The trends in packaging design are moving toward a more sustainable future. The green movement has caught on, and many designers are creating packages that are recyclable and more eco-friendly. Packages using smaller amounts of material are showing up in the marketplace, and recyclability is part of the overall design process.
Five designers recently discussed packaging material trends with Beverage Industry and why eco-friendly packages are here to stay. Dan Matauch is the owner and creative director of Flow Design, Northville, Mich.; Stuart Leslie co-founded 4Sight, New York City; Mark Broderick is senior graphic designer at ToolBox Studios Inc., San Antonio, Texas; Michael Osborne is the founder of Michael Osborne Design, San Francisco; and Laurent Hainaut is founder of Raison Pure, which has locations in New York and Paris.

Q: What are you seeing as primary packaging material trends?

Dan Matauch: I am starting to see a lot more aluminum bottles in the market. People are interested in using that technology, stretching the boundaries of shaping and decorating the bottle. For plastic bottles, new hot-filled bottles are being used that have moved away from the ugly support ridges in the label panel area. I see some companies moving toward glass, out of plastic. Mainly there are a few different reasons: cost of plastic build-up due to oil prices, also recyclability of the glass bottles, and you always have the upscale image of glass as well.

Stuart Leslie: In the world of bottles, PET obviously still remains the king for beverages in that we have all the right properties of clarity and pressure retention and preservation of product. And I think what’s happening is the recycling/sustainability movement has really pushed PET in the forefront. It’s one the most effectively recycled plastics and has the best refill strength.
We’ve continued to see the use of PET, and I think what’s exciting about what’s going on now is how we are using the material. We’re kind of seeing this convergence of interesting needs colliding. We have the sustainability movement colliding with the demand by consumers for improved convenience and more exciting packaging. That way we can achieve a PET bottle that is lighter weight, more sustainable, less of a footprint on the planet, and yet more profitable for our clients and more exciting for our consumer.

Mark Broderick: The beverage industry, I think, has been ahead of the curve for a couple of decades on recycling and reusing. I think that they are advertising [that] more. There is a more educated consumer when it comes to sustainability. And a lot of companies make that part of their business practices, not only in how they make the product, but how they package the product … the kind of glass they use, the kind of inks they use, the kind of papers they use to make the product.
Consumers will not sacrifice quality in order to make that decision, but they will pay a premium. They will pay a little bit extra to know that their product is packaged by people who are good stewards of the environment.

Michael Osborne: Wine bottle structures are based on history and heritage. Basically there are Bordeaux bottles and Burgundy bottles. There are many variations of each, but they are what they are — always have been, and probably always will be. There are some anomalies, like this Italian Pinot Grigio bottle I saw the other day. It was a tall, clear cylindrical shape. But basically wine structures are pretty set, with several choices of existing bottle molds to choose from.
The spirits industry is a very different animal. The obvious, but certainly not only, example is the “all new and improved” vodka bottle. Every time I go to the store there’s a new vodka brand, and the newest “here's what we can do” bottle structure. It’s a category that is overly crowded and the brand teams are doing whatever they can to stand out in the crowd.

Laurent Hainaut: There are a lot of things happening now, but certainly today it is how the brands solve the question of sustainability. It is actually not a trend, but a real problem to face … The material we keep talking about is natural material like corn-based plastic, but there is not enough quantity produced today to ensure big brands [can] use it. So I think the focus now is more about reduction of material than it is change of materials. The first issue is to do lighter weight bottles with less plastic. We need to create shapes that are stronger and more resistant. We try to limit the weight of plastic in the bottles. That is a big constraint. …Today, a very small amount of the bottles are really recycled, which is a big issue, and I think a lot of plans are trying to work on that.

Q: What are you seeing as secondary packaging material trends?

Matauch: I’ve seen a lot people are going more with a more natural look with the secondary packaging — natural, organic look. [I see] a less decorated, less graphic-intense look on the secondary packaging.

Leslie: There is clearly a movement to eliminate as much of the secondary packaging as possible, which puts an additional pressure on primary packs. All of the sudden, we have the primary packs having to extend a tremendous amount of top-load [support] because we are putting them in little case packs and we’re shrink wrapping pallets and not utilizing full corrugated cartons to provide any sort of top-load support.

Broderick: Again, the materials that are used, the inks that are used. I think when it’s possible, people are trying to pack more product to a case so that not only is there less carton usage, but less fuel used to get the product to market.

Osborne: The emergence of sustainable, green practices in our industry are starting to change the mindset of designers and manufacturers alike. The use of recycled paper has been common for quite some time, but I think it is a first-choice decision now, as opposed to just being another option. Being prudent and mindful of the amount of material being used is also an issue we never thought about in the past. There are many other examples of material trends such as the use soy inks and biodegradable materials.

Q: Tell us about a recent beverage design and where the inspiration came from

Matauch: [For] AquaDeco ultra-premium water we did the custom bottle shape that was inspired by the Art Deco period in the ’20s. We researched old perfume bottles from that era and building shapes. We did a custom capsule design that flowed with the bottle shape. That was a lot of fun. We gave it a clear pressure-sensitive label on the front, and [on the] back you see the mountains through the bottle. Definitely the shape was inspired by the Art Deco period — hence AquaDeco.

Leslie: We had a recent line of products that we did for Gatorade globally. Most of the world calls it the Gatorade Equity bottle. Basically, we’ve created a piece of imagery that is about sports equipment and grip-ability for Gatorade worldwide. Whether it’s in hot-fill, aseptic or glass, we’ve created a very strong equity for them. They actually just launched it in the U.S. under the Tiger Woods brand. The inspiration of the brand was all about sports equipment and grabbing and handling things and taking things with you. It was the ultimate sort of performance package.
One of the great insights that came out of the research was that Gatorade is not a beverage; it’s a tool. So we were able to take that inspiration and turn it into structural packaging that it is not only proprietary because it uses new functionality, but because consumers just use it as a very cool, grabbable, take-it-with-you [package].

Broderick: I did a brand package for a grocery store chain here [in Texas]. It was for Big Tex grapefruit juice. The inspiration was just trying to tell the story of where the product was from. It was a very region-specific product. It was a standard carton size [and] shape, but what we tried to convey was the regional flavor of this piece.
We also worked on a local, craft brew called Alamo Ale. The focus was trying to make something that was not only local flavor that local Texans would have a little bit of pride in, but also something that would draw the tourist in — to try to get a taste of San Antonio. If you go to a local place, you want to taste the local [flavor]. If you go to Portland, you want to taste some Bridgeport because that is the local thing. We try to capture San Antonio with Alamo Ale.

Osborne: Last year, [we] redesigned Jack Daniel’s Gentleman Jack product. It was a revolutionary redesign in relationship to the existing package. The inspiration for the bottle structure actually came from the quality and style of the product itself. It’s charcoal-filtered twice, which makes the whiskey very smooth and soft. When you pick this bottle up, you don't want to put it down. The shoulders are round, and soft and the overall package design is very elegant and sophisticated.

Hainaut: The most recent launch that we worked on was the Evian Palace bottle. It’s something we’re very proud of. There was a need for premiumization for the brand. Trying to get back to make the consumer understand the quality of the product, the quality of the water, where it comes from and build a story around it.
We try to tell the story the best we can to the consumer. So in that specific case, it’s a beautiful story. Water had to coast for 15 years through the mountains to the source and to be picked up by the consumer. That story is what we tried to tell with the bottle design. It is very innovative; it’s pure; it’s elegant. It’s something very desirable.
We tried also to create a ritual … So we built the spout to control the flow of water in the glass, which is a very elegant gesture. And overall, it’s very accurate to help Evian to produce itself as a very premium brand.

Q: Do you think eco-friendly packaging is here to stay?

Matauch: I think it’s a trend that may level off in the near future. Really, all depends on the politics, I guess. The global warming … it’s pretty heightened right now through the media, so we’ll see. There will always be a niche market for it.

Leslie: They are definitely here to stay. I think the interesting thing is, having worked in packaging for 25 years, I have seen a lot of trends come and go and the one thing I have seen is a generation of people who have grown up that truly care about the planet and that [are] truly finding themselves in positions where they can make a difference.
What’s nice is that there was a point that we tried to do this and there was a caveat: “Well, we are going to create change and make things better for the planet, but it’s going to cost us more money.” And that was just never a viable direction. Consumers, as much as they are interested in saving the planet, they still are looking for convenience; they still [are] not shopping based on their concerns of the world and the planet.
The real secret came in as a cost-reduction, and that is something we employed in many different categories. We take the opportunity to convince our clients, or in some cases the client has already figured this out, that if they retool their bottle molds that we can come up with a design that inherently requires less plastic, which makes it more profitable for them, especially as the plastic prices just keep rising dramatically. So we can take a significant amount of plastic out of the bottle, out of the caps and closures and produce a package that is genuinely more profitable for them and yet a much smaller footprint on the environment because it is using less materials.
While we do that, if we design it in such a way that it packs out better on the case, on the pallet, on the truck, then we have genuinely improved our footprint on the planet. At the same time, we haven’t asked to spend more money or to take a lower margin on the product. Instead, we have done the opposite. We have made it more profitable for our clients. So that becomes a win-win and the reason I believe the sustainability and the green movement in packaging is here to stay.

Broderick: Absolutely, absolutely. I think eco-friendly is the hot thing right now, but I think people are genuinely scared about the condition of our environment, and what we’re doing to it. And I believe that people will make the decision to buy green products whenever possible over a non-green product. At least it’s going that way.
But I think that’s happened a lot more in the last couple years. Five years ago, green was still kind of new, at least in the general consumers, but you see it everywhere now. Even large box stores who were not known for green initiatives are now advertising it. I think everyone is really pushing it. I think it’s becoming more and more important.

Osborne: I think we’re just seeing the beginning of it. It’s not like it’s here to stay or not. Remember when the word “organic” was first used, and how strange and mysterious it seemed? Now the term is widely used, and you don't think twice about it.
New technology is exploding with new materials for packaging and products — corn plastics for example. There more and more innovative and sustainable practices and materials being used. It’s fortunate that the public is finally demanding it. There’s an effort I heard about the other day, to minimize the amount of glass used in wine bottles. Even though the glass is recyclable, the carbon footprint to make a thick, heavy bottle is twice as big.

Q: What types of eco-packaging have you worked on?

Matauch: One example would be Honest Tea. We did the Honest Kids packaging. It’s a pouch package that goes into a cardboard box. They actually have on their box how you can go online and donate. They teamed up with Tera Cycle. Honest Kids and Tera Cycle worked together to change how garbage is being put in landfills … It’s just [a] message we put on the box about how kids and parents can go turn in their pouches to Tera Cycle and they turn them into fashionable bags.

Leslie: The Gatorade [package] that I mentioned was all about coming up with a custom lightweight package that is innovative and serves the consumer, but still is lightweight. We have [made lightweight packages] for Lipton, Tropicana and Tropicana Twister. We’ve created innovative hot-fill packaging that, again, allows them to get away with lighter-weight bottles that still serve the hot-fill functionality. But because of their design, they are inherently lighter weight.

Broderick: I have tried to influence as I can when [materials are] available … like using the right kind of paper, the right kinds of inks. We [also] try to take it out into point-of-sale material, which isn’t just tear-down for the point of sale. We try to do stuff that will last longer. I’d love to try to specify as much as possible the material that I use.