Bottling and Canning – Brewers Are Changing the Face of Beer Shelves

What would you say is the most visible characteristic of a beer? Is it the packaging? Perhaps it’s the brewery’s name, or the logo they choose for that particular type of beer. All of these are certainly visible elements, but increasingly, breweries are relying on unique bottle and can shapes to catch your eye and encourage you to take their product home. Some are even going a step or two further with their bottling efforts. 

Can Shapes

When you think of a beer can, chances are good you imagine the typical aluminum cylinder. It’s got a top and a bottom, straight sides and a pull-tab at the top. However, things are changing, and one of the most recognizable big breweries is leading the charge here.

Budweiser recently unveiled their newest means to catch the consumer’s eye – a bow tie shaped beer can. They’re narrow in the middle and wider at the top and bottom (really, more hourglass shaped than bow tie, but points for creativity anyway). The move comes as Budweiser continues to see declining market share as more and more drinkers head for craft brewers. While it’s too early to tell if the new can design is enough to inflate the brewery’s numbers at all, it’s certainly different.

The cans actually hold less beer than the traditional straight cylinder (11.3 ounces, rather than 12), and look a bit odd. However, Bud is making them available in eight-packs, rather than six-packs, so you still get more bang for your buck. Of course, those who prefer the regular 12-ounce can to this narrow-waist upstart shouldn’t worry. Bud isn’t pulling their traditional cans. They’re just adding another option to the lineup. 

Even Sam Adams is getting in on the can act. The company is releasing their Boston Lager in a new, flare-flipped can designed to make drinking from the can more like drinking from a beer glass. That offers something functional and innovative to consumers in addition to the new can design. As an added plus, Sam Adams decided to make the can design available to all craft brewers without the need to pay the company royalties (a nod at the tight-knit craft brewing community).

Interactive Bottles?

“Interactive” is certainly one of today’s global buzzwords, but does it really apply to beer bottles? It does when Heineken is the mind behind the innovation. The company debuted their new interactive bottle design in Milan this year – Ignite. 

The new Ignite bottles are certainly…different. The brewery combined LED lights, motion and sound sensors and wireless technology to create a bottle that is supposed to “become part of the experience”. It’s not just a glass container for your sudsy brew anymore. Heineken hopes their new Ignite bottle will help spark new sales too, of course.

How’s it work? It’s actually pretty interesting, though it doesn’t really offer anything new in the way of beer (just a new container). There are several things that the Ignite bottle does to help drinkers interact, both with their beer and with their environment:

  • It “sparks” when a drinker takes a sip. That is, the tiny LEDs at the bottom of the bottle light up in a mini-strobe effect when a drinker tips back.
  • It lights up when drinkers say “cheers”. The bottle illuminates and strobes when you and your friends cheer.
  • It lights up to the beat. If you’ll be drinking in a club (or anywhere else loud music is present), the bottle lights up and strobes to the beat of the music. 
  • It dims when you leave it alone. If you set your beer down, the lights die to save the battery.
  • It can be activated with software. Special VJ (video DJ) software can be used to turn each individual bottle into a separate light source. 

Does it work? According to the results of the Milan show, the bottle does exactly what Heineken says it does. However, will it be enough to tempt consumers? That remains to be seen.

Stoneware

When you think beer packaging, chances are that glass bottles and cans are really the only things that come to mind. However, a number of brewers are now taking things down a different path. Stoneware, once reserved for dishes and serving ware, has also been part of the brewing world of a very long time. While it fell out of favor with most brewers, it’s enjoying a resurgence of popularity.

Take a look at the singles section in your local beer store and you’re likely to find a handful of stoneware options. These come in a variety of forms, from jugs to bottles and more. As a bottling material, stoneware offers a number of benefits. Of course, the eye-catching design and unique material can’t be discounted. It also offers an alternative for those concerned about the metallic taste of cans and protects beer from the ravages of direct sunlight exposure as well. And they make pretty cool keepsakes too.

 While it hasn’t been adopted across the industry yet (and most likely never will be), stoneware is definitely a growing option for breweries wanting to set their products apart and give their drinkers something cool by which to remember the experience.

Plastic

Plastic isn’t a new bottling material, but it’s seeing a resurgence with some breweries. It’s affordable, recyclable and doesn’t carry the same connotations that cans do (the ever-present fear that the beer will be tainted with the metal aftertaste). Plastic can also go places that glass cannot, and won’t shatter when dropped, either. Of course, you’re not likely to see it adopted across the industry either – most drinkers still prefer glass to plastic, but its presence is growing.

Bottle and can types are becoming new ways for breweries to set their products apart from the competition and catch the eye (and curiosity) of new drinkers. You can expect to see continued innovation and evolution in this area as well as the need to boost market share (particularly for big breweries) grows.

Posted on August 1, 2013 and filed under Design and Packaging.