Comment: Why packaging innovation matters for the liquor category
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Comment: Why packaging innovation matters for the liquor category

In an article for Duty Free News International (DFNI), MSX Business Development Director, Peter Blatch, discusses the importance of distribution, consumers and personality when it comes to packaging for beers, wines and spirits.


When it comes to packaging innovation, beers, wines and spirits are each influenced by different things. For beers, packaging innovation is generally driven by the challenges of shipping and storage. For wines, increased consumer knowledge and popularity is what creates change. For spirits, it’s personality and heritage that is increasingly important.


Recent packaging innovation in beers has come as a result of the practicalities of distributing and storing. Until the introduction of one-way kegs, brewers would ship beer using heavy, cumbersome steel kegs, which would need to be sorted, containerised and then shipped back. The problem with steel kegs is that whether they are full or empty, they take up the same amount of space.


For cruiseships, where space is such a premium, it makes sense to use one-way kegs. They not only make restocking at sea easier, as you can stack them closer together and don’t have to worry about moving heavy kegs from one area to another, but you also don’t need to ship back the empties.


Other benefits of one-way kegs are that they are generally smaller in size, easier to handle and cheaper to ship because their lighter weight reduces fuel costs. Also, because of their composition, you can get a lot more onto a pallet, and can install them in places where you might struggle to fit a conventional steel keg. There is also no double handling, which can be time consuming, particularly for operators. When steel kegs are sent back to us, generally they arrive unsorted. We then have to sort them to ensure the right kegs are sent back to the right brewers to be cleaned and reused.


Peter Blatch, MSX


With their advantages both many and clear, many beer manufacturers have adopted one-way kegs. The challenge at the outset was producing them cost effectively. Development costs were high and brewers had to factor in the problem that they couldn’t be reused. Being a developing technology, the economies of scale wouldn’t be felt immediately, so not all one-way kegs could compete with steel kegs at the start. What changed this is some larger brewers saw the potential and long-term benefit of the concept and invested in the technology.


For wines, packaging is influenced by consumers. As a result of wines increasing popularity, particularly Prosecco, and consumers increasing awareness of how they drink it, we have seen a reduction in demand for bag in the box. The changing nature of the product has also played a part too.


For example, New World wine is made to be consumed soon after it’s purchased. Generally, they are younger, fresher wines that are made to be drunk now. With these wines, which are more likely not to be laid down and kept for any length of time, we have seen the introduction of screw-top bottles to overcome the problem of corking. However, most Old World wines use corked bottles, as there is still a view that traditional cork closures are more premium than screw-top bottles plus, for special occasions, many still enjoy the satisfying ‘pop’ a cork bottle makes.


The evolution of packaging in the spirits market has always been about better conveying the authenticity and heritage of the brand. They are looking to demonstrate an authentic product with a bit of a story, and consumers want to know more about the product when they pick it up off the shelf.

As an example, with the recent development in the gin category, we are seeing consumers wanting to find out how it’s made and where it comes from. There is an increasing number of heritage cues on spirit products, with consumers looking for that endorsement, and for that personality.


Beers, wines and spirits packaging will continue to be driven by supply and demand, coupled with advances in packaging technology and reducing environmental impact, but at the very core of decision making will always be the product itself.


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