With ESPN’s “Monday Night Football with Peyton & Eli,” more commonly known as “Manning Cast,” the network is looking to engage with TV viewers on whole other level. “Offering multiple Monday Night Football viewing options for the next three seasons continues our innovation efforts and provides additional value for our fans,” said Jimmy Pitaro, chairman of ESPN and Sports Content, in a statement this July. “Peyton and Eli will bring a different approach, delving into conversation about broader, big-picture topics while also honing in on the game, much like fans do when watching with their family and friends.”

Much like how the sports broadcasting network is adjusting its approach to reach new audiences, beverage-makers are taking that proactive approach with their packaging. With Beverage Industry’s annual Best Packages of Year feature, the editors have selected a collection of packaging releases that address the demands and needs of today’s consumers. Whether it be seasonality, sensory or sustainability, this year’s honorees spotlight the importance packaging plays in product development.

Bud Light Seltzer Fall Flannel Variety Pack

Leading up to the fall season, Bud Light Seltzer, a brand of St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch, introduced its new limited-edition Bud Light Seltzer Fall Flannel variety pack. The Fall Flannel variety pack featured three new fall-inspired flavors along with fan-favorite Apple Crisp, brought back for a limited time from last year’s Ugly Sweater pack:

  • Bud Light Seltzer Pumpkin Spice features pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla flavors.
  • Bud Light Seltzer Toasted Marshmallow combines sweet marshmallow with a hint of chocolate flavor.
  • Bud Light Seltzer Maple Pear pairs maple syrup and pear flavors.
  • Bud Light Seltzer Apple Crisp delivers the flavor of apple pie with all the refreshment of a seltzer.

“Bud Light looked to popular seasonal fall flavors that benefited from a hard seltzer twist and appeal to the autumn season,” says a Bud Light spokesperson. “Similar to the Bud Light family, the Bud Light Seltzer Fall Flannel pack flavors are easy-drinking and perfect for any occasion.”

Packaged in 12-ounce slim cans, each variety in Fall Flannel pack resembles a flannel shirt with a color associated to each variety: red for Apple Crisp, green for Maple Pear, orange for Pumpkin Spice and brown for Toasted Marshmallow. Additionally, the secondary packaging features a red flannel pattern with colorful fall leaves and a rustic wooden box filled with hay with the four cans resting atop the imagery.

“Seltzer fans continue to come back to Bud Light Seltzer because we not only offer the ‘Loudest Flavors Ever,’ but we also bring unexpected, disruptive fun for fans to share with family and friends 21-plus every season,” says a Bud Light spokesperson. “Similar to the brand’s Ugly Sweater Pack, Out of Office Pack and Retro Summer Pack, the Fall Flannel offering was created to introduce the fun flavor offerings tied to the fall season for our consumers.”

The Bud Light team highlights that the compilation of seasonal packs ― with their design and varieties ― serve as opportunities for the brand to engage with new consumers.

“Bud Light Seltzer’s seasonal packs are bringing new fans into the Bud Light family,” a Bud Light spokesperson says. “The ‘Loudest Flavors Ever’ are providing fans with unique offerings that then introduce them to many of the brand’s core offerings. Bud Light has always been known for being disruptive and fun, and our seasonal variety packs continue that trend in a new way.”

Dogfish Head Hoppy Variety Pack

Brewers constantly are looking to elevate the beer drinking experience. Recently, one craft brewer turned to its packaging for that elevation. 

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, a division of Boston-based The Boston Beer Co., introduced its new Hoppy Variety Pack, a 12-pack of 12-ounce cans that features four hop-forward beers, including its new Blue Hen Pilsner, and offers drinkers a unique, multi-sensory experience with a special, hop-scented element made using real hop oils on the front of each box.

“The multi-sensory element on our Hoppy Variety Pack is a reminder to drinkers that while Dogfish Head takes making beer seriously, we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” says Sam Calagione, Dogfish Head brewer and founder. “We’re always looking for ways to ‘stop and smell the hops,’ and we think our drinkers should be too. Life’s too short to drink boring beer and our Hoppy Variety Pack is anything but boring.”

Created with hop lovers in mind, the Hoppy Variety Pack includes three fan-favorite off-centered ales ― 60 Minute IPA, Slightly Mighty and 90 Minute IPA ― and a Delaware-centric variety pack exclusive, Blue Hen Pilsner.

Recognizing that Dogfish Head is known for its off-centered take on hoppy brews, particularly IPAs, Calagione notes that the variety pack was “designed with hop-heads of all kinds in mind.”

  • 60 Minute IPA is continually hopped for 60 full minutes with a boatload of intense Northwest hops. The result is an abundantly hoppy, but not crushingly bitter brew with bold citrusy and grassy hop flavors and 6% ABV.
  • Slightly Mighty is a full-flavored, low-calorie IPA with just 95 calories in each 12-ounce can. Brewed with a hint of monk fruit for body and complexity, Slightly Mighty is slight in calories and carbohydrates yet mighty in hop character, throwing tropical notes of pineapple, coconut, mango and citrus with a 4.9% ABV.
  • 90 Minute IPA is a continually hopped Imperial IPA with rich pine and fruity citrus hop aromas featuring a 9% ABV.
  • Blue Hen Pilsner is a crisp and refreshing pilsner brewed with only four ingredients ― water, yeast, earthy Saaz hops and Delaware-grown malted barley ― and features a 4.8% ABV.

“Our Hoppy Variety Pack shows the breadth of our IPA portfolio ― from 90 Minute IPA, one of the first Imperial IPAs, to Slightly Mighty, our lo-cal IPA with just 95 calories and 3.6 grams [of] carbs per 12-ounce can,” Calagione says. “It also shows our continued commitment to putting our off-centered twist on classic craft beer styles to create new and exciting recipes, like Blue Hen Pilsner, our crisp, refreshing and super sessionable pilsner brewed with only water, yeast, earthy Saaz hops and Delaware-grown malted barley.”

Additionally, the variety pack features a seasonality component, aiding retailers design sets.

“In addition to providing drinkers with a delicious variety of our hop-centric off-centered ales, our Hoppy Variety Pack is one in a series of seasonal variety 12-pack/12-ounce cans that share the same UPC code,” Calagione notes. “This thoughtful packaging decision allows retailers to easily swap shelf sets as the seasons change and a new variety pack is introduced.”

Essentia 2 Gallon Box

When beverage-makers look to develop new products they might consult experts and research, but ultimately the true driving force comes from consumers.

Essentia Water, Bothell, Wash., introduced a large format offering of its ionized alkaline water: the Essentia Water 2 Gallon Box. Developed in response to increased consumer demand for larger format options, the 2 Gallon Box does not compromise on taste or hydration and is a more sustainable alternative to single-use bottles, the company says.

“We developed our newly launched Essentia Water 2 Gallon Box in direct response to increased consumer demand for a larger format offering of our ionized alkaline water, made with sustainability in mind,” says Scott Miller, CEO of Essentia Water. “The launch of this product is actually an industry first for the ionized alkaline water category. In any product innovation we consider, it’s our priority to provide consumers with the overachieving taste of Essentia that they love.

“The 2 Gallon Box does not compromise on taste or hydration and is a more sustainable alternative to single-use bottles,” he continues. “Additionally, the new multi-serve offering accommodates the different lifestyles of our consumers as it’s easy to store in the fridge for at-home use, or take on-the-go for any given activity. Whatever they have in store, our ionized hydration is now even more accessible to help people achieve their daily goals and do the things that matter most to them.”

Each external box is made with recycled corrugate and is 100% recyclable, while the inside uses 80% less plastic than eight 1-liter bottles by volume, according to the company. Miller notes that significant efforts were put into developing this better-for-the-planet package.

“Over two years of research and development went into formulating the packaging, to ensure its highest quality,” he explains. “The outer box is strong and rigid, with a convenient handle for accessibility, and the specially formulated bag and spout keep air out, extending the water’s freshness and consumption over time. It’s the perfect, convenient multi-serve offering for use at-home in the kitchen, home office or gym, and is also an ideal on-the-go hydration option for camping, road trips, sporting events and more.”

Released in early fall regionally at retailers including CVS and Walmart, the 2 Gallon Box is poised to make a big splash in 2022.

“Building off our initial, regional launch, we’ll roll out the 2 Gallon Box more extensively in early 2022 with retailers like CVS and Walmart,” Miller says. “These efforts will be supported and amplified through strategic advertising and field marketing efforts.”

NEXE Compostable Espresso Pods

An active innovator in sustainability, NEXE Innovations Inc., Vancouver, British Columbia, continued that path with NEXE compostable espresso pods.

NEXE has invested more than six years into research and development to create its proprietary and fully compostable coffee pod, the company says. The new Nespresso compatible pod breaks down in as little as 30 days, similar to the time it takes for an apple core to decompose, it adds.

The NEXE pods are compatible with the Nespresso OriginalLine machines and are manufactured and packaged in the company’s operations plant.

“The new NEXE espresso pod breaks down faster than any packaging I have ever seen,” said William Selten, process engineer for Terravis Holding Ltd., which conducted NEXE's independent composting study, in a statement. “Within 30 days, 90% of the pods were broken down, which is truly amazing. I believe this is due to the innovation behind the unique composition and design of the pods.”

At the time of the announcement, Ash Guglani, president of NEXE, stated: “NEXE is committed to producing sustainable products that make zero-waste living easy. We believe that there doesn't have to be a trade-off between quality, great taste, convenience and sustainability. We are also working with well-respected publications to share our story about how we are spearheading the compostability movement, beginning with coffee pods. These initiatives are all underway.”

NEXE's first espresso product was crafted in collaboration with Jason Rennie, former production manager from Ethical Bean. The team spent a year looking for the right combination of beans to create the best-tasting, highest quality coffee, it says. The blend was made from three Fair-Trade, hand-selected beans grown in Ethiopia, Sumatra and Peru.

“This new offering is for coffee purists: a flavorful, rich dark roast espresso, packaged in one of the most sustainable coffee pods available, made right here in North America,” Guglani stated. “NEXE is a proudly Canadian company that controls its own value chain, meaning we don't rely on offshore manufacturers and can create our products in-house through our high-tech, environmentally friendly manufacturing processes.”

UV Vodka Photochromic Bottle

The idiom “shine some light on the subject” is a figurative saying to instruct people to look more closely. However, UV Vodka, a brand of Phillips Distilling Co., Princeton, Minn., is going for a more literal approach with its latest packaging innovation.

Earlier this year, the company announced that UV Vodka would get a rebranded, modern look with the launch of a photochromic bottle design that activates a spectrum of bright colors when exposed to UV sunlight.

The new packaging also accompanies a new tag line: “Bring the Light,” which focuses on building a deeper relationship between the UV name and its connection with ultraviolet rays, the company says. Sunlight is the key to activate the colorful photochromic wave design that appears on the neck of the bottle and the primary label, it adds. When the bottle is removed from sunlight, the new bold black UV logo remains while the colorful waves disappear, the company states.

Citing CTI research, sunlight-activated ink drives purchase intent for 64% of consumers, the company says.

“We wanted to come up with a fun, energetic way to express the UV brand and strengthen the connection with ultraviolet light,” said Jeff Twomey, senior brand manager at Phillips Distilling Co., in a statement at the time of the release. “Besides wanting a quality vodka, more than half of UV Vodka drinkers say they look for ‘cool’ packaging at shelf and want a fun, engaging experience that stands out from our competitors.”

Although it’s distributed nationally, UV Vodka’s distribution strength lies in the Midwest, including Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois markets, the company notes.

“There’s a wonderful opportunity for us to bring a Midwest, straightforward American sensibility to the vodka market,” Twomey stated. “It’s where we have been creating spirits innovation for more than 100 years and it makes UV Vodka very relevant to today’s and tomorrow’s consumer.”