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Trends and Innovations in Alcohol Packaging Design.

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Whistlepig branding company

A memorable experience exists with even the cheapest of adult beverages. While packaging in Pabst Blue Ribbon and Patron may differ, to consumers of alcoholic beverages both stimulate memories, attaching the brand to a moment in time. How do we break through these experiences with our alcohol

What makes alcohol a special CPG category is that “shelf presence” means so many things. Sober and intoxicated eyes see a bottle. We must test a brand strategy for on-shelf performance at grocery stores, liquor stores, bars, and nightclubs.

We cannot take alcohol packaging design lightly if the brand wants to compete at the highest level. Test everything from bottle material, shape, logo design, and product messaging. But you can’t stop there, we must test it again with iterations of your packaging design before alcohol brands go to market.

In this article, we look at the design trends for each alcohol category. Then, we provide innovative ideas your brand should consider as a part of your alcohol packaging design strategy.

Alcohol Statistics That Will Lift Your Spirits

There is gold in them thar hills! While you won’t need to mine hills and pan in rivers to capitalize on the growing alcohol market, your hands will get dirty with the product packaging process.

Just because an industry is seeing an upward trend in sales doesn’t mean that it guarantees your alcohol business success. If that were true, they wouldn’t send for John Taffer, rescuing bars from debt so deep that it sits at the border of hell.

Statista reports that alcohol beverage sales will reach 284.10 billion in sales for 2022, 76% of which occurs in a CPG setting. They expect the alcohol market to grow another 2.3% in 2023.

You are going to need more than cool designs to capture significant market share. Successful alcohol companies tie together a strong brand identity with design elements that hit home with the consumer.

Alcohol Packaging Drives Innovation

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that an industry this large drives innovation for all CPG beverage categories. But it isn’t just the market potential that surfaces so much creativity and progressive packaging. As a society, we’ve built creativity into the fabric of this industry.

Take a history lesson on alcohol branding and you find that today’s several purchase drivers originated during prohibition. Being forced to use resourcefulness, formulations for everything from beer to whiskey were done in a discrete and cost effective way.

Innovation is also driven by experience. CPG products with entertainment value make the strategic process more enjoyable. For most teams, brand strategy sessions for tequila are more exciting than they are for a stapler.

Which would make you wake up with excitement for work? New to market companies such as craft breweries are a good example. Built from a passion, these microbreweries go from on-site serving to the distribution of cans.

Innovation exists at all levels, from tech innovations to finding a new demographic to serve.

Alcohol Packaging Examples

Should you jump on the bandwagon with the common art styles in adult beverage packaging? Just because there is a theme in product packaging, doesn’t mean you should copy that look. In fact, copying a brand is the perfect plan for revenue mediocrity.

How do you balance what the consumer expects yet stand out on the shelf? It is through collaboration between the internal team and a creative agency to combine industry expectations with standing out. Through synergy, your brand can breakthrough the cooler and into the minds of the consumer.

Now, let’s look deeper at what we are currently seeing in each alcohol category.

Beer Packaging Design

Boring beer is out! What began as a craft beer movement is now ingrained into nationally distributed brands. Can creativity is at the forefront of beer packaging design. We have seen little in the way of packaging innovations outside of pop-top features (more to come on this). What has changed is the can design with presentation becoming either bold or sophisticated.

Cosmic colors and hippy designs make a hoppy product hop off the shelf. But is this look becoming white noise within the industry? Only on-shelf testing will tell you the truth of the matter.

Hard Ciders and Fermented everything!

Experimentation of fermentation is increasing and now many fruit brews exist in the market. Whereas hard apple ciders were our only option, bloody orange, cherry, cactus pear, and other fruit ciders compete for hard cider sales.

Bad news for hard apple cider companies. NielsonIQ announced in their most recent report that hard cider took a hard hit. Sales of apple hard cider are down 8.2% over the last 52 weeks.

We believe that apples will bounce back as there is something special about this historic form of alcohol.

Liquor That Leaves an Impression

Story telling continues to be a driving factor in liquor packaging design. There’s an element of history poured from custom glass packaging into the glass of the customer.

When considering liquor bottle design, think of ways you can lift a consumer’s spirit (pun intended). Execute on this through a sophisticated appeal, an element of nostalgia, and hinting that you offer a timeless product.

Through our Packaging Design Process, WhistlePig toasted to the fact that their luxury whiskey brand increased its revenue by 22%, capturing 16% more of their target market.

Celebrity involvement continues to be a growing trend in liquor brand strategy. Celebrities such as Duane Johnson and Mark Wahlberg not only endorse these brands but have invested into the company.

Doesn’t a brand just taste better when you can envision yourself taking shots with the Rock?

Infused Seltzers

Infused seltzers continue to capture market share. We now have players using all the main alcohol ingredients. This list includes tequila, vodka, whiskey, brandy, gin, rum, beer, and wine. Brands have gone all in on this industry!

The competitor landscape now includes mainstream liquor brands and water companies like Topo Chico’s Ranch Water.

The trend for these products catapulted because of Covid-19 shutting down bars being shut down bars. Spirit seltzers offered the mixed drink experience while chilling at home. Will this trend slow down now that bars are reopening? Doubtful.

Innovation that generates from “no other choice” and has practical application in the market lives on. These products will be around as long as the need still exists. With premium alcohol trending upwards, alcoholic seltzers will be a serious competitor for spirits companies.

The problem with this pre adolescent alcohol category is that almost all alcohol seltzers look the same. The only genuine change is the graphic design of the can. There’s a serious opportunity to disrupt this category by creating innovative packaging design that closely resembles the mixed drink experience.

Wine Packaging Design

Remember how Barefoot Wines stepped into the market (without shoes, of course) causing wine aficionado’s put down their glass? Before they knew it, these wine experts looked up and saw the industry changing forever.

Well, since this point, we have seen little disruption from the wine industry. The traditional glass bottle shape fills shelves, end caps, and stacked displays.

There is a demographic that is creating a cult-like following for sustainable packaging. Along with craft breweries targeting surfers and eco-friendly people, the wine industry has a following that entertains the idea of sustainability. It makes sense that since wineries give such great care to the grapes, that their earthly customers may want recycled materials in their wine bottle designs.

There is an opportunity for wine companies to follow suit from the spirits industry, creating gift sets with food pairings and specialty items.

Mini Alcohol Bottles

Traditionally reserved for convenience stores, The past generation breathed new life into single serve alcohol packaging. Taking a note from hard alcohol companies, RTD cups of wine started a trend that created a larger market for wine in cans. But the reason we are including this in our alcohol packaging report is because of an opportunity that lies ahead.

Thanks to the pandemic, liquor delivery became a real thing. Secret (or not so secret) societies of people in opposition to social distancing and masks had alcoholic goodies brought to their door.

A service that started with cases of beer, bottles of wine, and 5ths of alcohol can now be expanded into an experience. Alcohol delivery companies can create customized packaging that includes everything needed to make a mixed drink. Or, easier for them, you can offer this pre-packed item for your brand.

Another example of this is meal kits sold by D2C companies and grocery stores. Rather than a bulk supply, they give you enough ingredients to create dinner. Mini bottles of alcohol allow you to follow this approach.

As a packaged solution, alcohol brands can create these ready to mix packages that look beautiful on the store shelf. This is a great idea for any pure distillery competing against hard seltzers in a can.

Alcohol Packaging Trends

As packaging processes continue to develop, new packaging trends emerge in the alcoholic beverage industry. These concepts have the potential to improve purchase intent and brand recall, or the potential to distract customers from a coherent message.

While there is a common theme across all categories of being eco-friendly, there are some unique shifts for each category. Let’s have a look.

Pop-Top Cans

It looks like brands are finally addressing the problems we’ve experienced with all pop top cans. There is push for improved pop-top design where you can pull the entire top back, making it more like a beer glass. Or, at the very least, packaging now can provide a smoother pour.

For enhanced marketing and experience, brands connect with their consumers via QR codes placed on the pop-top can or the label panel.

Beer and Cider Bottles

The slim, sleek look on these bottles doesn’t seem to slow down. There has been little innovation in this category, but there certainly can be! We would love to see innovation in the twist off vs. bottle opener tops.

How can we better capture the moment where customers open the bottle and pressure releases the cloud of gas from the top? This is a missed opportunity for enhancing a product experience.

One trending aspect is lighter bottle design. A new demographic emerges as more beer alternatives hit the market. Ladies are loving these alcohol options and lighter bottles might make sense for this consumer.

Wine and Saki Bottles

Off with the cork! The traditional cork is being challenged by unique sealing options. While screw top wine bottles do not appeal to the wine enthusiast, these speciality tops do.

Also, there’s a growing trend in bottles with unique shapes. Not only do these bottle alternatives intrigue on-shelf interest, but they improve a brand’s ability to offer direct to consumer sales. Short and fat, thin and tall, and flat wine bottles are just a few alternative shapes available.

Custom Boxes & Gift Sets

Alcohol gift sets have become an industry of their own. No longer is it only brands offering packages with additional products. Sales driven alcohol subscription boxes focused on marketing have driven innovation for everyone.

Handcrafted wood boxes, limited edition designs, and sustainable (yet detailed) cardboard boxes are some of many gift set packaging innovations brands now have access to. At the very least, your brand should test these options for seasonal and holiday package promotions.

Secondary Packaging

What we consider secondary packaging should in fact come first. A significant amount of branding occurs in the beer, wine, and spirits case. Even in an environment where the case exists only for customers to grab a bottle, there’s an opportunity for customizing the experience.

But where opportunity exists is by giving secondary packaging a longer life. Let’s be honest, we have all at one point held flimsy soda case handles, heard a tear, and watched cans hitting the ground roll all over the parking lot. In today’s market, should this really be a concern consumers have?

How can you make your secondary packaging so strong that it is hard to throw away? How can it hold as much value as an empty Patron bottle that becomes a flower vase?

Alcohol Packaging Strategies

An effective alcohol packaging design strategy grabs hold tightly to nostalgia yet embraces consumers of this generation. Finding unification between these opposing approaches is how you win in the alcohol CPG market. Here are some strategies you should consider before finalizing your alcohol packaging.

Envision the Experience

With marketing alcoholic drinks, Identifying your ideal buyer is only half the battle. Consider how consumers see your product packaging and graphic design elements throughout the experience. Remember, you’re not only competing on-shelf but at bars and in the hands of social drinkers.

You have heard the saying “I’ll have what he’s having” and “I’ll have one of those.” These common phrases do not happen by chance. Sales increase for a beer brand when their beverage packaging design looks good and is socially accepted in environments where it lives.

As a part of your brand marketing strategy, walk through the life of your product. Understand whether it sits poolside, fireside, or table side, then design your packaging with this in mind.

Understand Your Retailer

It is crucial to understand your retailer, but especially in the alcohol CPG market. An infused alcoholic vodka drink found in Bev-Mo needs to understand that traditionally, this is a wine retailer. How will your package design compete in this environment? Can you encourage wino’s to grab a case of hipster alcohol drinks for their kids?

Make sure your packaging design firm understands the sales strategy and what retailers you have shelf space or plan to target. At SmashBrand, we will replicate this experience by creating a simulated buying experience with a true competitive landscape.

Private Label Alcohol Brands

Brands built out of a passion for the process can leverage their industry expertise and become the go-to source for private label brands, such as Kirkland from Costco. This win-win approach can give you the business needed for short term capital. This way, your alcohol brand strategy can ferment until it’s ready to scale.

Direct to Consumer

D2C is a big thing, right? Brands are still trying to figure out how to make direct to consumer funnels a point of profitability. Our advice is too, as they say in golf, play it as it lies. This means take your best shot at having a direct to consumer funnel, but recognize the reality of the situation.

Before going full scale with D2C, consider offering limited editions of your products. Or collaborate with other products for cross-market promotion. Test your ability to create online transactions with less risk by making it a short term commitment that enhances brand visibility.

Sustainable Packaging

We care about sustainability when sober, but what happens after we’ve kicked back a few? As mentioned, there is a demographic of customers in the wine and beer industry that have a warm heart for sustainable packaging.

Does this translate into craft distillers? Will it reach the mass market beer brands? Should Napa rethink its approach to wine bottle manufacturing practices?

Hats off to you for deciding to put on sustainability within the fabric of your company. But do not assume that this business practice translates into brand loyalty. Buyer interest is rarely identical to purchase intent. That’s why our packaging design agency tests for purchase drivers, such as sustainability.

Mixed Drink Recipes

Everybody wants to be their own mixologist. Even those buying alcohol seltzers will seek fun ways to enhance the flavor profile.

There will forever be a tug-a-war relationship between done for me and do it myself beverages. But even if the consumer never follows through with mixed drink recipes, they may hold on to the idea for years to come. Brands can enhance their products’ experience by offering mixed drink recipes on their label design, with a hang tag or an attached booklet.

In the online world, a QR code can help drive customers from the shelf to a recipe blog post with imagery that increases the product’s desire.

Alcohol Packaging Design Agency

Are you a new to market alcohol brand or existing company looking for a brand refresh? Our packaging design company can help you build a winning brand through our proprietary package design process. Our design to print packaging methodology ensures that your brand outperforms the competition and increases revenues.

Discuss your project with our team.