A bevy of considerations go into choosing a material for your brand’s packaging including product protection and visibility, what your competition is doing and buyer preferences.

In addition, advancements have been made in nearly every material — from sustainability to keeping food fresh longer to better finishing techniques — and the industry has a greater understanding of both what customers truly see at shelf and expect from a package, thanks to eye-tracking and other research methods.

So, what is a brand to do? Go with the material you’ve always used or try out a new technology? Stick within the category norms or break the mold? The trouble and the beauty is that there is no single right answer.

BRANDPACKAGING gathers insight about major material categories from the organizations that support them and learns why they stand behind their material. Use this information as a jumping point, because choosing the right material is most definitely an art.


“Cans have long been the reliable, functional package for the beverage industry,” says Sherrie Rosenblatt, vice president, marketing and communications, Can Manufacturers Institute (www.cancentral.com). “Consumers want to feel a connection with their beverage, and brands can help make that happen. Our research showed that the 360 degree graphics on cans sell brands, offering a unique branding experience that consumers appreciate. In fact, 48 percent of consumers indicated that they have tried a new type of beverage based purely on the look of its container label and graphics. So, brand owners have the opportunity to use the beverage can as a branding connection with consumers that can lead to sales.”

“We’ve seen a preference for cans in the energy drink and craft beer markets because they are an ideal canvas for exciting graphics and are the key to protecting product integrity,” she continues. “Graphic innovation and protecting product integrity are just two of the reasons there is further brand adoption of cans for cold brew coffees, carbonated water and wine.”

Rosenblatt believes brands can benefit from cans’ multiple points of appeal for the customer:

“These days, it takes a well-round approach to packaging to impact the consumer experience and purchasing decision. Based on the branding factors noted above and through sustainability and taste, cans offer a significant opportunity to connect with consumers. According to our research, consumers feel that cans actually enhance the taste experience. For example, relative to a plastic bottle, 69 percent of consumers said that a chilled beverage can feels colder and more refreshing. And, notably, 81 percent of consumers indicated that the infinite recyclability of cans matters to them. So, the can has the ability to create consumer touchpoints on factors that matter: taste, sustainability, branding innovation and performance.” 


“Last year, our industry launched the ‘Paper & Packaging – How Life Unfolds’ campaign, a national promotional initiative that aims to foster an appreciation for paper products within consumers across the country,” says Ben Markens, president, Paperboard Packaging Council (paperbox.org). “As it gains momentum, the campaign should not only bolster the use of paperboard packaging, it should also enhance the marketing efforts of consumer branded companies.”

Sustainability is one reason Markens recommends paperboard packaging.

“Consumers and brands will continue to value the positive connection between paperboard and the environment,” says Markens. “Because paperboard is renewable and recyclable by its very nature, it will fit perfectly into a future where sustainability will be fully integrated into everyday manufacturing processes as well as the lives of consumers.”

Another reason brands may choose paper-based packaging is its versatility. Two top winners from last year’s North American Paperboard Packaging Competition demonstrate this fact.

The Ellis Group’s Toblerone One by One Gifting Box, FX Creative/Mondeléz Canada

This family of cartons, which won Paperboard Package of the Year, represents a radical departure from Toblerone’s previous package designs yet remains true to brand. In fact, the angular structures embody the company’s tagline, “Born to be deliciously different.” 

Designed as a gift that does not require wrapping, the graphics feature a ribbon that flows seamlessly between lid and bottom. The cartons are also right-sized to eliminate the need for wasteful false bottoms or void fillers, and they’re optimized for efficient pallet configuration. They do everything a carton should: drive sales and breathe new life into brands by way of innovative structures and exquisite graphics while providing supply chain efficiencies and waste reductions.

Bert-Co Industries Inc.’s Glamglow Flashmud 

Dynamic and striking, this Folding Carton of the Year entices consumers at first sight with its distinctive “X” shape, bright orange printing and the look of an upscale rigid box. Picking up the pack, consumers feel its luxurious soft touch coating and notice the fine detail foil stamping. At home, after removing the lid, they’re delighted to see the signature “hello sexy” panel, under which the product is inset into even more coated, foil-stamped board.

Providing an immersive brand experience from store shelf to unboxing and beyond, this carton shows off paperboard’s marketing capabilities — it’s a pack you simply can’t put down. 


“Thanks to great innovation and technology, today’s flexible packaging is delivering brand value because of its ability to fit on-the-go consumer lifestyles,” says Marla Donahue, president and CEO, Flexible Packaging Association (www.flexpack.org). “In FPA’s recent Brand Value Study, more than 60 percent of consumers said packaging attributes such as ease of storage, ability to be resealed and ease of opening were very, extremely or absolutely important. For brand owners, this means products in flexible packaging can command a premium price at retail. In fact, approximately 60 percent of consumers we surveyed said they are willing to pay more for tangible, functional packaging benefits such as ability to reseal, ability to extend product life, easy to store and easy to open.”

Donahue points out that those drivers of convenience and ease of use will continue to propel flexible forward as a top choice by brands.

“Flexible packaging is going to continue to grow as brand owners strive to meet the demands of consumers for convenience,” says Donahue. “Flexible packaging is the second largest packaging segment in the U.S., and one of the fastest growing. In our Brand Value Study, 97 percent of brand owners who currently use flexible packaging indicated they planned to use the same amount or more in the next five years. Flexible packaging is already a sustainable option due to its lightweight design and ability to extend food life, and the industry is constantly working to enhance sustainability even more. As brand owners strive to meet the consumer lifestyles and expectations, we’re going to see more and more machinery and materials that increase the sustainability of flexible packaging.  

“Through our Brand Value Study, we’ve confirmed that flexible packaging fits contemporary lifestyles and retail trends while also having a positive, documented impact on brand value. We also know that consumers are willing to pay premium prices for product attributes enhanced by flexible packaging, to meet their needs for convenience and functionality.”


“Beverage brands are turning to glass packaging to help them meet growing consumer preferences for authentic, natural and artisanal products,” says Lynn Bragg, president, Glass Packaging Institute (www.gpi.org). “For packaging, this means more natural, elemental materials such as glass. The transparent and sustainable qualities of glass packaging also reinforce this ethic. In addition, glass helps reach consumers who want to splurge on super-premium and craft spirits that are part of a growing cocktail culture. According to the Brewers Association, U.S. brewers were at a record high of 4,144 in 2015. Its data also showed that ‘locally made’ is important to over half of craft beer buyers. Glass is the only type of packaging commonly used for beer whose raw materials can be completely sourced from within North America. And most brewers, too, are within just several hundred miles from a glass manufacturing facility.”

As Bragg touched on, luxury categories often turn to glass to house their products.

“On the premium side, consumers aren’t necessarily looking for excess or exclusivity, but simple luxury,” says Bragg. “For glass packaging, this means bottles with thick bases and minimal decoration, but ones that work together with label designs to present a harmonized, high-quality image. Glass can be molded into virtually any shape for a unique profile, to reinforce a brand image or build shelf distinction. Shapes, colors, embossing, labeling, decorating and closures can all create an exceptional consumer experience. Blown-in glass decoration, such as embossing and debossing techniques, have become important for brands hoping to create a unique look and tactile appeal.”

Consumer premiumization and product innovation has delivered growth in distilled spirits, with volumes up 2.3 percent in 2015, says Bragg.

“Super-premium whiskeys were particularly popular among American consumers who are splurging on spirits. For example, Campari launched a limited-edition, super-premium release of Wild Turkey called Master’s Keep in an intricately embossed cosmetic flint bottle. For spirits beverage brands, glass packaging is really the only way to showcase and properly package premium and super-premium products.”

Glass also has sustainable properties, and Bragg says those keep getting better.

“Glass beer and wine bottles are about 40 percent lighter than they were 20 years ago — and that continues today. For example, glass manufacturer O-I recently worked with Adnams to develop the lightest branded 500ml glass premium ale bottle, weighing in at 280g. Ardagh Group has debuted its 1.5L Bordeaux wine bottle, which weighs a mere 670g (24 ounces). These lighter weight bottles reduce carbon footprint and the use of raw materials and energy.” 

As was mentioned earlier, customer preference plays a large role in packaging material — and millennials want sustainability as well as that small-batch, local feel from the brands they buy.

“In the past several years, one of the biggest changes in the packaging market is the competition to attract the swell of millennials, which by 2020 will account for one-third of the adult population (about 83 million),” says Bragg. “The ripple effect has been a rise in craft in nearly every beverage category, functional foods and beverages, and smaller formats. There is also more focus on health and sustainability. Glass manufacturers have become more nimble to respond quickly to this emerging customer base of smaller, more local producers. This includes expanded lines of stock bottles, mold innovations, and pallet storage and delivery.

“The millennial consumer also has different expectations than previous generations. For example, they are looking for transparency, sustainability and local brands that offer new/interactive experiences and premiumization.”

Glass containers are poised to meet these expectations, but there is a lot of competition in the packaging arena to win over these consumers, Bragg says.

“Consumers choose glass for many reasons: taste, transparency, health and safety, and premium appeal. Being able to see the product inside and taste the difference matters to consumers. Amber glass bottles are also 99.9 percent effective against light. And because glass is an excellent insulator, it keeps a product colder longer than other packaging choices.”

According to Bragg, brands also may look to glass for its composition and natural appearance.

“An EcoFocus survey found that 75 percent of consumers prefer glass packaging because it preserves the taste or flavor of the food and beverages it contains. This is borne out by science. Science By Design founder and scientist Sarah Risch recently explained why Coke tastes better in glass — it’s all about how the fizzy drink reacts to the material it is being held in, and it’s better when surrounded by glass than a can or PET.

“Glass also has the distinction of being the healthiest packaging choice,” she continues. “Brands that are making organic, clean label and other ‘functional’ beverages — a growing market category — want a package to match. Glass is the natural choice: Made from all-natural ingredients, glass is nonporous and impermeable. Unlike other packaging, glass does not require a petroleum-based liner. Because glass is chemically inert, there is virtually no interaction with a food or beverage to interfere with flavor and aroma, or chemicals that migrate into the product that may compromise consumer health.”

To illustrate her point of natural, Bragg shares the example of Honest Tea, Global Packaging Design Award winner.

Honest Tea

A product’s packaging speaks volumes about a brand and what’s inside. Well-executed packaging communicates to consumers why a product and brand are unique. Designed to turn heads, Honest Tea’s Summer Refreshers product line delivers on that mission with its striking design.

The eye-catching pink liquid, apparent through the 32oz glass bottle, draws you in, while the label design highlights the fresh-tasting flavors of organic watermelon and lemons as the “sails” of a boat gliding along a refreshing pink sea. Playing on the free and fanciful memories of summer fun, the bright flavor mirrors the vibrancy of the label with the Honest twist of less sugar and fewer calories than similar bottled lemonades. The cheerful and inviting label was designed in-house using the same whimsical style of the four other beverages in the Summer Refreshers lineup.

Ardagh Group’s Glass – North America division has manufactured Honest Tea’s 32oz glass bottles since March 2014.