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March 24, 2014

Vodka, PETs and Bottle Necks – Horror Movie, or Your Next Step?

Vodka, PETs and Bottle Necks – Horror Movie, or Your Next Step?

We certainly haven’t hid our support for environmentally sustainable packaging design, as many of our past articles have illustrated. Recyclable bottles? Of course! Light-weight materials? Yes, sir! Giving your luxury product an econo-line look? What? Wait a minute…

There is no question that we want all product packaging to be easy on the eco-system, but it has to be eye catching as well. I mean that is why people hire us, we make packaging that pops. Packaging has to be a selling point; it needs to entice as well as protect. When people want prestige products, they want that prestige to ooze from every pore of that product, which means that the packaging can’t be so sparse that it doesn’t make an effective or deliberate statement. Environmentally sound packaging that makes the product look and feel cheap won’t do your brand any favors.

Boutique products don’t really have to take the same manufacturing considerations into account as the multi-national brands. When you’re stirring up your own homemade jams or holistic herbal remedies in your kitchen and selling them door-to-door, you can package the product in mason jars or Ziploc baggies if you want. When you start shipping your product to large retailers or overseas (or when FDA officials come knocking on your door), your bottle design strategies will have to change.

Environmental Concerns

The environment, branding, as well as the public health, will inform your packaging choices greatly. If you want your product to have deep-pocket appeal, your package has to be as attractive as the product. But the most attractive, natural and sustainable packaging materials – glass, organic fabrics, and wood, for example – are not only extremely expensive to mass-produce, they don’t offer the same kind of protection against spoilage, oxidation and breaks as [gasp!] plastic.

In an ideal world, all packaging would be made of hemp, make for extremely efficient fuel for the DeLorean time machine, and substitute as a delicious gluten-free snack. Unfortunately, we have to rely largely on lightweight synthetic materials that can be recycled, and this starts putting us into the scary border of cheap-looking packaging.

Enter the new bottle design for Eco-Friendly 360 Vodka from McCormick Distilling Company, that has jettisoned its glass bottles for a very light polyethylene terephthalate (PET) material that visually mimics the look of glass, but weighs significantly less, so the transport weight is far lower than the previous bottle. PET is also quite a bit stronger, so the product is given a higher degree of protection.

From Glass to PET

What could possibly be wrong with a bottle design that offers cheaper transport for more units, greater protection from breakage and product loss and is recyclable, as well? Nothing, to the reasonably-minded consumer.

However, historically, consumers aren’t especially reasonable. When we buy premium liquors, we want everything about those liquors to be premium – even the ink on the label should make us feel classy. Awards are won for the most fantastical and elaborate liquor bottles, for heaven’s sake.

So, what can we do? How can we walk the tightrope of environmental responsibility and high-end allure? Plastics have absolutely no inherent reputation for luxury – they’re used for everything from thermal insulation to Happy Meal toys. But just because a particular material might not be the most elegant substance in the world doesn’t mean we can’t add a few interesting flourishes.

The Swing-Top Closure

Eco-Friendly 360 Vodka engineered a unique swing-top metal closure for its PET bottles that look like they were made by Trappist monks. Oh, sure, it’s a tad gimmicky — kind of like putting a cork in a boxed wine — but it’s interesting, nonetheless. Moreover, it projects an image of craftsmanship. This isn’t some 99-cent store product – this is something that has had quite a bit of deliberation behind it. It isn’t easy fabricating a swing-top for a plastic bottle, after all.

Slapping a swing-top closure on a plastic bottle might not be the answer to everything, but it’s still a unique statement that serves the brand, and it is just one of the many choices you can make with regard to your bottle design. Pour spouts! Mini-barrels! Ribbons! Feathers! The possibilities are endless, and it’s something we’re constantly innovating with at SmashBrand. How do you get sustainability, function, and a look that speaks to your target market with your beverage bottle design?

Just because a bottle is made of lightweight, recyclable plastic doesn’t mean that it automatically belongs clutched in the hands of a sleeping hobo. Of course, when we see a jug of vodka whose only design considerations were how easily it can be held with one hand while drunk, we know that product quality is probably not high. But, regardless of materials, we can still design with the connoisseur in mind. Or, at least, for the consumer with more dollars than sense, as the $7,500 limited edition Belvedere Teddy Bear Bottle clearly illustrates.

author

by Kevin Smith
Managing partner at SmashBrand. We're a group of experienced brand owners, thinkers and world-class designers united by an obsession for creating category disrupting brand experiences.

Purposefully selective, we work with brands that want to stand out and also stand for something.

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