Not only does this branding reinforce the character of the product, it helps differentiate craft beer from the rest of the drinks industry as a whole. The irony of course is that craft beer has positioned itself as the antidote to multinational corporations brewing in global quantities, instead consisting of local, independent businesses brewing in smaller, local batches with greater knowledge and attention. Yet branding and design have rarely been so integral to the spirit of an entire industry. Craft beer is an industry built as much on its visual appeal as its product quality.
The importance of labels to the craft beer industry
From a marketing perspective, craft beer packaging needs to match this brand philosophy, embodying the values of being unique, artisan and limited edition. A recent study by Package InSight demonstrated how important labeling is to craft beer brand success, finding that craft beer bottle labels with eye-catching materials such as metalized film or wood veneer were more likely to be purchased by consumers.
This trend for creative, interesting design has permeated the market, meaning that craft beer brands are competing amongst themselves to be the most visually impressive. Enhanced design has become widespread in the industry, with nearly all products using creative, on-trend graphic design, illustration and typography. In order to stand out in the crowded market, labels and packaging need to think beyond just standard packaging design. It’s in this regard that packaging suppliers are vital to the market – only they can produce the materials and personalization of printing needed to be the x-factor in making products unique.
Packaging opportunities and challenges
With an estimated value of $20 billion, craft beer represents a considerable global market for packaging suppliers. Craft beer poses the opportunity for the packaging industry to pioneer new materials, advance printing techniques and a new world of creativity. However, in order to reach this market, suppliers must be willing to embrace the challenges it presents.
Craft beer brewers require smaller labeling print runs, not only because of smaller businesses and brews, but because of the tendency for these brands to create limited edition or seasonal batches with individual designs as a key marketing strategy. This is further driving interest in digital printing technology, as labelers look to keep pace with complicated designs delivered in short print runs. In fact, the influence of craft beer is such that even multi-national brewers are following suit. In August 2015, Budweiser attempted to capitalize on this trend by printing 200,000 unique designs for Bud Light festival can labels. The appeal of the label is that it represents a cost-effective way to change and tweak the look of the packaging without requiring a fundamental overhaul.
In addition to the design of the label, the artisanal soul of craft beer means that the materials of the label themselves also need to exude quality and exclusivity. In practice, this means that packaging suppliers have an increasing need to offer premium printing quality in a wider variety of materials than normally asked by drink manufacturers, such as embossed, metallic, and parchment-like paper. Suppliers may need to invest in new technologies increased digital printing capacity to respond to demands for special effects on labels such as tactile varnishes, cold foils, embossing and thermo-chromatic inks.
How the packaging industry should respond
By investing in the digital printing technology needed to cost effectively create short print-run products in new styles and formats, packaging suppliers can ensure that they are providing the personalized service craft beer brewers need.
Accessing the craft beer market also requires large packaging suppliers to adapt their business models to be able to reach smaller businesses across the world. Whether this is through specialized local agents or as an online tool for small businesses to create and order products, suppliers need to recognize that this is an industry that requires a different style of service than traditional multinational clients.
Finally, packaging suppliers can learn from the craft beer industry when it comes to promoting themselves. Small breweries are likely to be less aware of the packaging trade landscape and therefore suppliers may need to try new approaches to reach them. Packaging suppliers need to position themselves as having cost-effective, small business friendly solutions for craft beer brewers to access the diversity of printing and materials they need. Much like the craft beer industry, packaging suppliers need to find their x-factor if they hope to stand out on the shelf.
About the author: Ian Lifshitz is Director of Sustainability and Public Outreach, the Americas, Asia Pulp & Paper