21/02/2024 Jed Welsh

The Future of Labels

Given the ever-increasing focus on sustainability and the onus placed on the behemoth brands who are instrumental in driving change, it is largely unsurprising that Coca Cola, one of the most recognisable brands in the world, has recently announced a UK trial wherein they will be removing the labels from their Sprite bottles.

In place of the labels, Sprite will emboss their logo onto the front of their 100% recyclable plastic bottles and laser engrave the product information on the back – ultimately simplifying the recycling process and decreasing material usage. With no prominent logo existing on the updated packaging and given that this is merely a 3 month ‘trial’, some great discussions have been ignited. Not only around the importance of retaining brand recognition, but more significantly around the influence of major brands on the adoption of sustainable practices within business, and the potential ramifications of short, environmentally friendly ‘trials’ that can read as disingenuous and encourage cries of ‘greenwashing’ (despite even the best of intentions).

As part of a recent article for Creative Review, our Echo co-founder and sustainability champion, Andrew Capper, was asked to share his thoughts. Rather pointedly, he highlighted the lack of full commitment from Sprite in terms of the trial, comparing this to their move from green to clear bottles in August of 2022 which he described as a “full-throttle masterclass in turning a sustainability challenge into a win for the brand”. This very much sits in contrast to the ‘for now’ sentiment shared by Sprite in relation to their current initiative, and Andrew feels that it’s this hesitation to jump in with both feet, paired with the communications that ultimately “feel bigger than the actions themselves” (a pilot in just 8 Tesco stores for only 3 months) that read as disingenuous.

A lack of label is a big and scary step for many brands, something Andrew was quick to acknowledge. However, given the physical signature of Coke bottles and the iconicity of Coca Cola’s stable of brands, the impact on findability in store would likely be minimal and a roll-out of this initiative across the Coca Cola business would be a clear-cut and strong statement of intent. If scaled up on just the Sprite brand alone it could result in a saving of 4,000 tonnes of Co2 per annum – rolled out globally across the business’s full portfolio of brands the impact would be HUGE.

“Someone must be first in making a change and the likes of Coca Cola ought to be the ones blazing a trail” says Andrew. In order for this change to become the norm and for us to live in a world where labels on beverages feel as distant and reminiscent as multi-tap texting and portable CD players, Andrew affirms that there are certain things that need to happen:  “Pepsi and other beverage brands get on board and make this a category initiative – once again levelling the playing field” and “supermarkets enforce a label-less policy”, two moves that he asserts “have real teeth in driving change”.

Despite rumblings of greenwashing in the online reaction to Sprite’s trial, Andrew maintains that any positive steps toward simplified recycling and improved rates / ease of conversion is a win. Adopting more sustainable practices is expensive: “PCR materials are more costly than virgin ones, reusable systems have an initial investment that is only recouped down the line and changing production lines designed to make millions of single use items is hugely costly”, so is it entirely surprising that brands choose to move slowly and with some trepidation?

That being said, it would be naïve to believe that it’s going to take anything less than a bold move by a big player to establish a new industry precedent. As we don’t yet know if the Sprite label-less trial will continue beyond the initial 3-month window, it’s near impossible to determine if Coca Cola will be the ones to pave the way, or if the noise created around the initiative stems from a genuine desire to move in a label-free direction, or is simply good PR.

To read the full Creative Review article – with insights from a host of other industry leaders whose knowledge in the space is unparalleled – follow the link!

Would the lack of a label leave you struggling to find your Sprite, or has this trial whetted your appetite (excuse the pun) for a label-free world?


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