What's new in the beverage aisle?

When it comes to packaging innovation, the beverage aisle contains some of the most distinctive, eye-catching and compelling design solutions. But, for marketers seeking to position their products apart from and ahead of their closest rival, creating such packaging solutions is not always easy.

Consumers have demonstrated a desire for products that relate to their daily routines and, at the same time, offer more diverse experiences. Additionally, they are demanding greater product integrity and flavor, forcing marketers to change product formulations and launch new brands in the all-natural arena. The end result is that beverage marketers are looking for ways to cater to a wide range of demographic profiles and lifestyle choices, are scouring the globe for new ingredients, additives and flavor experiences and launching new brands and new packaging schemes in response.

With all of these dynamics to consider, the need for brand marketers to exploit creativity-through innovative structures, enhanced ergonomics, distinct brand personalities or dazzling graphics-is undeniable.

Cross-pollination yields innovation

In preparation for this article, it was important to canvass the innovations taking place in other industries and product categories that might provide worthwhile reference. In many cases, the innovations and successes of one industry can be effectively “borrowed” to produce worthwhile impact in another.

As always, there was a dazzling array of packaging solutions within the fragrance arena. From gloriously streamlined and sleek designs offered by Kenzo, Missoni and Vera Wang to significantly more ornate presentations from Annick Goutal and Dior, not to mention the whimsical and sculptural forms employed by Lolita Lempicka and Jean Paul Gaultier, there was plenty to engage the eye and trigger numerous emotions.

In the home improvement category, the folks at Elmer’s have done a wonderful job upgrading their line of glues, fillers and other DIY products. The most notable effect is that, by employing more distinctive, ergonomically shaped structures and bold new graphics, Elmer’s is making shopping for DIY projects a much more exciting and memorable process.

The cleaning products category offered a somewhat disturbing observation, though: there is a surprising similarity between the colors used to identify and segment liquid detergent brands and the products in the fruit juice, carbonated beverage and energy drink categories. Look at the brilliant blues, yellows, greens and oranges found in Gatorade’s line of energy and performance drinks, or the vibrant and youthful colors utilized by Glacéau for its line of vitamin infused waters, and compare them to the striking colors that enliven Palmolive’s dishwashing liquids and Johnson & Johnson’s Fantastik cleaners. The underlying concern becomes one of potential category confusion and questionable product expectations.

Let's have a drink

That said, there is no shortage of activity to report on in the beverage aisle. Whether they are for fortified, infused or functional beverages, RTD teas and coffees, super-premium spirits or exotic juices derived from nutrient-rich superfruits, design advances and competitive posturing have kept things interesting and lively.

In the alcoholic beverage arena, we’ve seen a proliferation of products at the super premium end of the category. According to the Distilled Spirits Council, consumer interest in this product niche, coupled with aggressive marketing on the part of brand owners, has contributed to a steady increase in sales for high-end spirits, most notably scotch, bourbon, cognac and tequila.

There is no mistaking the degree to which packaging design, from both a structural and applied graphics perspective, has contributed to this growth. Two brand presentations worth mentioning include Moët Hennessy’s 10 Cane rum and Milagro tequila.

10 Cane’s packaging offers a striking juxtaposition of old world ornament and contemporary color. The somewhat old-style and generic placement of the word “RUM” molded into the bottle’s side panel combines beautifully to set this brand apart from its more traditional neighbors.

In the tequila category in which Milagro competes, creative inspiration has been apparent for some time. Brands like Sauza, José Cuervo, Patron and El Tesoro have expanded their lines and upgraded packaging presentations to embrace super premium opportunities.

However, Milagro’s sleek and cleverly sculpted bottle is something to note. While the external profile has its merits, it is the distinctive internal component-the molded cactus element-that attracts attention. While the conceptual approach is not new, this particular bottle is an example of a more successful execution.

While not in the same category of alcoholic beverages, Gekkeikan’s new Zipang sparkling sake has its own distinctive appeal. Between its easy-open pull ring cap and the distinctive matte finished metallic surface on its shrink sleeve, this presentation of a somewhat unusual beverage (at least for mainstream Americans) is eye catching and alluring.

Water. As far as the eye can see

There’s nothing new about bottled water that cannot be described in terms of marketing. From brand positioning and personality to packaging and presentation, water marketing seems to be more about creating qualitative impressions and evoking emotional attachments than making quantitative statements that highlight purity and performance. While there are mainstream brands such as Arrowhead, Poland Springs and Deer Park that have been quite successful, there is always a newcomer on the shelves striving for attention.

As with super premium spirits, where packaging and persuasive quality-oriented presentations have compelled purchase and generated category growth, the bottled water category has numerous brands pursuing the same goal. Commanding a somewhat higher price than mainstream brands, Scotland’s Gleneagles Spring Water stands clearly apart as a result of its minimally adorned, tall and tapered bottle. Similarly, Norway’s Voss makes its splash by employing a minimalist presentation with a tall and unmistakable cylindrical form.

As mentioned earlier, drawing inspiration or making reference to packaging solutions in other product categories can prove effective. In this regard, there seems to be a growing number of marketers who feel the sculptural and ornamental forms common to the fragrance industry have merit in the bottled water category.

Worth mentioning is Le Bleu, a stylishly detailed blue bottle that has performed well in food service arenas, providing a more distinctive presentation for upscale restaurateurs. With somewhat limited distribution, this brand is still gaining traction.

Another brand that merits discussion is Aquadeco. Its stylish and elegant bottle, designed by Flowdesign, draws reference from the Art Deco period and could just as easily contain fine perfume or rare cognac as the “premium spring water” identified on its facade. While this distinctive container is sure to attract eyeballs, its price (from $18 to $37 for 750mL) is equally sure to raise eyebrows.

Although the above-mentioned brands represent pure water, it is important to include Sence, described as “rare European rose nectar,” in this discussion. There is no denying the “cut crystal” look of this container could easily share space with the aforementioned fragrances, and this attribute contributes heavily to the product’s overall appeal. Designed by Adam Tihany, this package exploits the approach with tremendous finesse.

Getting soft

Carbonated sodas that once dominated the shelves are losing real estate to new generations of beverage choices, including functional ingredients and flavor infusions. Since many of these brands are owned and marketed by the leading brand powerhouses, their structural presentations do not appear to break significant ground. From an applied graphics perspective, however, these marketers are definitely going out of their way-exploiting everything from color, typography and texture to specialty foils, materials and printing techniques.

Of particular interest is the way well-conceived copywriting lifts the overall impact and appeal of certain products, most notable in the naming of water-based beverages. From Life Water (South Beach Beverage Company) and Skinny Water (Peace Mountain Natural Beverages) to Vitamin Water (Glacéau) and Invigorating Water (Propel), creating distinction and compelling desire comes in many forms.

Creative copywriting is also having an impact in some of the newer carbonated beverage offerings. Archer Farms (Target) presents its sodas as “handcrafted in small batches,” suggesting affiliation with other self-described artisan foods flooding the marketplace today.

Similarly, PepsiCo’s new Tava range of sparkling beverages, sporting artful flavor monikers such as Mediterranean Fiesta, Brazilian Samba and Tahitian Tamure, implies appellation-a practice typically associated with wine, not beverages as ordinary as carbonated sodas. This attitude continues onto the brand’s web site, offering food pairings and blending notes that borrow even more from the language of winemaking. While their overall design and brand imagery are also quite appealing, the manner in which Tava exploits creative wordsmithing is exceptional.

Untapped opportunities

There are still a few product categories under the broader beverage umbrella where packaging design, notably structural configuration, could be exploited further. In particular, RTD teas and coffees, refrigerated juices and dairy products seem reluctant to violate longstanding norms. With the exception of Pom Wonderful’s figure-eight shaped bottle, structural geometries in these categories lack the spirit of adventure and innovation found elsewhere.

While structural innovation may be falling behind, there is certainly a diversity of brand imagery and impactful graphic design in play; and, whether printed directly onto the packaging surface or applied via adhesive labeling or shrink wrap technologies, that should be applauded. When scanning shelves, however, and without structural innovation to complement and reinforce surface treatments, products tend to blend in with the overall retail clutter. If not for the saving grace of multiple facings and the visibility that is affected through repetition, brand distinction would be limited.

Exciting days ahead

It will be interesting to follow the packaging ideas that gain traction in the future. We are already seeing a shift from six-packs to four-packs for bottles and new four-pack configurations for 248mL cans, especially in the sparkling fruit juice and energy drink categories.

Whether further inspiration comes from successes in super premium beverages or completely unrelated industries such as home improvement or fine fragrances, time will tell. What is certain, however, is that the fiercely competitive beverage landscape, and constantly changing consumer preferences, will keep beverage manufacturers and marketers on their toes- ensuring ongoing demand for innovation in packaging.