elements" such as the lucky cat and Dharma were instead. Even without the label, it is still very appealing. It is said that after Suntory launched the green tea with this packaging, sales have increased by 50% over the same period.3