With brands competing to establish a foothold and capture consumer loyalty, beverage manufacturers utilize packaging as their first means of standing apart from competitors and reaching consumers. As such, brands are approaching packaging design with more mindful regard to function, visual excellence, environmental impact and brand integrity.

Impactful packaging

Global Market Insight (GMI), Selbyville, Del., states one of the largest trends impacting packaging design is sustainability, stimulating the demand for lower-carbon-footprint recyclable glass bottles and has prompted manufacturers to adopt coatings and glass-processing technology that improves glass bottles’ frangibility.

“With the focus on sustainable packaging, we are seeing a growth in beverages in glass bottles and aluminum cans, along with a continued focus on ways to make plastic packaging recyclable,” says Angel Harvey, senior product manager of films for Mentor, Ohio-based Avery Dennison.

Harvey says this includes increased use of Avery Dennison’s CleanFlake Adhesive Technology films, which enables recycling of PET containers.

Rita Katona, co-founder and board chair of Minneapolis-based functional beverage brand So Good So You, says they have noticed an uptick in the demand for sustainable packaging.

“We’ve launched a sustainable bottle for our functional juice shots called BtrBtl, which biodegrades faster in landfills than untreated PET does,” Katona says.

This accelerated biodegradation is based on ASTM D5526-94 testing showing that the treated PET used for BtrBtl biodegrades 31.7-37.0 percent after 391 days in active landfill conditions, compared to 2 percent biodegradation of untreated PET.

Katona adds, “BtrBtl recycles the same way as plastic bottles, except it breaks down to  water, soil and carbon-based gases which can be converted to usable energy in landfills.”

New York-based Cloud Water Brands bottles its CBD-infused Cloud Water in reusable aluminum containers with labeling printed directly on its surface.

“Before, it was common to see sleeved aluminum cans,” says Alexandra Galindez, Cloud Water Brand’s chief marketing officer. “Manufacturers have realized shrink wraps limit recyclability of aluminum and now have cut back on its use.”

Another beverage container gaining traction is pouches, which cater to consumers’ hectic lifestyles and convenience, GMI says.

“Spouted pouches are highly portable and ideal for young children, as they prevent spillage and can be resealed,” says Kritika Mamtani, GMI’s senior research analyst. “There is rising environmental awareness among consumers and growing aversion for packaging products that must be landfilled. As such, beverage pouches with spouts are highly sustainable, and can be converted to regrind and recycled into plastic products.”

Jheen Oh, co-founder of Mclean, Va.-based Susosu Water, explains that its brand is packaged in aluminum pouches for these reasons.

“There are so many packages out there, which makes it really hard for any beverage brand to catch a consumer's eye, so [the package] has to stand out,” Oh says. “In addition, our pouch packaging is not only unique but also is environmentally-friendly, making it a plus for consumers.”

Eye-catching trends

With so many factors influencing package design, creating a design that “pops” is crucial, experts say.

“You have three seconds to grab a consumer’s attention and communicate what makes your product unique,” Cloud Water’s Galindez says. “Striking balance between design and copy is critical.” 

Simplicity is one trend resonating in the marketplace for its ability to draw consumers’ attention to a label’s most important elements. 

“It’s not elaborate designs we’re seeing, but rather, clean designs that pop off the shelf, or designs on clear film that allows consumers to see inside of the bottle/container,” Avery Dennison’s Harvey says.

Along with simplicity, Stamford, Conn.-based branding development agency Daymon’s “Design Trends Report” notes the following additional trends:

Color impact, which can grab consumer attention, creates category consistency and improves brand recognition.

Iconic imagery, which can give packaging the ability to connect with consumers in a genuine and less stylized way.

Personality, allowing brands to stand apart from conventional “me too” packaging.

Expressive typography, which can send a “loud and clear” message about the product via words and font choice.

“Brands continue to find ways to customize their product for the consumer with unique offerings,” Avery Dennison’s Harvey says. “Standing out against [the] competition is something many brands are attempting to do, which may mean having a uniquely shaped vessel or label design.”

Premium matters

Although package design helps with products’ initial impression on consumers, beverage labels allow brands to further engagement. Experts highlight the importance of ingredient transparency and organic or non-GMO certifications as a way to align with consumer demands and desires.

“Almost all products are shifting toward more transparent information regarding content, ingredients and even the source of the packaging’s material,” says Santiago Escobar Escrucería, marketing and communications manager of Irving, Texas-based Smurfit Kappa North America. “These shifts come from a changing consumer who is increasingly interested in wellbeing and protecting the planet.”

Cloud Water’s Galindez agrees that being straightforward regarding ingredients and nutrition is essential, especially with containing ingredients such as CBD.

“[Cloud Water] includes QR codes on our bottles, which consumers can scan to view our lab results,” she says. “The results evidence the amount of CBD in our products and verify we’ve tested our formulation to ensure that there’s no THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis.”

Premium “feel” also can aid in standing out from a myriad of competitors, according to Avery Dennison’s Harvey, who notes clear labels, labels with direct-print appearance on the vessel, or a soft matte appearance can make products stand out.

“Embossed labels, foil stamping, different varnishing techniques — any special touches can help [brands] both touch an audience and deliver shelf appeal,” Harvey says.

Specialty design

In addition to labels and materials that enhance a product’s tangible branding, specialty inks also can elevate products on crowded shelves.

Schaumburg, Ill.-based INX International Ink Co., who produces these types of inks, held the Colored by INX Can Design Contest on its Facebook page in April, which was won by INDIO Beer’s Pueblos de México Unido Edición Muertos, a dark beer brewed and sold in Mexico since 1893. Crown Brand Building Packaging created INDIO’s winning promotional label using bright, saturated colors to create striking contrast. 

“We took advantage of the vast spectrum of colors in the [INX] catalog to make our products stand out with the different transparent, opaque and bright varieties of colors,” said Esveydi Rossano, graphic designer for Crown, in a statement.

Smurfit Kappa’s Escrucería says that all packages that have direct contact with consumers in retail spaces must be attention-grabbing to boost the brand presence.

“In Smurfit Kappa, we have a methodology called ‘Shelfsmart,’ which allows us to understand customer needs and transfer that insight into the right packaging, color, and message,” he says. “On the other hand, we see a trend toward minimal design that is associated with sustainability. For example, natural brown packaging with few colors is trending.”

Along with being a canvas for color and artwork, experts note the importance of packaging in telling a brand’s story.

“A package does not merely protect its contents,” GMI’s Mamtani explains. “It plays an essential role in grabbing the attention of customers and evoking curiosity. It helps manufacturers convey their brand message.”

While this can include the brand’s personality, characteristics of its contents, or even the product’s journey, brands are increasingly using packaging to communicate brand integrity.

“The storyline for the brand should come through in the package for the brand,” Avery Dennison’s Harvey says.  “And this storyline will increasingly include sustainability.”

Judging by unique design approaches popping up in the market, it is evident that ongoing creativity, innovation and environmental responsibility will continue to shape the story beverage brands tell through their packaging.