Sales in the alcohol segment are increasing, especially now as we enter the holiday season. More parties, celebrations and toasts among family and friends call for more libations of all kinds. Packaging for the segment is evolving to capture consumers’ attention, in addition to appealing to their functional and practical sides.

Beer, beer and more beer

I couldn’t write this article without first addressing the huge boom in the craft beer segment. Craft beer is on the rise with new breweries and brew pubs opening in the U.S. every day. The craft beer market is a $19.6 billion industry (according to the Brewer’s Association). The association states that there are 3,464 U.S. breweries, up 18.6 percent since 2013*. On premise and off, craft beer consumption is rising and there is no sign of a slowdown.

Bottles or cans, the market is growing and packagers must work hard to get their brands noticed. According to a new study conducted by Package InSight at Clemson University and sponsored by Avery Dennison (, the product label on beer bottles attracts consumer attention and drives purchase intent.

The study examined the shelf impact of craft beer labels when products were positioned in a simulated retail store environment. Eye movement metrics helped shed light on why shoppers chose specific craft beer products. The study revealed which label materials performed best in terms of how long someone looked at a label and which labels caught participants’ attention first. The study’s findings can help brewers determine which package material and design can best impact consumers, and ultimately sell more beer.

So which label type first caught shoppers’ eyes? Gloss film was number one, followed by wood veneer and metallized film. What is interesting is that while gloss film caught shoppers’ eyes first, the majority of the shopping group (46%) perceived the metallized film label as the most expensive looking option.

It is clear from the study that labels do matter. Certain styles and materials aid to attract shoppers and keep them engaged right through to purchase (and ideally through consumption and recycling).

Packaging labels and design, not to mention materials, all play a part in helping the product become appealing to consumers. Scour the beer aisle in major grocery chains and specialty shops and what you might notice is the increase of cans for use in the segment, and that isn’t a coincidence. Cans are gaining in popularity in the craft beer segment as more packagers, and consumers, learn about the benefits of aluminum. According to a marketing contact at a local brewery I spoke with, cans best keep beer protected from light and oxygen, the two most harmful factors. Packaging beer in cans also allows consumers to bring the beer into places that prohibit the use of glass, such as outdoor festivals and pools. Consumers have long turned their noses up to beer in cans, associating it with lower quality, value and domestic varieties. Higher priced beer, and craft beer, has traditionally been packaged in glass because of the perceived higher value glass has over aluminum; but this is changing. Cans are having a comeback as craft beer packagers acknowledge aluminum’s lightweight and oxygen barrier properties, as well as other benefits.

The Can Manufacturing Institute’s (CMI) recent findings show that consumers prefer the can to other formats for their favorite drinks, including of course, beer. Earlier this year, CMI released findings from an online survey of U.S. adults, sampled via Toluna Market Research omnibus panel. What is surprising is that today’s consumers know all about the benefits of using cans. Eighty-five percent of U.S. adults sampled agree with the statement that, cans effectively block out damaging effects of light, help preserve flavor and carbonation.

With more and more beer options crowding store shelves, sometimes appearance is everything. A majority, 72%, of consumers agree that the unique shape and printing space on cans, including images and designs, catches the eye more than other beverage containers.

Consumers like the look of cans, but also the functionality of the package. Sixty-seven percent surveyed said that they prefer cans because they are easier to carry and harder to damage than other packages. Craft brewers are releasing their products in 12-ounce and even 16-ounce cans that offer high-end graphics, recyclability, portability and that feel-good consumer experience.

Why whine? Choose wine

Wine innovations continue to emerge as alternative packaging sizes, shapes and materials launch to satisfy any wine craving. The newly released Mija Sangria is bottled sangria made exclusively with premium dry red wine and 100% real fruit juice. What’s unique is that the sangria is packaged in a 100% recyclable and reusable flip top bottle. According to the company, the bottle and closure sets it apart from the competition. Mija Sangria bottles can be repurposed to hold anything from water, to oil or vinegar.

“Our motivation behind using a flip top bottle and a Spanish-inspired label design for Mija Sangria was to create a package that looks as beautiful as the sangria tastes. Inspired by the recent trend of holding water and oil at restaurants, we felt that using this design that is unique to the wine category would set us apart from our counterparts in the sangria sector,” states Kevin Mehra of Latitude Beverage Company.

While this wine pouch isn’t exactly new, I still haven’t seen many wine package innovations that can top it. Remember this innovative wine pouch? Wine Pouch (R)evolution, the innovative packaging by Reverse Innovation B.V. Amsterdam (a spin-off of the Italian agency Reverse Innovation) and winner of five international design awards, is as unique as wine packaging gets.

According to the company, the package was created to counter-act the negative image of wine sold in pouches or as a bag in a box option, which is often synonymous with poor quality. The graphically appealing package cleverly and elegantly reinterprets the classic Bordeaux bottle. The design and its details are meant to evoke a sense of quality; the contours of the bottle shape are emphasized with gold foil while the terroir of the wine is retold through the use of blind embossing and UV varnish to reproduce the specific shape of the vine leaf which is characteristic of the area.

Wine Pouch (R)evolution has won several awards, including The Dieline, Fab Awards, A’ Design Award, How Design Awards and Good Design from Chicago Athenaeum Museum.

Spirits packaging inspires

The right package can leave a lasting impression with users and sometimes even helps make the user experience more enjoyable. The 86 Co. created a line of spirits in a bottle designed for the professional bartender. When the company set out to develop its four spirits — Fords Gin, Caña Brava Rum, Aylesbury Duck Vodka and Tequila Cabeza — it took everything into account when creating the bottle. The company consulted a water bottle designer to get the ergonomics of the bottle just right and worked with a physical therapist to design a bottle with several options for pouring and that would be easy on the hand. Each bottle includes specific design elements to create a lasting impression:

  • Neck: The bottle has been designed with a long neck to easily hold with a full hand and is shaped for a consistent flow of liquid.
  • Labels: The labels are reinforced so they are easy to remove allowing folks to reuse the bottle for water, syrups, infusions, etc. and label them appropriately.
  • Scale: The bottle has a scale with exact measures in both fluid ounces and liter measurements. It is great for inventory control, batching cocktails and can be used to measure recipes for house-made syrups and infusions.
  • Middle grip: The bottle was designed with a ridge in the middle to allow the perfect grip.

Outerspace Vodka is packaged in a highly distinctive green glass alien head package that sets it apart from traditional liquor bottles and evokes a playful spirit. The Vodka originates from Iowa and is distilled from corn and filtered through meteorites from outer space (this part is hard to believe but the company spokesman assured me it’s true).

The key lies in the packaging. The 3-D head shape is hard not to notice. The alien head package features black eyes and is finished with an aluminum stopper, tamper proof seal and hangtag on a chain.

Jim Denoon of Rockwood (, a manufacturer of glass bottles for the liquor industry, designed and developed this unique bottle. When I asked him what his inspiration in doing so was, he gave me several.

“There has been an emergence of ‘head-shaped’ products in the liquor industry. Also, there is a long standing cultural affection towards the notion of ‘little green men from Outerspace’- I suppose this is a celebration of that. In addition, there is a commercial side. There’s high perceived value with products that are aesthetically pleasing, yet they don’t cost that much more to make,” says Dennon.

The brand launched mid-September of this year and already is available in more than 20 states, with plans to expand this year and next, nationally and internationally, in places like Canada and Australia.

Research proves that the alcohol segment is booming and that an attractive and user-friendly package is needed to get noticed in the sea of spirits, wine and beer.


*Figure includes regional craft breweries, microbreweries, brewpubs, large non-craft and other non-craft.