Packaging Gets Personal
Coffee and tea companies can learn from their counterparts in the water, carbonated soft drink and spirits categories to personalise packaging
Coffee and tea companies can learn from their counterparts in the water, carbonated soft drink and spirits categories as beverage package designs in these industries aim to move, motivate and resonate with consumers on deeper levels.
By Tom Egan
Thirst may be the first reason a consumer reaches for a beverage, but it’s the packaging that may seal the deal at the point of purchase. Increasingly, beverage manufacturers are looking to captivate customers with packaging that offers some form of personal resonance.
Whether referencing a lifestyle choice, a fond memory or an important goal, a beverage label that can connect with consumers on a deeper level has the power to stick. Consider packaging that aims to motivate workouts, sparks memories of a favourite vacation or reinforces the value of a healthy lifestyle — prompting engagement in the product experience before the consumer even twists off a cap, pulls a tab or pops a lid.
Given the growth of the market, it’s no wonder manufacturers are in a race to capture the hearts, minds and loyalty of consumers. Currently worth USD $30.1 billion, the beverage packaging industry in the United States is expected to experience 4.5 percent growth in the next decade, according to the 2018 Beverage Trends in Packaging and Processing Operations by PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies. In today’s competitive landscape for beverage products, more brands may take bolder steps to amplify the essence of what’s inside on the outside — particularly utilizing the power of print effects. Today’s consumers will likely not reach for a drink when they simply feel thirsty, but instead when they feel understood.
Tugging at the Heartstrings
Choosing a career path, moving to a new city or buying a home — these are all decisions highly dictated by emotion. But what about beverages? Can a person have an emotional reaction to a drink on a store shelf, and can this connection really influence their decision to purchase the product?
The answer may be “yes” as consumers continue to choose beverage products that feel familiar or strike a certain chord of nostalgia. Consider the “Share a Coke” campaign from the Coca-Cola Company, which created a way to literally attract consumers by calling their names. For Coca-Cola, which had long established its foothold in the carbonated beverage sector, this campaign strengthened customer loyalty and created buzz around the brand.
Creating this kind of label variety was no small feat, even for such a major brand, but advancements in printing technologies made the campaign possible. According to an article on Label & Narrow Web’s website, to run labels that pulled from a list of about 250 names, Coca-Cola tapped a domestic label and packaging converter company, which coordinated with printers equipped with HP Indigo digital printing technology to get the job done. With this technology, the varied labels could be done on short runs and still reflect high-quality printing.
On an international scale, South Africa-based magazine Packaging & Print Media reported that Coca-Cola repeated this collaboration with converters and partner printers to create thousands of names in multiple languages. Some international printers utilized flexographic printing as opposed to digital printing, so careful colour matching was done in order to achieve the same “Coke Red” shade across different types of printers.
Some brands have found a way to speak to customers less directly, but still with intimacy or a level of personalization that can be hard to beat. Whiskey brands Jack Daniels and Johnnie Walker are actively pursuing different segments of the market and looking to expand their reach with a range of tailored products. Jack Daniel’s Gentleman Jack whiskey aims to reach a segment of the market that associates fine whiskey with a premium sipping experience.
According to PMMI’s report, unique packaging is what premium brands use to differentiate themselves from value brands, so mid-tier brands are now using packaging to emulate the look of top-shelf brands. With its Gentleman Jack edition that features a metalized label resembling a stamped silver plate, Jack Daniels is attempting to appeal to consumers who value finer, more original details over a traditional paper label. Some craft spirits are taking premium package printing a step further by turning to technologies that use tinted glass and other tactile labels, allowing for a more sophisticated, expensive look.
Johnnie Walker recently created “Jane Walker,” a special-edition iteration of their Black Label product, to appeal to the female demographic typically not considered a whiskey-drinking group. To substantiate the message, Johnnie Walker is donating proceeds of each bottle of the Jane Walker Edition sold to organizations supporting women’s progress.
Packaging for the Health- and Eco-Conscious
Personalization may not be the only key to sales. With an equally large demand for products that support healthy, active and clean lifestyles, more beverage manufacturers are producing drinks that come in smaller cans or bottles with fewer calories. The dainty servings not only meet demands for lower-calorie, lower-sugar products, but also reinforce the idea of portion control in a departure from decades of oversized servings.
In this era of clean labelling, consumers are also looking for natural and additive-free drinks, however, this type of beverage comes with its share of challenges for manufacturers and processers. Many of the more organic or natural beverages, like juices, are non-homogenous and become separated when standing still on the shelf. To avoid possible negative reactions from customers, brands are using shrink wraps to hide the inner contents of a bottle.
The push for clean labelling has also spurred some changes along the production line, with manufacturers having to add agitation equipment or adapt filling machinery to handle the different behaviours of more natural beverages.
For the athletes shopping in the beverage aisle, the extra aid that sports drinks promise can offer a massive appeal. Some brands have introduced a way to target different types of athletes, taking customization to a new level. Gatorade, for example, developed a product line that provides multiple drinks to be consumed at specific stages in a workout. If this product line speaks to a particular athlete’s established routine, Gatorade may have just increased a customer’s purchase from only one drink to three — right at the point of sale.
On top of nutrition, brands can also gain selling power in sustainability. By offering an eco-friendly product that can claim it creates less waste, a brand is able to connect with growing consumer concern for the environment. One way that manufacturers are addressing this shift is by using digital printing, which in general is considered more cost-effective and environmentally friendly for the short runs that occur with label variation. Digital printers, like the HP Indigo technology used for the “Share a Coke” campaign, have been recognized for their eco-friendly benefits of reducing energy and supplies in each round of printing.
Some beverage manufacturers are also going green by utilizing eco-friendly materials like vegetable oil-based inks or water-based inks, which can be used in conjunction with digital printing technologies. These inks not only dry quickly and deliver a high-quality print, but also minimize the release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are usually heavily present in traditional solvent-based inks. UV inks offer similar benefits in that they “cure” at rapid rates and release minimal VOCs, and they also allow for high-quality digital direct printing on glass or PET bottles.
Advances in Printing Propel Brands
The beverage variety that we see on the shelves today can be tied to the growth of technologies that enhance the flexibility of lines, speeding and simplifying changeover between different product runs. With increasing consumer demand for a wide selection of beverages, manufacturers require the ability to swap labels out and change production over many more times than they likely had to in the past. Changeovers that used to happen only once a day or week now may happen three times in one shift in order to generate the masses of personalized or targeted products customers crave.
To achieve this rapid changeover, many manufacturers have turned to digital printing, which allows for labels to be diverse and to be prepared and quickly applied. With this technology, generating a graphic for a label is a more efficient process and can be done in a more immediate timeframe, reducing costly downtime. The speed of this equipment also coincides with the need for products to be delivered to the store in as fresh of a state as possible. Packagers can generate digitally printed labels closer to the time of production; ensuring consumers receive beverages that did not spend months in storage before shipment.
The prevalence of digital printing systems is a result of the technology becoming more accessible every day. At a price point that doesn’t break the bank, the adoption of digital printing is an easier choice to swallow. Now that the technology can be used for shorter runs of products like 30,000 units, it is arguably becoming a more difficult decision to stick with traditional printing technology.
Beyond digital printing, technologies that create larger and bolder imagery are taking hold. Shrink sleeve technology is being used more on cans and bottles, according to PMMI’s report. For example, a craft brewer might place a shrink sleeve over an entire six-pack. This style of package printing facilitates easier packaging line changeover and is helpful for companies that produce a variety of beverage types or flavours in the same can shape.
Yet, some brands prefer paperboard over shrink sleeves, because paperboard can retain its imagery and shape after being opened, whereas shrink sleeves become ripped, distorted and likely discarded at the first use. In many cases, the brand may choose paperboard as the outer packaging in the hopes that a consumer will keep the container in the refrigerator or on the counter. Regardless of the choice in material, either option provides a brand the added benefit of more images, more information and the chance to tell a greater story about the product.
‘Niche’ is the Key to Market Growth
The importance of differentiation in the beverage industry is perhaps best witnessed in the bottled water market, where, arguably, the same liquid is being portrayed as an entirely different product depending on the customer toward whom it is being marketed. Brands design packaging and labelling elements to match their target demographic, and these elements become differentiators that can justify a product’s shelf space.
For example, Evian and Fiji waters present themselves as clean, natural waters that are sourced from exotic locales around the globe. Their use of clear bottles that reveal an inside label showing striking landscapes along with declarations of purity help communicate this message. Meanwhile, waters like Core, Essentia and Smartwater sell themselves as waters that boost physical and cognitive health and ‘go the extra mile.’ Then there are brands like Vitaminwater and La Croix, which are still considered ‘waters’ despite adding flavours and/or carbonation to their products to appeal to those seeking something just a little different from regular water.
Convenience and Innovation
But the trend for finding a niche falls across all beverage sectors, where companies clamor to be different and stand out during selection. Sometimes that niche can be found by offering reliable convenience, such as a Capri-Sun pouch with a straw, or sports drinks with flip-top caps. Other times, it can stem from an original packaging innovation, such as beer giant Coors’ Coors Light label featuring thermo inks that react to temperature changes. This label conveys information that the beer has reached the perfect chilled temperature and is ready to drink, and it also offers an interactive feature that is simply fun for the customer.
This type of ‘cool’ can graphic is a more recent development, as metal packaging graphics have traditionally improved at slower rates than paper labels. Improvements like thermo inks, light-responsive, glossy, matte and tactile inks are all a result of better coating technologies, PMMI’s report states. Overhauls in can printing quality and capabilities have also occurred over the last five years, with dots per inch (DPI) increasing from 120 to 130 and high-definition separation work, platemaking and printmaking all improving.
Still, while utilizing emerging technologies and finding the right niche is crucial to operations, manufacturers must also focus on staying relevant. Claiming ownership over a unique space in the market is only sustainable for as long as the brand is willing to adapt and adjust to consumer concerns and lifestyles. Beverage brands that hone in on their product’s differentiator but can continuously transform its appearance are likely to quench customer demands for decades to come.
Tom Egan is vice president, industry services, PMMI (The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies). PMMI represents more than 800 North American manufacturers and suppliers of equipment, components and materials as well as providers of related equipment and services to the packaging and processing industry.