The market for shrink sleeves and stretch sleeves continues to be one of the fastest growing segments in labeling and companies like Elk Grove, Illinois-based Fort Dearborn Co. are poised to play a leading role.

With its acquisition of SleeveCo last June, Fort Dearborn Co. gained an additional facility in Dawsonville, Georgia, for a total of 15 production locations across North America. The company has 13 facilities in the United States in areas such as Bowling Green, Kentucky, and St. Louis, and two facilities in Canada for its cut and stack label production.

The acquisition of SleeveCo also boosted the company’s offerings with additional shrink sleeve capacity as well as stretch sleeves for packages ranging in size from 8 ounces to 55 gallons, mid-web gravure printing and cylinder engraving capabilities, company officials say.

“For stretch sleeves, we are now able to offer application equipment as well,” says Gwen Chapdelaine, marketing director at Fort Dearborn Co.

The new stretch sleeve application equipment includes automatic and semi-automatic models ranging in speed from 10-150 cycles per minute.

Fort Dearborn also announced an executive leadership change this May with the appointment of Kevin Kwilinski as CEO. Kwilinski, the former CEO of recycled paperboard packaging company Paperworks Industries, replaced Jim Buzzard, who has resumed his role as nonexecutive chairman of Fort Dearborn’s board of directors.

“I am excited to lead Fort Dearborn through its next stage of growth and look forward to helping the company continue to deliver best-in-class value to customers,” Kwilinski said in May. “Fort Dearborn is poised to pursue strategic initiatives, including attracting and retaining top talent and pursuing additional growth through existing and new customers as well as strategic acquisitions.”

An Appealing Choice

When it comes to labeling, Chapdelaine says the visual and branding appeal of shrink sleeves and stretch sleeves is driving performance as it offers brand owners a way to utilize the entire package.

“Shrink and stretch sleeves help beverages differentiate themselves on shelf by combining shape and color for 360-degree eye-catching product packages,” Chapdelaine says. “This combination creates product distinction and visual appeal not achievable with other label formats.”

With shrink sleeves especially, Chapdelaine says it’s critical to choose the right material for the container and to also take this into consideration during the container selection process. Fort Dearborn offers a number of material options, such as PVC, PETG (white and floatable versions) and OPS.

“Regarding sustainability, there is a continued trend toward downgauging labels and a growing interest in eco-friendly labeling materials,” Chapdelaine says. “Fort Dearborn offers thin-gauge film label options as well as floatable shrink sleeve films that meet (the Association of Plastic Recyclers) recyclable guidelines for PET containers.”

But Chapdelaine stresses that because there are more steps involved with shrink and stretch sleeve labels than other label types, the overall process can be more challenging. To reduce the chances of error and waste, Fort Dearborn recommends the involvement of all key suppliers throughout the production process. That includes prepress, container, converter and application providers, for example.

“Shrink sleeve labels also often need to include distortion of the graphics in order for the printed product to appear correctly once shrunk onto the container,” Chapdelaine adds.

On the Edge of Innovation

To say on track with innovation and brand owner needs in labeling, Fort Dearborn is working on increasing shelf impact through new developments in inks, coatings and substrates to provide further product differentiation.

Chapdelaine says the company has seen an increased interest in white PETG films, and specialty inks and coatings such as thermochromatic inks and tactile finishes.

“PETG continues to be widely used,” she says. “It has a high shrinkage percentage and is available in clear, white and a floatable option, and has higher downgauge potential than other films.”

The company is also working on labeling functionality through developments that allow for shelf-life extension or lightweighting of containers as well as utilizing digital printing more often for personalization, limited editions and regional promotions.

Fort Dearborn Co.

(847) 357-8726;