Love craft beer, but don’t have time to make an extra stop to buy your favorite brew from your local pub? If you prefer to buy your suds from a retailer, you’re part of a growing trend. Craft beer sales are shifting from on-premise and keg sales to packaged products at retailers, according to Patrick Rowell, brand strategist at Hornall Anderson.
“The last statistic I saw showed about 5% more retail shelf space for craft beer in 2010 than in 2009,” agrees Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association. “All we’re hearing is that craft beers keep getting more and more of that shelf space.”
This is changing the way breweries are valuing their package designs. “The conventional wisdom has always been that craft beers win on product,” says Rowell. “Breweries are starting to come around to see that every craft beer brand out there has fantastic products. When there are so many choices and they’re all good, that’s when brand expression becomes crucial. It becomes the only way you can win categories like this.”
Rowell’s agency recently helped Redhook Brewery redesign its packaging for this new reality. A major component of the redesign was creating striking secondary packaging for retail. To create a positively disproportionate impact in the retail aisle to the number of case and carrier facings, Hornall Anderson designed the secondary packages so they formed a continuous graphic no matter which way the packages are facing.
The agency also found that Redhook, like many other craft beers, were effectively turning away potential customers with its messaging on pack. “The craft category had become so entrenched in pushing back against domestic beer that it became sort of an arms race of who could tell the longest, most flowery, overwrought story on where the hops came from and who brewed it,” Rowell explains. “In the vast majority of the occasions, that’s not how consumers are thinking about it.” So Hornell Anderson stripped away much of the romance copy and simplified the beer description with four keywords stacked in the upper left-hand corner of the bottle.
Selling with structure
Moving away from the romance copy also allows the agency to put the emphasis back on the brand versus the individual product. The beer brand also got a boost from a new short, stubby bottle supplied by O-I. The bottle shape makes it easy to identify Redhook and conveys the message that both the beer brand and the person who drink it are unique. “What we hit on with Redhook is the idea of the bottle making a bold statement about the person who’s drinking it,” Rowell comments.
Gatza sees this trend across beer brands. “Some breweries use their bottle molds for a competitive advantage,” he says. “The bottles help differentiate their products in the marketplace.” This trend, though, is tempered by the practical consideration of having a ready bottle supply. “If you’ve got a specialty mold for your bottles, there’s a chance you may not be able to find a regular supply,” he says.
“There used to be 30 glass container manufacturers in the U.S. and now there are three,” agrees Jeff Krum, chief financial officer at Boulevard Brewing Company. “There have been shortages over the years.”
Boulevard decided to take the glass supply issue head-on by helping create a source for a major glass bottle material, while helping make its packaging more sustainable. With the support of local companies and community organizations, Boulevard created the recycling company Ripple Glass. Ripple constructed a state-of-the-art cullet processing plant. Cullet is crushed, recycled glass, and it’s a major component of most beer bottles made today.
To supply the project, Ripple places highly visible glass collection containers throughout Kansas City, then cleans and delabels the bottles and jars, crushes them into furnace-ready cullet, and sells the cullet to its bottle supplier, Verallia, to make into beer bottles. “We felt some complicity being a part of the [packaging waste] problem, and we’d analyzed it enough to think that we understood what was necessary to fix it,” Krum says. “So we gave it a go.”
Boulevard’s concerns are part of a greater conversation in government and the packaging industry about extended producer responsibility. The thought behind this philosophy is that packaged goods companies and their designers take responsibility for the end-of-life impacts of spent packaging. This strategy aims to increase more sustainable packaging choices in initial package designs.
Boulevard was especially committed to making its glass more sustainable because of its affinity for the material itself. “Glass is hands-down the premier material for preserving a quality product,” Krum says. “Cans are fine as far as quality goes, but they don’t present the kind of image or the kind of tradition inherent in glass. Traditionally, better beers come in glass bottles as opposed to cans or any other packaging material.” He concedes, however, “that’s changing a little bit because in the last year or two craft brewers have been coming out with products in cans.”
Rethinking the can
One of these craft brewers is Ben Finch, a co-owner of Finch’s Beer Company. Like Boulevard, Finch’s Beer Company’s primary criteria for its beer packaging are sustainability and performance. “Our head brewer, Richard Grant, who’s also an owner, suggested we do cans,” Finch says. “Richard’s argument early on was that cans are better for the beer.
“I realized very quickly that cans are not only better for the product but also more environmentally friendly. They’re more recyclable and lighter than brown glass,” he says. While there’s still a stigma that cans affect the taste of the beer, Finch insists that’s not the case. “The can liners used today are far superior to those of yesterday.”
A can also offers a full-body, 360-degree decorating area. To maximize use of this space, Finch worked with Meredith Reshoft, creative director and co-owner of Finch’s other business, the design agency the Killswitch Collective, and Ball Corp., which converts and prints the cans, to create prepress-ready files of the can’s upscale design. Finch also joined the growing number of brewers using specialty carriers to showcase the design.
“We utilize an open-top carrier [supplied by PakTech] with a plastic ring that each can clips to,” he explains. “It costs more, but it’s worth every penny because you save on the costs of a tray or paperboard box. Ours is translucent plastic because it allows the design to speak even louder because they don’t have the solid color on top of your cans.”
Choices for craft beer packaging include more than just glass bottles and aluminum cans. A hybrid of the two—the aluminum bottle—offers the portability of aluminum with the reclosability and consumer drinking experience of a bottle.
Legends Premium Lager uses aluminum bottles to gain entry to places where glass isn’t allowed. McLean Design, the agency that created the packaging for Legends, notes that the aluminum bottle is especially suited for sports arenas.
“Then there are the growlers,” adds Harry Woods, partner and creative director at Woods Witt Dealy & Sons. Consumers primarily use the 64-ounce refillable jugs to purchase beer from local pubs. But convenience stores are looking to change that. Gatza notes that some Sunoco gas stations are experimenting with growler filling stations, and Woods was shocked to see growler filling stations in Duane Reade stores in New York City. “Now you can go to your drugstore to pick up some toothpaste, toilet paper, and get your growler filled,” Woods says. “I guess that just speaks to how far the craft beer thing has penetrated our consciousness.”
The Brewers Association reports that monthly, craft beer sales volume in September 2011 was up more than 20 percent. Gatza believes that growing sales volumes and the very nature of craft brewers will continue to change craft beer packaging. “More innovation is going to come because this is the hallmark of craft brewers. They’re small, they’re nimble, and they’re always thinking about what’s new and differentiating what they do. So where we are today is not where we’re going to be in five years.”
For more information, visit
Ball Corporation, www.ball.com
Brewers Association, www.brewersassociation.org
Hornall Anderson, www.hornallanderson.com
McLean Design, www.mclean-design.com
Ripple Glass, www.rippleglass.com
The Killswitch Collective, www.killswitchcollective.com
Woods Witt Dealy & Sons, www.woodswittdealy.com