After enjoying many years of growth, the craft spirits industry was pummeled by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and the beginning of 2021. Despite consumers drinking more overall, craft distillers have seen sales fall due in part to the closing of tasting rooms, where consumers would take a chance on an unfamiliar brand; buyers purchasing in larger quantities to avoid going into stores as often (whereas craft brands are mostly available in smaller-sized units); and the closing of indoor dining, resulting in over 40% of distilleries reporting that their wholesale business to bars and restaurants has dropped significantly or stopped altogether.
Until dining and entertainment behaviors return to normal, distilleries will need to rely even more heavily on the packaging of their products to attract customers and entice them to make a purchase. Some of the best examples of packaging in the industry can be found among the winners of the inaugural Craft Spirits Packaging Awards, run by The American Craft Spirits Association (ACSA) and CRAFT SPIRITS magazine, and sponsored by the Glass Packaging Institute. As seen in the January 2021 issue of the magazine, the category winners utilized label design, bottle design and personal engagement to make a visual and emotional impact on the shelf or online.
Strategy A: High Customization
The best-in-show winner, Brooklyn Gin, illustrates the enormous potential of bottle and capping design to elevate a brand identity. Their unique design elements include:
- A sense of place. The industrial look and Art Deco elements of the bottle recall the Brooklyn Bridge and other notable New York City architecture of a similar era.
- A sense of quality. The heavy, custom bottle evokes stability and value, while echoing traditional apothecary glass containers.
- An opportunity for interaction. The bottle cap doubles as a device for stamping ice with the brand name.
To successfully execute this customized design, it is important to work with a filling manufacturer that is responsive and committed to your success. With special, uniquely-shaped bottles such as the ones used by Brooklyn Gin, the correct equipment would have to be chosen and adapted to ensure that the higher-price containers can be processed efficiently without damage or imprecision. For example, an unusually heavy or boxy cap would need a capping system that could accommodate its shape. Small start-ups may be tempted to fill, cap and label by hand, but the advantages of some automation become clear very early on.
Some of our Apex Filling Systems customers are also good examples of standing out through customization:
- Wheat Penny 1958 Bourbon from Cleveland Whiskey. Founder and CEO Tom Lix created a tangible way to connect his customers to his own personal history: His childhood hobby of collecting wheat pennies became central to the packaging of this wheated bourbon, with an actual penny from his collection glued to the stopper of each bottle for as long as his collection lasts.
- Barton 1792 Distillery expanded their design into a set of giftable cocktail kits, with julep cups, rocks glasses and mule mugs bearing their logo. These keepsakes remind customers and their gift recipients about the brand every time they are used.
- Journeyman Distillery offers the most specific personalization possible with custom engraved bottles. For a small fee, any message can be engraved on the side of the container. As an added bonus, the service brings customers into their retail store, where they may be inspired to buy more while they are there.
Strategy B: Creative Cost Efficiency
Praised by the judges for a design that “helps elevate a standard bottle shape in our industry”, Banyan Reserve Vodka was the gold medal winner in the vodka category and demonstrated how a premium label design can establish a brand. While some craft spirit brands will decide to focus on customization, others might draw inspiration from Banyan Reserve and reduce packaging expenses as much as possible without sacrificing visual appeal or the appearance of quality. Reduced packaging expenses in turn can help the manufacturer get through a difficult year when sales have dropped.
By choosing a standard bottle shape, a distiller can save money in many ways:
- In the short term, there is no upfront expense to design the container.
- Standard shapes can be purchased in bulk, reducing per bottle cost.
- The distiller can also have a choice of vendors when sourcing the bottles, allowing it to decide which provides the best value.
- The entire process of filling, capping and labeling the bottles can be done with standard equipment settings. There would probably not be a need for custom parts.
- When the filled bottles are packed for shipment, there will also be less of a need for custom boxes or cushioning.
With this strategy as well, you will also want a filling manufacturer that you can trust as a partner. Not only can they advise you on how to make the system you have more efficient, but they should also help guide you toward the purchase of the equipment that will give you the greatest value based on your present and projected needs, as opposed to just trying to make the largest sale.
Whether using a standard bottle shape, or repeating a simple shape across an entire line, Apex Filling Systems customers are using many creative choices:
- Barrell Bourbon has a single bottle shape and label design for all of its offerings of bourbons, whiskeys, ryes and rums. By changing only the color palette of each spirit, the bottles together have enough uniformity to tie the brand offerings together, and also enough variation among the labels to be eye-catching and invite closer examination.
- Du Nord Craft Spirits use a minimalist elegance to show off the jewel-tone contents of each bottle. The simple label design emphasizes a single strong color that complements the spirit inside the clear glass, giving the impression of a pure essence of each variety.
- Tennessee Shine Co. has a line of Moon Pie Creams meant to evoke childhood desserts like banana cream pie and coconut cream pie, with a nostalgic ice cream shop design to the labels. The creams are all packaged in mason jars, which coordinate with and enhance the classic theme.
With either tactic, make sure that your supplier will guarantee the quality and durability of their machines, have spare parts on hand, and be easy to reach if you need technical help.
In the months to come, we can hope to soon see more tasting rooms open for business and customers happy to linger in stores and restaurants again. Until then, distilleries can work with their filling manufacturers to find the most customized and cost-efficient ways to stand out in the marketplace.
Let Apex Help You
Apex offers all of our clients customized solutions to their filling needs. Call us at 219-575-7493 or visit our page here to discuss the best equipment choices for you.