For those of us who currently work in the beverage industry, the power of packaging has never been more important—new entrants into the space can literally live or die by it. With the global marketplace becoming more crowded, the opportunity to get noticed on-shelf or online is more competitive than ever.

My experience is in a very specific segment of the alcohol beverage industry (low-alcohol wine), but the insights that I have gleaned are applicable across the spirits and beverage industry. These can even be extended to food and consumer packaged goods (CPGs) as well. All brands are trying to reach consumers, break through the clutter, make an emotional connection, drive loyalty and repeat purchase. It’s a tall task and a huge ask, but those of us who are building brands and trying to be innovative in the complex world of consumer goods know that the success or failure of our products can hinge on the packaging. This truly is an industry where it is entirely appropriate to judge a book by its cover—and where a first impression is definitely everything.

Now, let’s explore three key elements needed for impactful wine packaging.

1. tell a story via art-inspired visual identity

We are moving away from the traditional artwork that simply depicts a regional vineyard to suggest quality of ingredients. Instead, we’re moving toward more unique and personal designs. Across all industries we have seen how brands have harnessed the creativity and brand power of established designers to create unique and one-of-a-kind packaging in order to drive conversation. Storytelling through design, when done right, sets the tone of the wine experience. The right artist is able to use design to tell a brand’s story in an instant. I believe this is most successful when the visual identity and the creation of the packaging is part of the DNA of the brand and not just a one-off. We see a lot of brands doing capsule-like collections or limited-edition packaging. All of this is great, but my feeling is that this is most successful when the design is integrating into the overall philosophy of the brand.

2. create an emotional connection

We have witnessed a lot of effort applied to creating connections, a concept which can seem like a combination of voodoo and science. Trying to make an emotional connection with consumers is not easy, especially for new brands and newer entrants into mature categories. One of the techniques I’ve noticed is what I call, “return to familiarity,” where brands use colors and images to remind a core consumer of the past and therefore connect the brand to a happy time in one’s life. This can be both subtle and sometimes in your face as a tactic for making a strong emotional connection. We see this in the beverage industry, but we are also seeing it in CPGs, especially with breakfast cereal brands looking to attract new consumers at different life stages. The key to connection is authenticity. Design that is true to the brand resonates with consumers.

3. create new products and usage occasions

At the moment, across all industries, everyone has the same goal: To make their products mobile. This is one of the key drivers that is pushing product design to its limits. We have watched the snack industry do this with the shape of a cup holder to encourage busy Americans to purchase products that can be consumed on the go. 

In the beverage sector we are specifically seeing new formats push new usage occasions—especially when it comes to alcohol. Thinking beyond the bottle and capitalizing on what consumers want can lead to industry breakthroughs. For example, the development of the wine industry’s first “wine in a can” in 2014 became a game changer. It took the industry a while to catch on, but now this is consistently ranked as one of the most important developments in the wine industry. The impact has been to allow consumers to drink wine in a new and different way. It achieves that on-the-go desire and allows wine drinkers to consume smaller quantities in any place they may want to enjoy wine. Tetra Paks have also been a key driver of this shift in the industry. Along with cans, these new innovative formats have allowed wine to be more accessible and available for purchase in new locations. 

To gain traction of competitors, I suggest making high-quality products that can be purchased at convenience stores, which is a new way of thinking about an industry that has struggled to abandon the classic Bordeaux-shaped bottle. 

Popping the cork on wine has also been a huge move in the industry, with many consumers calling the shift to screw-top bottles a life-changing innovation. Overall, these innovations have democratized the wine industry and, as a result, we are seeing the entire industry shift its focus and delivery new ways of thinking to serve the needs of the ever-changing consumer.