Club Store Packaging for Beverages
Just because it’s ‘bulk’ doesn’t mean it can’t be convenient and portable
Club stores, or warehouse stores, are one of the fastest growing retail channels, with shoppers ringing up an average purchase of $82.73 per trip, according to ACNielsen. Beverages play a big part in the club store landscape, but bulk packaging for beverages can be a tricky proposition. Sure it’s cost effective to buy a 2-gallon bottle of apple juice, but how user-friendly is the bottle that apple juice is packaged in? Is it easy to carry, store and use after it is brought home? Those are just a few of the issues packaging companies are helping beverage manufacturers address when they make the leap into the club store arena.
The club store’s uniform merchandising scenario makes package choice and graphics critical points of differentiation. A primary difference between beverages packaged for sale in a traditional retail environment vs. those in the club store is the heightened need for practicality. As Amie Thomas, marketing director at PakTech, Milwaukee, Wis., puts it, packaging needs to be “more utilitarian than clever.”
The club store offers an occasion for stock up and value. The challenge lies in offering the right serving size in the right package, knowing customers are expecting better-than-average value for their money. “Research tells us portability and ease of handling at point of consumption are important attributes, so in the club channel you best have a bulk package that breaks down into manageable branded serving units,” says George McClory, field marketing manager at ITW Hi-Cone, Itasca, Ill.
In an effort to bring a “total packaging solutions system” to the club-store market, International Paper, Memphis, Tenn., can provide processors with a 64-ounce multi-pack case designed to balance value with convenience. This product offering can enclose either two, three or four 64-ounce gable-top cartons in an easy-to-carry corrugated case with side handles and high-definition process-print graphics.
“With this product, consumers get the value of a larger volume of dairy or juice products in a packaging format they can keep fresh at home,” says Jeanette Havens, assistant marketing manager for beverage  packaging at International Paper.  
International Paper also produces multi-packs for single-serve beverages. HomeMakers Premium Not-From Concentrate Orange Juice, which recently launched in club stores, employs a multi-pack of 24 single-serve Micro-Pak cartons. Each 6-ounce package features litho graphics, barrier boards to protect the juice’s taste and nutritional content, an easy-to-use foil straw patch, a small cross-section that is easy to hold, and a no-rock pyramid bottom that prevents the carton from spilling. Consumers can purchase 24 of these cartons in colorfully printed cases. “[It’s] a great solution for the family that shops club stores,” says Havens. “It provides a high-quality nutritional beverage, convenient packaging that kids and parents can use on the go, and the value that’s expected at club stores.”
Handy handles
Alternate packaging for canned and bottled beverages presents another unique challenge: how to collectively and conveniently package cans or bottles without using cardboard trays or boxes that conceal the product. “Many consumers are attracted to minimal packaging and like the ability to see what they are actually buying,” says Hi-Cone’s McClory. “One suggestion is to show off the branded primary container and complement it with subtle tertiary packaging. Combining Hi-Cone’s unique carrier bundling quality and standard shrink film is an example.”  
“The ‘warehouse’ price point requires that processors either make their container larger or bundle the smaller containers in a fashion unique from the retail multi-pack,” adds Thomas, whose company, PakTech, manufactures handles for unitizing a variety of containers. “PakTech handles are designed with smooth edges to hold heavier products comfortably. Our clients come to us with a container and format in mind, and we either fit them with a stock handle, or we provide a custom handle development plan.”   
Handles are a standard presentation in club stores. PakTech’s UniPak bale handles are used on Hawaiian Punch and Nestlé water gallons, among others, and the company serves many of the major beverage companies sold in club stores.
Last year, PakTech helped Eurobubblies, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based producer of non-alcoholic sparkling juices packaged in champagne-style bottles, refine the presentation for its three-pack package. “They used a paperboard package, but believed that the paperboard alone did not achieve the ‘consumer-friendly’ package they were looking for,” recalls Thomas.
PakTech created an in-line 3Pak with a hand-applied bale handle. The “mixed source” package is currently available in Costco stores.
Picturesque packaging
Visual competition in a traditional retail environment is fierce but it’s even more of a challenge to attract attention in a no-frills warehouse environment. Well-designed packaging can help a beverage grab the attention of potential customers, even if it’s tucked away in a box or pallet configuration.
Packaging options like printed films can do wonders to enhance the visual appeal of bulk-packaged beverages. “One of the best ways to capture the attention of the consumer is to utilize high-definition graphics and eye-catching color in the product packaging,” says International Paper’s Havens.
“High-impact printed film designs are a powerful weapon for helping take advantage of allotted space,” adds Doug Larson, executive vice president, sales and marketing at Robbie Manufacturing, Lenexa, Kan. “[They] create a quality branded image that will help ‘billboard’ product.”
One example is Arizona Green Tea. Historically presented in plain film only with a printed tray, the company recently provided a brightly printed, recognizable design to attract new customers while still being recognizable to current customers.
Of course, value is the most important reason consumers chose to shop at club stores, and that isn’t lost on packaging manufacturers. “Price is an important component of club stores so the low cost of the packaging materials is even more important,” surmises John Eklund, marketing director at Roberts PolyPro, Charlotte, N.C. Offering more product for less money is a windfall for club store customers but the trickle-down effect can hit manufacturers in the wallet. Packaging companies offer many options to help keep costs down for the manufacturer, passing an even greater savings — and value — on to the consumer. BI