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By: Eric Penicka

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    By: Mark Strobel

    Pack Expo took place in Chicago from November 6 to 9, attracting attendees from around the world seeking the latest and greatest in packing for alcoholic drinks, hot and soft drinks, packaged foods, home care, beauty and personal care, pet care, and more. Beverages analysts Mark Strobel and Eric Penicka saw a number of trends impacting beer packaging, but among the most pressing were differentiation and catering to small batch production.

    Standing out in a crowd

    With the number of breweries skyrocketing in the US and a seemingly exponential number of new beer options available, competition is increasingly fierce making differentiation a key to success. Innovative packaging is a highly important strategy to stand out in the ever more crowded retail space. In fact, Denise Greenwell, Global Market Development Manager at Berry Plastics, said during her presentation Insights on Global Packaging Trends that 64% of consumers pick up a product based on its packaging design. At the show, Graphic Packaging International showed off the variety of ways it helps clients to differentiate, including shaped 6 packs, raised lettering, embossed packaging and intense graphics. Several of these techniques can be seen through Abita’s Purple Haze raspberry lager 6 pack.

    Many craft breweries see their products as art, and demand packaging that reflect this belief. KBA Kammann is happy to oblige, displaying decorating machines that print vibrant images directly on bottles, giving products a premium feel over using paper labels.  Their bottle for the brand Moon Brew even incorporates foil in the astronaut’s helmet to provide an especially vivid glimmer that no doubt catches consumers’ eyes.

    Meeting small scale packaging demands

    One challenge many craft brewers have struggled to overcome is efficiently packaging their beer for off-trade consumption. The small scale production of some breweries makes full packaging lines prohibitively expensive. In turn, the Dixie Canner Company’s seamers have been met with new demand from brewers who are able to package up to thousands of metal beverage cans a day with the machines. As an added bonus, the seamers have grown in popularity in their ability to fill crowlers, metal beverage can alternatives to traditional glass bottle growlers. Crowlers have gained preference over growlers from craft brewers for their affordability and ease (no sterilisation required since they are disposable). Meanwhile, typically young craft beer consumers value the safe portability of crowlers in places glass is prohibited, the sustainability benefits they present over glass, and convenience of not needing to return any packaging to the brewer.

    Whereas the Dixie Canner Company’s seamers are envisioned more for back room packaging, the Oskar Blues Brewery’s Crowler is designed for use at bars and retailers. The metal beverage can seamer, created in conjunction with Ball Corp, is designed specifically for filling crowlers predominantly of 32 fl oz. Although initially envisioned for behind bar use at brewpubs, Oskar Blues has found success selling to select grocery retailers who allow on-premise alcohol consumption and are equipped with beer taps.

    Beyond filling the increasingly popular canned craft brews, packaging them together is another important step. Over the past several years, among the most popular multipacks for canned craft beer were dense plastic rim-applied carriers. These typically required minimum orders. However, Roberts PolyPro displayed its improved rim-applied carrier that has a lower cost of entry ideal for shorter production runs and seasonal brews. As an added benefit, the can multipack from Roberts PolyPro uses 37% less material and stacks lower than the main competition, not to mention that is easier to remove cans and is 100% recyclable. These attributes are sure to appeal to both brewers and consumers alike.

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