As a kid, whenever I would go grocery shopping or run into the gas station with my parents, I’d be allowed to pick out one treat. While my brother often opted for Ring Pops and Fun Dip, I would head straight for the refrigerated drinks and pick out a Bug Juice. I enjoyed looking at the little bugs on the bottle. As an adult, I still sometimes treat myself to a Bug Juice because it reminds me of my childhood.

Although many will say that “taste is king,” another sect highlights that the package design can be just as important for consumers when selecting consumer packaged goods (CPG).

Tom Newmaster started FORCEpkg in 2017 with the goal of taking branding, design and innovation to the next level. With more than 25 years of experience in CPG branding and package design, Newmaster has become a leading voice in the branding and packaging industry.

As a leader in creative, Newmaster has won awards for brands like The Hershey Co., Pfizer and Zippo from 1998 to 2016. He also has helped launch new products in a variety of categories. He is known for his unique voice in the industry, addressing packaging trends and sustainability, as well as addressing packaging’s role in pollution.

Beverage Industry (BI): What design elements are influencing beverage packaging today?

Tom Newmaster (TN): Bold fonts and shapes ― using in-your-face typography as the centerpiece is still hot. Vibrant design featuring a burst of color, pattern and things that don’t quite go together, but somehow work. This joyful response to the lockdowns and gloom of recent years has led to a creative umbrage to invent loud, disruptive packaging that screams “Buy me!”

Another form of this trend, anarchism, where designers have the chance to throw out the rulebook entirely — why 2023 is the year of anarchy. Brands are playfully rebelling and providing an irreverent, humorous take on prestige to cut through the expected.

Minimalism ― this trend is seen across all types of products. Everything from perfume to makeup and dairy to CPG, brands will not only continue to save the stories for other mediums like social media and websites, but lean into minimalism as a way to demonstrate thoughtfully made, artistic items.

The ’60s meet the ’90s ― Simply a way of saying “everything once old is new again,” cyclical trends endure. From Nirvana-inspired fonts to bottles and cans that look straight from the Haight-Ashbury, the rock-and-roll need for boldness with a sense of ideology is back in a big way.

Words matter ― people are tired of seeing buzzwords repeatedly, and packaging is catching on. Instead of using catchy phrases that don’t mean anything, packaging is moving forward with getting to the point quickly and building trust through a quality product, rather than big promises. (The aforementioned “tell the story somewhere other than the packaging”).

BI: How much is sustainability impacting beverage packaging?

TN: You can’t talk about innovation in packaging today without mentioning sustainability. All brands in every category are tackling the issue. Consumers, too, look to support more sustainable products, with 73% saying they’re willing to pay more for sustainable packaging, rising to 83% with younger buyers.

Consumer indoctrination around recycling has made it mandatory for brands to step up to the recycling challenge. This, of course, includes water. But here’s a sad fact ― for every six water bottles purchased, only one is actually recycled, with only 9% of all plastics recycled, according to Greenpeace. 

Quite frankly, the U.S. lags behind other first-world nations in sorting capabilities and the infrastructure needed to make recycling work. Fun fact, Germany is No. 1. But what innovations and packaging alternatives are on the forefront?

Eco-friendly packaging is moving into a place of authentic, ethical and biodegradable options, which shows a brand’s commitment to a sustainable future from ethically sourced materials or inks that won’t affect the earth as the package biodegrades. Continual options are coming for eco-friendly packaging, and that’s only a good thing. Here are three:

  • Packaging made from natural byproducts: Everything sugarcane and barley, to wheat and wood, is now being tested as suitable packaging solutions. Plus, they possess the trifecta of ethical packaging benefits — they’re renewable, biodegradable and compostable.
  • Flat bottles: Quite an innovation for the wine industry, flat bottles can be shipped with far less protective packaging, fitting 91% more product on a shipping pallet. This addresses two challenges— sustainability and supply chain issues.
  • Returnable packaging: Remember when milk was delivered and picked up at your house? One wine manufacturer launched the idea in New York. A three-month pilot program had an 88% return rate among 4,000 users at 10 New York stores.

BI: For beverage-makers redesigning existing packaging, where should they start when approaching redesign projects?

TN: Keeping a keen eye on design trends and testing out how your redesign will be received is essential. Utilizing focus groups to pinpoint just how shoppers will feel when they shop will give you a vision into whether the redesign will be warmly received, thus leading into sales. In particular, is the redesign better than what you already have? Is it too far a stretch from what shoppers are accustomed to seeing from your brand? Testing a small run is also a great option.

On a personal level, my company, FORCEpkg, was recently approached by an investing group that wanted to launch a craft bourbon whiskey, as we know the process well, to design with that printing method in mind. Our task was to design a label and test out both the name and design without a full production rollout. Here’s how we proceeded:

  • We possess the machinery to create a short run of just 70 labels. A short run allows you to create a high-end premium, scalable label to lower the cost of entry. The look we created featured a lux embossing, gloss-foil effects, textured fur on the bear image, plus a wax seal made of foil — definitely on-trend design aesthetic.
  • Having the ability to create a test run allowed for super-premium brand extension at a manageable test production level.

BI: What are the key elements of a successful beverage packaging design?

TN: It really comes down to three things:

  • Creating a strong identity: Believing in your brand and what makes it stand out from the competition is a war cry for any beverage brand. It’s a crowded market, so this is essential.
  • Knowing your audience: Who is your target consumer? Who seeks out your brand? What entices them to pick your beverages off the shelf?
  • Using the design trends: Packaging design is the very first thing shoppers experience when choosing a project. Focusing on what design trends are hot in the beverage market entices shoppers to choose your product.