Organic, natural products are being matched with packaging and labeling that reflect the goodness of the product.

Like a child transforming from stubborn to sweet as the weeks get closer to Christmas, beverages are rapidly working harder and harder to be good. Taste is still a strong concern, but people want to know that the beverage they’re enjoying is doing everything it can possibly do to meet their dietary and refreshment needs.

Along the way, packaging is helping to communicate how beverages benefit consumers who seem to be equally interested in improving their health and the environment.

Here’s a snapshot of major trends and their packaging implications for Juices, Bottled Water, Carbonated Soft Drinks, Beer, Wine and Spirits.

Companies like TerraCycle are using the “reuse” aspect of sustainability to make the Honest Kids drink pouch into pencil cases and handbags.

Fruit juices flaunt functionality, flavor

While already perceived to be a healthy product, fruit juices are adding even more nutritional functionality. Two leading products, Nestle’s Juicy Juice Harvest Surprise and Campbell’s V-8 V-Fusion, are responding to not just children who refuse to eat their vegetables, but adults, too, by blending vegetable juices in with sweeter fruit juices, providing all of the nutritional benefits with none of the traditional vegetable flavor.

“As a society that’s having difficulty eating right and eating well…it’s a matter of getting people to consume maybe what they don’t like so much,” says David Morris, Mintel research director for food and beverage.

Although not quite slight of hand, the products’ added health benefit diverts some of the consumer’s interest away from just looking at the sugar content on nutritional labels.

“I think there’s still a lot of viability in fruit juices being able to press that segment to meet health needs because of the innate goodness of the products,” Morris says. “I think that can be forgotten when you’re looking only at sugar content.”

As for package design, the market is gearing itself to be increasingly kid-friendly, trying to make the outside just as good as the inside product. Frützzo created a bottle design in the shape of an hourglass. The upper part has a round contour, similar to the fruit-shaped designs of the Pom! Wonderful or Orangina bottles, which have received favorable response from children.

Another favorable response from children is found in the Honest Kids pouch and the company’s teaming with TerraCycle. The drink, which comes in Tropical Tango Punch, Berry Berry Good Lemonade and Goodness Grapeness, can be returned at one of 500 collection sites, where it will then be reused to make pencil cases and other products.

Water bottles such as Aquadeco and Evian’s Palace bottle bring an elegance to bottled water that was previously reserved for premium spirits.

Bottled water beating blame game

To deliver on the consumers’ demand for refreshing yet healthy beverages, bottled water manufacturers are working to make their products more flavorful and functional-without adding sugars.

Soma Beverage Co.’s Metromint water, known for its unsweetened mint water, added two new flavors to its line, chocolatemint and cherrymint. Both include a “Chill Factor” product claim, a sensation imparted by the mint. Also, to increase functionality, O Waters has released its line of O Water Infused, which adds antioxidants to its unsweetened, natural fruit-flavored water with electrolytes. Clean, minimalistic graphics on clear bottles communicate the purity of both product lines.

In regards to sustainability, bottled water is receiving the most flak, partly because the issue has yet to spill over into other beverage sub-markets. Market leader Nestlé has already responded to demands with its Eco-shape bottle, which reduces the amount of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and label material by 30%, weighing in at just 12.5 grams.

“Still bottled waters are almost all in PET plastic versus some of the functional waters and [ready-to-drink] teas, which are a little more creative in the packaging formats that they choose because they are more dynamic,” says Euromonitor research associate Josh Stock. “[However,] there are a lot of new entries, and people are trying to make their products stand out through their packaging.”

Several bottle designs introduced last year certainly did stand out, specifically the Aquadeco and Evian Palace bottles.

Aquadeco features an Art Deco contour reminiscent of such architectural designs as the Chrysler Building, and comes in either a 750 milliliter glass version or a smaller PET version. The Evian Palace PET bottle has French Alps designs cut into its base and a 100% stainless steel pourer can be attached, giving a traditional decanter-esque elegance to the product and to the ritual of pouring.

New in the UK, Pepsi RAW maintains a minimal, organic look that reflects the product’s natural ingredients.

Soft drinks respond to hard times

Carbonated soft drinks (CSD) are on the decline. With concerns over the amount of sugar, as well as the lack of any nutritional value, the only part of the CSD market that is still holding up is the diet soda segment. Due to the health-and-wellness trend, CSDs and other beverages have two options: lower caloric content or add functionality.

“You’re seeing a shift in terms of people’s soda drinking patterns from regular soda to diet, as the big players are innovating more and more in the diet space and using Splenda and some new introductions to be able to enhance taste and also grow the market beyond what would have historically been skewed to females,” Morris says.

There’s also a growing trend to use organic ingredients because they’re seen as healthier. Pepsi RAW, released so far only in the UK, contains apple extract, plain caramel colouring, coffee leaf, tartaric acid from grapes, gum arabic from acacia trees, cane sugar and sparkling water. The replacement of corn syrup with cane sugar reduces caloric content from 126 to 117 calories.

Calories aren’t the only target for reduction. PepsiCo is working hard to keep people from throwing its aluminum beverage cans in the trash by designing the package as a display piece or by encouraging recycling.

For example, the company has released the second wave of Mountain Dew Green Label Art labels, which consists of six different artistic designs on 16-ounce aluminum bottles, each made by a different alternative artist, ranging from a tattoo artist to a graffiti artist.

On the recycling front, PepsiCo has begun its “Have We Met?” campaign, which prints factoids on the sides of Pepsi cans to teach consumers the benefits of recycling and what role they can play in the process.

“It has been shown that education and reminders to recycle help to increase recycling,” Stock says.

PepsiCo isn’t the only soft-drink company focusing on recycling. Coca-Cola, in conjunction with the United Resource Recovery Corp., is building the world’s largest plastic bottle-to-bottle recycling plant, among other efforts.

“Coca-Cola has thrown millions of dollars behind being able to ensure it will have a recyclable product and that its open plants will be able to handle that demand,” Morris says. “I think that’s where they’ve been very aggressive.”

Amstel Pulse, introduced in Australia and Greece, features a sleek pull ring tab cap, making the product even easier to open than a twist-off crown.

Craft, imported beers keep market from “going flat”

Macro-brewed beer sales have been dropping, and consumers who have grown tired of the domestic beer market are now beginning to turn to craft beer.

“That’s where flavor and taste innovation are coming from,” Morris says. “Consumers are paying considerably more per six pack for beer, so [sales grow] via innovation and hiking price points.”

Craft beers have gained so much momentum in the beer industry that macro-breweries are responding by designing newer, more expensive craft brews to create disassociation from their major products.

“If you’re Anheuser-Busch or SABMiller and you want to grow sales, one of the ways you can is by nurturing craft beers along without making explicit marketing ties back to Miller or Budweiser, and court a demographic that otherwise may be alienated by the ‘everyman’ brand,” Morris says.

Consumers who used to be more connoisseurs of wine and spirits are also finding a refuge in craft and imported brews, seeing an array of taste innovation.

Heineken is responding in interesting ways to demographics of people who want to be their own bartenders. Two new Heineken innovations, the Draughtkeg and the BeerTender, allow consumers to have their own tap in house for less money than installing a tap system. The Draughtkeg, which contains 5 liters of beer, sets up easily to dispense beer. It can also fit inside the BeerTender, a sleek-looking machine designed to keep the beer cool and fresh for longer, which works like a regular beer tap.

Along with other products-such as the Coors Vented Wide Mouth Can, which allows more air in so the beer dispenses more freely, as well as the new easy-open pull ring closure of the Amstel Pulse bottle-brewers and package designers are working together, recognizing that innovative beverage dispensing can be just as desirable as flavor.

Hardy Wine Co.’s Wine Shuttle, a single-serve wine bottle, opens with a simple twist-top action, releasing an acrylic glass into which the wine is poured.

Say goodbye to corks and screws

One of the most popular trends in wine is to replace corks with alternative sealing methods.

“Saying goodbye to the cork initially is something consumers were hesitant to embrace,” Morris says. “But that perception has changed, especially when it means greater product integrity, less leakage and so forth.”

Synthetic corks and glass decanter-style closures are among the options. But consumers are even more open to the screw-on cap. It’s stronger and easier to open and reclose-and, consumers are now realizing, it had been overlooked for one single, silly reason: It was often associated with cheap wine. That’s just not the case now.

The closure isn’t the only part of the wine package that’s seen a shift. The format itself is no longer limited to glass bottles. With premium wine being more affordable and 99% of wine being produced for consumption soon after purchase, packaging for the purpose of aging is less necessary, which makes glass look clumsy, unexciting and weighty in comparison to some of today’s fresher options.

Bag-in-box is in style. Companies such as grocery store chain Whole Foods and Bota Box offer 3 liters of wine in a bag placed inside a recyclable corrugate box, which keeps the wine fresh for up to four weeks.

Some companies are meeting consumer demand for more single-serve packaging, especially since an entire wine bottle is rarely finished in one sitting by one or two people. Also, an open but not finished bottle of wine can’t be taken back in the car on the ride home from an event. Hardy Wine Co.’s Wine Shuttle, a single-serve acrylic wine bottle securely sealed by an acrylic wine glass, meets demands like this.

Pouches and aseptic packs are other desirable options. Companies such as Target and Bandit have introduced wines in aseptic single-serve pouches. But it may take a while for that trend to catch on with American consumers. Wine in an aseptic pouch is popular overseas, but not so much in the U.S.

“Using aseptic packaging for the more higher-end brands…[will have] some difficulty,” Morris says. “With the place that a wine bottle has in the mind of the consumer when it’s bought at a restaurant, I think it’ll take a very purely environmental push by a well-known, high-end winery to be able to make that happen.”

But now is a great time for such an innovation, considering how much younger drinkers are taking an interest in wine.

Another European innovation in wine packaging that is starting to take America by storm is aluminum cans. They are being used to give wine a cool, refreshing look, and are durable and refrigerator-friendly. Manufacturers such as Sofia Coppola and Floot are offering single-serve cans for their sparkling wines, which come with their own sipping straws.

Also, in the same vein as the Amstel Pulse beer bottle, Japanese Sake manufacturer Gekkeikan’s Sparkling Sake is topped with a pull ring cap, showing a universal recognition for this particular type of easy-open closure.

Spirits not giving up glass bottle ghost

Premium spirits are perhaps the only market where sustainability is not a main focus, partly because consumers perceive the heavier glass bottle as more elegant and “premium.”

“Glass still holds its position as being premium, and I don’t see that changing anytime in the near future,” Stock says.

Since the distilled spirits market is still centered largely around elegance, manufacturers need packages that fit the idealized image of the product and its target audience. Here are a few recent examples:

The new Gentleman Jack design from Jack Daniel’s has a smaller label, with less text printed on a rustic silver label, to impart a southern gentleman, old country feel to the package.

P.i.n.k. vodka, hailing itself as “the world’s perfect party spirit” with its infusion of caffeine and guarana, is in a frosted pink bottle. The sleek and sexy package appeals to female vodka drinkers.

And Kilo Kai, a spiced rum from Curacao, sports skull-and-crossbone imagery in its double-K logo against the amber bottle, giving a Caribbean/pirate-y feel to it.

For on-the-go and/or personal consumption, distilled spirits are now being offered in single-serve packs, as well. Pocket Shot provides single-serve stand-up pouches containing rum, vodka, gin, tequila or whiskey, which can be mixed with other beverages or taken straight.

“It often does translate into higher margins because when you shrink the pack sizes, you can have the same filled volume, but have more units of bottles,” Stock says.

That isn’t to say that some spirits manufacturers aren’t trying to be more environmentally friendly. Some manufacturers are using bottles that are designed to reflect the organic nature of the product. Rain Vodka’s bottle has undergone a redesign, shaping the package like a raindrop to give a natural feel.

Going a step further, 360 Vodka is making stronger attempts to raise environmental concern. Touted as the world’s first eco-friendly luxury vodka, 360 “applies advanced eco-friendly production and packing processes unprecedented in the spirits industry,” according to the company’s product launch news release.

On the production side, 360 Vodka’s production process was upgraded to use up to 250% percent less fossil fuel energy than traditional “pot distilled” products. On the packaging side, the bottle is made from 85% recycled glass (70% of which is post consumer) and features a recyclable slip-top closure that can be mailed back for re-use via an attached postage-paid envelope.

Sometimes, other developments can be at odds with sustainability initiatives. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau is initiating nutritional labeling on distilled spirits, mirroring those of the Food and Drug Administration’s Nutrition Facts box. While it is to be for the consumer’s benefit, some manufacturers are complaining that this will increase waste with larger labels and/or packages to accommodate the extra information.

“In one way, we want to be sustainable, we don’t want to produce more waste, we don’t want to use more resources. But, on the other side, we have to comply with the law and put all these requirements on the label…it’s coming in 2009, 2010,” says Yousef Zaatar, global packaging vice president at Bacardi. F&BP