Packaging of craft beer, wine and spirits have a lot in common, especially when it comes to branding. However, craft beer producers seem to be looking at packaging to reinforce the corporate brand image. It seems that the style of beer drives the consumer more than the label toward experimentation. Over the past 15 years, with the proliferation of craft breweries, this industry has moved to shrink sleeve labeling to maintain a competitive high quality image of their brand and distinguish themselves versus the major beer producers. The shrink sleeve approach allows for some spectacular labels at highly affordable pricing without having to buy inordinately high quantities of bottles and cans relative to their small volumes.
A year ago, I wrote a piece about the cost of wine packaging as a percent of the total cost (to the consumer) of a bottle of high-end wine. In fairness to the reader I will admit that I got pricing for all the components from various vendors, asking that they give me pricing on some of their more elaborate packaging products-labels, bottles, cork and capsules. To elaborate further, label pricing I received was based upon foil printing, embossing, four color and two piece labels (front and back). Cork costs were established based upon long, top of the line cork grade and printed with the name of the wine. As a percent of the total cost for a 750-ml bottle of high quality wine, the costs to the winery for premium packaging was astounding; assuming all components were top of the line and small quantities.
We cannot get away from the fact that packaging helps sell the product, just look to the perfume industry to realize how profound this fact has become.
Branding and marketing research, juxtaposed against a good marketing plan, will direct the delicate balance between cost/benefits of high-end packaging and sales. If a winery really wants to reduce cost they would probably consider boxed wine, maybe screw caps and nondescript labels with just enough information to meet TTB requirements. But, I submit, wine is an emotional buy that pushes up against the concept of elegance or refinement. We all know the signs of refinement in wine consumption-holding the glass properly, smelling, looking at the wine through a ray of sunlight, etc. Beer does not project that image at this point.
By contrast let’s look at craft beer; positioned as a less elegant product, as opposed to wine, and is often consumed in different venues, etc. The packaging for craft beer takes into consideration branding to the craft beer consumer is different than wine consumers. About branding, craft beer labels are more edgy, colorful, and reinforce a corporate and community marketing positioning.
As opposed to a wine brand, craft beer is a very dynamic marketplace. They can produce dozens of styles of beer and often change product offerings on a weekly basis. With that in mind it is easy to understand that craft beer producers need to present their products as a recognizable brand, professional look and remain cost effective.
There are some wines that have used shrink sleeve labels. The craft beer industry however is more prolific in turning to shrink sleeve labels to meet the requirements of the TTB (Tax and Trade Bureau of the Treasury Dept.) and state laws while building brand identity.
Sun King Brewing in Indianapolis, IN has become a significant player in the craft brewery business. They still use shrink sleeve labels on some of their specialty and seasonal beers. A shrink sleeve is a cylindrical sleeve with the printed label graphics on the inside of the label, the label is then manually or machine positioned around a bottle or can and blasted with heated air to shrink the label conformally around the container. Generally, the shrink process is done without beer in a container. However, the heat shrink application is so quick the contents of a can or bottle are not affected; even ice cream containers are now shrink sleeve labeled with ice cream in the container.
Shrink sleeve applications in the beer, spirits and wine industries are finding more traction in the beer and spirits industry but no so much in wines. It wasn’t that long ago that long ago that screw caps were looked down upon in the wine industry; there still may be some awakening to shrink sleeves in wine.
Some advantages of shrink sleeve labeling are:
• Durability–The label is more durable than paper and can stand up to a lot of handling. Because the printing is on the inside images will not scratch off.
• Decorating/label printing for cans or bottles are more versatile-The whole container can be covered with label design, branding information and product attributes.
• Water proof labels.
• Colors and resolution can be a lot more precise. With high resolution printing the images will have more detail that “pops”.
• In shrink sleeve packaging there are a myriad of printing methods and materials available for visual and tactile effects. Sleeves can be printed with foil, embossing, matte finishes, four color, thickness of labels and even the seams can be virtually invisible. The label can be even written on.
• Precision of shrink sleeves-The amount of shrinkage is controlled based upon the thickness of the sleeve. As the contour of a container changes that variability is factored into the printing of the label design. What this means is, there is no distortion in an image once shrunk.
• No need to warehouse large quantities of individual labeled containers for each style of beer or wine or spirit.
• Cost are greatly reduced for shrink sleeve labels. Individual sleeves can cost as little as $0.10 and up to $0.25 each for a quality label.
Currently, approximately 7% of craft beers are consumed at the brewery. But, containers for take-out are traditional 12-16 oz. cans, crowlers (32 oz. cans that are sealed with a crimping machine once the beer is in the container) and growlers (64 oz.). Retail sales are in 22, 16 and 8 oz. sizes. In a retail environment with a lot of clutter of different brands/styles, shelf presence is important to any brewer.
In researching packaging options for craft beer and wine one thing keeps coming up when talking to breweries, wineries and branding consultants; shrink sleeve label applications should be within the purview of an overall branding consideration. “Shrink sleeve labeling makes an otherwise expensive packaging project simple. But having easy and inexpensive access to high-end labels is not the real consideration,” says Isaac Arthur, co-founder of CODO Design, a banding and web design firm based in Indianapolis, IN. “Package design for a beverage product is more than a logo, or a cool illustration; it is an introduction to your brand’s story. It communicates, even at first glance, what you stand for and why someone should care enough to buy the product.”
Packaging can be expensive but alternatives for wine and craft beer labeling are available that can relieve cost pressure for the finished product and at the same time meet legal requirements for alcoholic beverages while still being sales oriented.