As marketing budgets diminish in the UK wine trade, brand owners and importers are investing more in label design to attract consumers, according to Abigail Barlow, director at Barlow Doherty Creative.
Retro labels like Saluti are in vogue according to Abigail Barlow
In an interview with the drinks business last week, Barlow, who set up a marketing and design agency in the UK 15 years ago, highlighted a shift in emphasis towards creative packaging design to tempt shoppers, helped by the rise of UK label printing technology, which in turn has been fuelled by an increase in UK bottling.
“Agencies in the UK used to spend a lot on marketing – and we help them with that too – but now they are spending more of their marketing budget on design and creating exclusive labels,” she told db.
“Label design has become part of people’s budgets, rather than a one-off thing… it’s an integral part of the trade,” she added.
Continuing, Barlow explained that a lot of her recent commissions have involved creating exclusive labels for the UK’s major multiple retailers.
“A lot of our work is fulfilling the exclusive label slot for supermarkets,” she commented.
She also noted that producers value the perspective a UK designer.
“If you are a UK design agency and you work here, you have a full view of the world of wine, you’re not steered by what’s on your own doorstep,” she explained.
Like Kevin Shaw, founder of design agency Stranger & Stranger, who was interviewed by db last year, Barlow admitted that slim margins were a challenge in the UK market.
“Tight budgets are one of the challenges,” she said.
“But our job is to solve the design problem and find solutions are clients are thrilled with – and we have a lot of very happy clients at the moment,” she added.
Unlike Shaw however, who has moved to New York due to his frustration with a play-safe approach to packaging in the UK, Barlow is positive about the prospects in Britain.
“I don’t feel like the wine world in the UK is all doom and gloom, but the difficulty is how to make money here.
“For smaller or flexible businesses that are able to react quickly and who are open to design ideas, there is a huge opportunity.”
English sparkling High Clandon has benefitted from micro-embossing by label printers in the UK
Nevertheless, Barlow admitted that the UK wine market is “quite slow to innovate” as well as reasonably averse to taking design risks.
Indeed, since the recession she has witnessed a more conservative approach to packaging.
“We have seen a lot of wine labels go back to being traditional in style, because people and supermarkets feel an old-fashioned look gives reassurance, it makes the wine feel more expensive.”
More recently though, Barlow has noticed a trend towards “retro labels” and she says the 50s are currently in vogue.
She cites Saluti, an Italian brand on sale in the Co-op supermarket and developed by Off Piste Wines. The label was designed by Barlow drawing on the Vermouth packaging of the 40s and 50s for inspiration (see above).
Also enhancing the UK wine label design business is the rise of UK bottling and, as a result, UK label printing, according to Barlow.
“The rise of the UK label printer, because of the rise of UK bottling, has given our customers more of a reason to use a UK design agency,” she explained.
Such printers are cost-effective as well as skilled, with new micro-embossing techniques now available in the market.
Taking up this new technology was English sparkling wine High Clandon, which, despite the small production, was able to use detailed foil embossing techniques without a significant investment, said Barlow (see above).
Summing up on current design trends, she commented, “The shelves could do with a bit more excitement, but that’s the reflection of a nervous economy, not just a nervous wine trade.”
As for ingredient and allergin labelling proposed for wine labels by the European Union, Barlow noted the difficulties for brand owners and designers.
The EU has proposed a new law to alert consumers to wines which have used milk or egg products in the fining process and have not tested negative for residues using a technique with a detection limit of 0.25mg/l.
Proposed EU allergen labelling logos for wine
As previously reported by db, a logo and text allerting consumers to the presence of milk, egg, and sulphites has been suggested (see left), but Barlow said that the logo “was really hard to use on the back label, and it’s hard to see what it is.”
However, she added that she recommends the inclusion of the logo advising pregnant mothers not to drink alcohol on all back labels, although use of the warning is only mandatory in France.