Peeling away questions & sleeving answers

You would not believe the psychological implications exposed by the act of peeling a label off a bottle.

This discovery came courtesy of my wondering why they got rid of the safety caps on chocolate milk.

Background: A couple weeks ago I spent my Saturday afternoon away from my usual routine (work, Maria’s Tacos for dinner, yell at television until I fall asleep) in Des Moines with my friend Leah and her two children.

Her kids were visiting some extended family while Leah, an MTown ex-pat living, was in Marshalltown for the day. So Saturday afternoon her and I headed to Des Moines to pick up her daughters and, while in town, head over to our friend Matt’s art show.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

The show was great, and Matt had some really interesting pieces at his show … in downtown Des Moines … on a Saturday night … during Pride Weekend.

The sidewalks were less congested than I had anticipated, the parking was another situation.

Des Moines: If you’re going to achieve this whole “cool city” thing you’ve been trying to make happen for the last few years, you have to do something about the Escherian-nightmare that is back-in-only, ANGLED, parking. And add more than one space per-thousand people in Des Moines. Thank you.

So, after the art show, we all retired to The Old Spaghetti Works for dinner.

Well, if you’re eating out for dinner, and you’re a child, you’re already scanning the menu for the chocolate milk.

So when the waitress brought two pre-wrapped bottles of Nesquik to the table, and I overcame my immediate regret at not ordering a chocolate milk myself, I figured the least I could do was offer to take off the safety cap for the kids.

There was no safety cap, there was just one, really big label surrounding the entire bottle.

You’ve seen these too, haven’t you?

As someone that frequents gas stations, mini-marts, convenience stores, and pretty much any place that will sell me a Snickers bar at 4 a.m., I’ve seen these new omni-labels creeping in for the last year or two.

At first it was just on products targeted to gas station customers for whom the soda and coffee standard-bearers were too hoi polloi for their discerning tastes. Drinks like premade macchiatos, things that call themselves milk yet contain no dairy, and anything available for only a limited time.

Booshie. The word you’re looking for right now is “booshie.”

But the omni-labels continued their expansion, acquiring new and non-ridiculous drinks with a slow and steady shelf-by-shelf attack plan.

This is the sort of slow market change that burns a small hole in my brain until I can figure out why it happened.

I needed answers.

Since I’m no longer welcome in the beverage industry following my ill-fated campaign to develop savory Kool-Aid flavors for use in soups (it was just Purplesaurus Rex Kool-Aid and MSG) was met with icy stares and requests to leave the premises, I was going to have to ask Google.

And I actually found the answer!

You’ll have to forgive my sense of surprise; Google is great for answering questions that have precise answers, i.e. who won Oscar for Best Picture in 1993? It was “Unforgiven,” by the way; even the Academy couldn’t give it to “Howards End.”

But your results will be a little less useful when you search “what’s with those bottles that have the full wrapper?”

And THAT is how I came to learn about the deep psychological signals being broadcast while taking the labels off of bottles.

Do you remember the movie “Catch Me If You Can?” Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken … if you haven’t seen it, it’s pretty good.

So DiCaprio’s character, Frank Abagnale Jr., aside from being an international con-man, has the habit of taking the labels off of the bottles he’s drinking.

Now, Frank Abagnale Jr. is a real person, so maybe this was just some personal quirk that DiCaprio picked up on for his performance?

According to the internet, not at all! The label ripping was indicative of Frank’s collection of potential con-material, an outgrowth of unresolved emotional turbulence between himself and his father, a sign of frustration at being unable to achieve any of loftiest goals, and a subtle confession to his past crimes of identity fabrication and fraud by referring to himself as either William or Billy or Mac or Buddy.

This is the problem when you go to a search engine with a vague question: You get a non-vague answer to a question that you didn’t ask.

I eventually did stumble upon the truth of the omni-label. They were patented by Cryovac, a company with such esoteric international business ties that its corporate homepage asks which language you would like to use, then only offers English for every country in the Middle East, yet offers Magyar translations for customers in Turkey.

Cryovac’s patent, US 7935401 B2, is for what they call a “shrink sleeve label” AKA the omni-label, and was published in 2011 and applied for in 2005.

That does seem like a long time to approve a drink label … until you actually try and read the patent, then thank your lucky stars you didn’t go to law school. No wonder it takes so long to approve something, the shrink sleeve label patent is just short of 15,000 words long.

Think this column has gone on too long? We’re only at 916 words.


I have to say I’m happy I found an answer. It might not mean much to you, dear readers, but this sort of thing plagues my mind. And now I know why Leah’s daughters didn’t have safety caps on their Nesquik: The shrink sleeve label removes the need for a safety cap by extending over the cap itself before opening. Huh. Neat.

One more mystery in the “solved” column. Next on the list: Did former Governor Terry Branstad make a deal with extraterrestrials to become Ambassador to China in exchange for eliminating french fries at Taco Johns?

I’m thinking … absolutely.


Copy Editor Wes Burns is a Sunday columnist. The views expressed in this column are personal views of the writer and don’t necessarily reflect the views of the T-R. Contact Wes Burns at 641-753-6611 or