Hot Times For Cool Beer
by Dana Dratch
Beer brands have been hard at work leveraging new packaging technology to keep those icy brews in consumers’ hands from getting warm.
Nothing hits the spot on a hot day like a cold beer. That’s why several breweries are embracing new packaging technology designed to keep that beer colder longer. This year, Labatt Breweries of Canada and Coors Brewing are both marketing new “cold in hand” packaging innovations designed to insulate their brews.
“Consumers’ number one issue is that their beer is too warm,” says Elaine Stokes-Noble, manager of innovations for Labatt, which introduced an insulated can, the Labatt Blue Cold One, in the United States this spring.
While the primary purpose is to keep beer cold, industry watchers say the strategy should give the labels a little buzz, too.
“I think it’s a way to drive excitement about a brand,” says Harry Schuhmacher, editor and publisher of Beer Business Daily.
Cooling technology also sets the product apart, says Gerry O’Brion, brand manager for Coors Light, which has introduced its Cold Wrap Bottles this year and is bringing back its popular Plastic Bottle Cooler Box, with packaging that doubles as a cooler.
“Any innovation you’re bringing the consumer—something unique that’s important to them—can create differentiation in the market,” O’Brion says. And that also translates to more effective marketing. A point of differentiation, like a beer that stays cold longer, he says, makes marketing the product more meaningful.
Good publicity never hurts either.
The Plastic Bottle Cooler Box has garnered a lot of positive press—it was named 2005’s Best New Packaging Innovation by Convenience Store News and was also showcased in BRANDPACKAGING’s 2006 Design Gallery. That kind of attention is “good for the brand,” O’Brion says.
Cold is cool
Labatt partnered with DuPont to create its unique Blue Cold One packaging, designed to insulate the can and retain the cold. How it works: A layer of high-tech polymer sandwiched between two layers of film insulates the can, which is then shrink-wrapped with another layer of plastic film for additional protection from heat, according to Betsy Cooper, a spokesperson for Labatt. Consumers can purchase it by the pack in quantities of six, 12 or 24, she says.
Labatt’s Blue Cold One combines color, design and copy to telegraph its purpose to consumers. The shrink label bears an ice crystal design that reinforces the “cold” message, while copy on the can explains that the insulating wrap keeps the beer colder longer.
The insulated concept has gone over “very, very well” with consumers, Stokes-Noble reports. “We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback. We’re evaluating other markets, as well.”
Tapping the stay-cool angle is a natural for Coors, whose marketing strategy is built around the idea of “cold”. The company introduced its Coors Light Cold Wrap bottle in May.
“Rocky Mountain cold refreshment is the essence of the Coors Light brand,” said Jim Sabia, vice president of marketing for the Coors Brewing Company. “These innovations ensure our consumers can ‘Taste the Cold’ and be refreshed this summer whether they’re at a nightclub dancing or at a barbecue with friends.”
Each Cold Wrap bottle has a 360-degree label that uses insulating technology originally developed for the U.S. space program, explains O’Brion. Developed by Boulder, Colo.-based Outlast Technologies, the label “soaks and releases the heat in a way that helps [repel] the heat from your beer, which helps keep [it] cold,” he says. The label (developed in conjunction with Smyth Companies) is sandwiched in textured layers of the special material, and both a blue call-out and copy on the back of the label explain the technology, and its benefits, to the consumer.
“It supports our brand’s message and gives consumers something they want,” says O’Brion.
The Cold Wrap Bottle is currently available only in on-premise locations, though Coors is evaluating other channels.
Coors is also continuing to offer its popular Plastic Bottle Cooler Box, a hit with consumers since it was introduced last spring. Available with both Coors Light and Coors Banquet, the box contains 18 plastic, 16-ounce bottles—equivalent to a case of beer.
“It’s a package that fulfills a need in a way that hasn’t been done before,” O’Brion says.
“Copy on the box that reads, ‘Just add ice and go,’ hits on the benefit that we’re bringing you a package that’s portable,” O’Brion says. It also details how it works, with information on the plastic liner that helps the box withstand melting ice, and the plastic bottles, which allow consumers to take beer where glass isn’t allowed.
And, like other Coors brands that feature something new or different, the company includes a highlighting color—blue—to alert the consumer. “We put something they haven’t seen before,” says O’Brion. The objective: “We want you to read this package—it’s something different.”
Industry gurus agree the package is unique.
“It’s smart packaging—no doubt about it,” says Brian Sudano, managing director of consulting services for New York-based Beverage Marketing Corp., an industry consulting firm. “It’s a great idea, great technology, and they’re doing well with it,” he says. “Function fits convenience.”
Marketing the product
A “cold” message—and packaging that keeps the product cold—also helps sell beer, according to brand owners.
“It’s another tool for our sales people,” Stokes-Noble says.
To tell its story in the U.S. market, Labatt has relied on word of mouth and in-store displays. In Canada, where the product debuted last summer, the brand employed in-store displays and also a sampling program—where one of the insulated cans was included in a package of the regular product. “We made sure to get it into the hands of consumers,” Stokes-Noble says.
Conversely, Coors is using TV spots to promote the Plastic Cooler Box and the Cold Wrap Bottle. And last fall it offered a Gridiron Cooler Box version for football season tailgating.
Because the Cold Wrap Bottle is exclusive to bars and restaurants, the company is also using table tents—made of the same material as the labels—to advertise the product.
A package’s touch factor is also an important marketing tool. Labatt execs believe the hand feel of the newly designed Cold One can will be one of its selling points.
“The insulating wrap gives it a cushiony feeling—it’s so much more pleasant to hold,” says Stokes-Noble. “The can is not cooling your hand.”
The cost of cold
But, as we all know, packaging innovations can also add to production and, sometimes, shipping costs.
Any time you add extra weight or packaging to a product, “it’s definitely going to cut into the profitability of the package,” says Schuhmacher.
Some in the industry fear that there isn’t a large enough profit margin on beer to support the extra shipping and materials costs that might be associated with insulated packaging.
In a business where sales have just recently begun to level off and climb, the few cents per can for such insulating technogies make a big difference. “The canned beer business is a pennies business,” says Beverage Marketing Corp’s Sudano.
“So the big concern is how you go in with a wrapped can and still get the incremental value,” he says.
His solution: Configure the packaging differently than regularly packaged beer. If a manufacturer normally puts 12 or 24 together for a price, this time you package 15 or 18. “That can mask a price increase a little bit until the technology’s out there and people have bought into the value associated with it,” he says.
Labatt doesn’t talk about what the packaging might add to the cost of its product, but representatives will say the company is not passing any increases on to consumers.
“We’re in this business to make money, to be profitable, so that’s certainly an element to be considered,” says Cooper. “But innovations are the leading edge—that’s the driver for us.”
Likewise, Coors doesn’t want to reveal what, if any, additional costs it’s incurred in presenting new packaging.
“We want to bring great innovations to consumers that they find valuable,” says O’Brion. “Packaging costs what it costs.”
Will it last?
But is the market for a colder product as finite as foam on beer?
“I don’t expect it to be long-term,” Beer Business Daily’s Schuhmacher says, referring to the season for insulated products.
But Coors would disagree. “We know that consumers like cold beer,” says O’Brion. “To the extent that we can bring innovations that make beer colder and more refreshing, that’s want we want to do.”
Stokes-Noble expects to see growth in Labatt’s cold-enhancing beer packaging because it’s what the brand’s customers want. “I think we’re going to see more of it because it’s consumer-driven.” As long as the consumers are asking, she says, breweries will be working to meet the demand. BP
Dana Dratch is an award-winning freelance writer based in Atlanta.
Where to go for more information...