How to stand out from the crowd in beverage packaging

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How to stand out from the crowd in beverage packaging

By Carolyn Schierhorn - 03/07/2018

For both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, taste is the most important factor influencing whether a consumer will buy the product again, according to two “Beverage Packaging Trends — US” studies by the Mintel Group, one published in January 2017 on the alcoholic beverage market and one published in June 2016 on the non-alcoholic drink market. But when it comes to the initial purchase of a beverage, packaging has a major effect on customer decision-making.

Consumers rank “high quality” as the second most important variable affecting beverage selection, the Mintel reports point out. From the label to the shape and size of the container to the materials used in the container’s fabrication, beverage packaging conveys the quality of the product inside.

Packaging today also reflects consumer priorities, including preferences for locally sourced, healthful, convenient, transparent, environmentally sustainable and personalized products.

Recent product introductions in the sphere of private brand beverages attest to the importance of packaging and label design. For example, Batavia, Ill.-based Aldi U.S. engaged artist Timothy Goodman, well-known for his text-based murals, to design the labels for the retailer’s new limited-edition reserve wine collection. As Goodman explains in an Aldi press release, “I gravitate toward bottles with interesting designs, so I was excited to create a series of labels that would really pop on the shelf.”

Innovations such as EasyTab — a label patented by Green Bay, Wis.-based WS Packaging Group that opens to reveal extended text underneath — allow wineries (and retailers of private brand wines) to share stories about the vineyard, vintage and farming practices as well as recipes for entrées that would pair well with the wine. 

With consumers turning away from sugary soda pop and toward more healthful choices, there has been an explosion of new lines in the non-alcoholic, ready-to-drink (RTD) beverage space. To make their products stand out from the ever-expanding field of competing SKUs, retailers and brand manufacturers are rolling out RTD beverages in unusually shaped and sized containers with eye-catching graphics as well as in containers that suggest the naturalness and simplicity of the products inside. 

Chicago-based vendor Limitless Coffee & Tea takes the latter approach with its line of cold-brew coffee and matcha green tea, which comes in simple transparent glass bottles with twist-off caps. The color-coded labels make it easy for consumers to distinguish the various flavors from one another.

Shorter, more personalized runs

Like the ancient causality dilemma — “Which came first: the chicken or the egg?” — it’s difficult to determine whether consumer demand for personalization spurred the development of digital printing or whether the availability of digital printing has stimulated the growth of limited runs and more customized products.

Be that as it may, the technology has opened up a wealth of possibilities for retailers with store brand beverages. Because of the speed, flexibility and affordability of digital printing, it’s now easier than ever before for chains to create local and regional beverage private brands, seasonal beverage products, and limited-edition lines that leverage scarcity and perhaps even a sense of the avant-garde to build excitement among shoppers.

“Consumers want the products they are buying, including beverages, to reflect their lifestyle choices,” observes Katelyn Bohr, marketing manager for Brookfield, Wis.-headquartered Colordyne Industries, which sells digital printing equipment to manufacturers.

Digital printing has been a great boon for the craft beer industry in particular, Bohr notes. “Because craft beers are [brewed] in a lot of different flavors and often there are seasonal varieties, you need much smaller runs of labels than you do for year-round major brands,” she says.

Colordyne now offers an ultraviolet (UV) inkjet product, as well as traditional water-based inkjet printing technologies. “The reason for bringing on UV is that it can handle more durable applications,” Bohr says, noting that it’s better for refrigerated beverages and can be used on clear materials.

Transparency indicates authenticity

Shoppers today, especially millennials, insist on knowing everything about the products they purchase and consume and that includes beverages. Clearly, glass is an obvious packaging choice for conveying transparency, and it suggests other product attributes such as quality, value and clean-label healthfulness, says Mark Lutgens, vice president of new product development and innovation for Lincoln, Ill.-based Ardagh Group, Glass/North America.

“Mintel’s expert industry analysts suggest that trust, value and health are key trends that will shape consumer purchase decisions in 2018,” Lutgens notes. “These trends, which influence beverage packaging, present great opportunities for glass containers.”

Ardagh Group manufactures glass containers in a variety of shapes and sizes in more than 16 colors — with decorative features that provide “strong family identity” to private brand beverage lines, Lutgens says.

“We offer a complete portfolio of glass packaging options for non-alcoholic beverages, including water, tea, milk, coffee, carbonated beverages and juices, as well as glass packaging for alcoholic beverages such as beer, cider, wine and spirits,” he points out.

In its June 2016 report on non-alcoholic beverage packaging, Mintel notes that consumers rated “glass container” second only to “sold chilled” as the strongest indicator of high quality. Regarding alcoholic beverage packaging, consumers named “glass container” as the top quality indicator, according to Mintel’s January 2017 report.

Prioritizing sustainability

Consumers rank glass highly for its environmental properties as well, Lutgens says, noting that a 2017 EcoFocus survey found that 51 percent of consumers rate glass as “extremely or very eco-friendly.”

Although not all shoppers are aware of this, certain plastics are also environmentally sustainable options.

St. Louis-based Alpha Packaging, for one, manufactures a wide variety of high-quality plastic bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which can be recycled and can incorporate post-consumer PET in the fabrication process. Among its many offerings, Alpha Packaging makes 32-ounce and 64-ounce plastic The plastic growlers “allow consumers to take fresh draught beer directly from the tap to places where glass is not allowed,” including some beaches, public swimming pools, parks and other outdoor venues, Alpha Packaging’s website states. This could be of interest to the growing number of grocery chains that serve craft beer on tap or even have their own microbreweries as Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market has at one of its Houston stores.

Pully, Switzerland-headquartered Tetra Pak also provides many sustainable packaging solutions for beverage producers that foster the creation of minimally processed shelf-stable products. Tetra Pak aseptic processes allow liquids to retain their texture, natural taste and nutritional value for up to 12 months without the need for preservatives or refrigeration, the company says.

“The combination of aseptic processing and packaging reduces waste, makes distribution extremely cost-efficient and converts your product into a consumer-ready format as well as making it possible for you to reach consumers in remote locations,” Tetra Pak states on its website.

After a successful European launch, Tetra Pak recently introduced to U.S. beverage producers Tetra Evero, an ergonomically designed aseptic carton bottle made primarily from FSC-certified paperboard. “With its 360-degree printable surface and environmental profile, Tetra Evero is the ideal package for beverage brands that want to stand out and capture consumer attention, whether on the shelf or in the chilled case,” the company states in a press release.

“Tetra Evero is a great way for brands to reinforce their sustainability commitment while meeting consumers’ nutritional and lifestyle needs,” adds Carmen Becker, president and CEO of Tetra Pak U.S. and Canada.

 Convenience plus value

When consumers think of convenience, which is much in demand these days, single-serve packaging often springs to mind. In this respect, the beverage world has long been convenience-focused, given the proliferation of single-serve containers such as aluminum cans, glass bottles, 8-ounce cartons, rigid plastic bottles, flexible pouches and so on.

But for a product that is consumed frequently but not all at once, a larger container with easy-to-use dispensing technology may be the best bet for busy, health-conscious consumers. That’s where bag-in-a-box packaging solutions come in.

“Say I don’t want to drink a whole 750 ml bottle of wine,” notes Lani Craddock, vice president of marketing and business development for Northlake, Ill.-based Scholle IPN, a manufacturer of bag-in-a-box packaging. “After a couple of days, it has lost its flavor and its value.”

For women who seek the health benefits and enjoy the flavor of wine but want to avoid overconsumption, the bag-in-a-box format provides the ability to have a glass a day without compromising the product’s quality, Craddock says. Bag-in-a-box wine lasts four to six weeks, she points out.

“The bag-in-a-box format has many convenience factors for consumers: portability and maintenance of freshness as well as value and ease of use,” Craddock notes. The Scholle IPN dispensing taps are “very intuitive” and can be managed with one hand, she says.

In addition, the packaging format minimizes spills and has a desirable environmental footprint, Craddock maintains.

Besides wine, bag-in-a-box containers are commonly used for water and coffee. “Cold brew in particular has seen a really fast-moving expansion in the area of bag-in-a-box,” Craddock says. 

Schierhorn, the managing editor of Store Brands, can be reached at [email protected]