Can we learn a marketing lesson from craft brewers? Marketing by packaging.

The craft brewing scene is booming also in Sweden with a big number of small brewers and glass bottles are the dominating pack type. Glass bottles represents tradition and premium, two of the impressions that you as a craft brewer work really hard to convey to your consumers.
When you are selling a product at a price three times above your industrial brewing competitors, you have to work hard on your image. But something is happening…

What is it with craft beer and cans? I have noticed an increased interest in beverage cans from the local craft brewers, or microbeweries, here in Sweden.
One after the other launch new products in beer cans, not in glass bottles. Glass bottles used to be the standard for this premium beer segment.

The craft brewing scene is booming also in Sweden with a big number of small brewers and glass bottles are the dominating pack type. Glass bottles represents tradition and premium, two of the impressions that you as a craft brewer work really hard to convey to your consumers.
When you are selling a product at a price three times above your industrial brewing competitors, you have to work hard on your image. But something is happening…

The power of glass
The beverage can is in many consumer’s eyes a packaging used for mass production that does not necessary contain very sophisticated brews.
The craft brewers have mostly been true to glass bottles for their precious drops, and that for a few sound reasons.

  1. A craft brewer with self-respect have a large number of creative varieties of beer available and need flexibility in production. To use only one container and vary the label is efficient in a low volume production of several product varieties.
  2. It is also cost effective as you can get away with rather basic equipment when filling bottles on a small scale. And it is often also simply impossible for a small brewer to purchase the amounts of decorated cans needed to reach the lowest order level.
  3. Last but not least, the positioning of the product. Glass stands for quality, premium and tradition. These are images you very much want to reflect on your craft brew.

Incredible growth
Most of the above is still valid but the trend is clearly towards using more cans for the most premium products and for very small product batches.
The numbers speak for themselves, in 2019 the volume craft beer in cans increased by 2.5 times, for the second year in a row!
An increase from 8% of the craft beer volume to 17% in three years. In 2017, 12 brewers made 35 beer products available in cans. In 2019 70 brewers offered more than 400 products in cans. That’s an improvement!

Why is this?
The trend is clear and seems unstoppable. The movement is founded on a few obvious facts and some a bit more hazy.

* Some of the craft brewers have simply expanded their markets and volumes and are ready to invest in cans and a can filling line.
* Others have managed to get one single and specific product on a national distribution and can take the leap with that one product.
* Some who not yet have those volumes use blank cans and attach a unique label to maintain the flexibility.

Then it helps that the suppliers of cans have spotted the opportunity in craft beer and are lowering the bar for the smallest order.
Finally, but not least, consumers appreciate the product.

Environment and quality
All brewers I have heard comment on this argue the environmental benefits and the improved quality of the product. A sealed can is an airtight space and it is completely dark inside which maintains the quality. A can is easily recycled in this country with an efficient deposit scheme in place. As a matter of fact, 85% of the distributed cans are returned and recycled.

Marketing by packaging
They just do it! And they do it within the very narrow space that is left due to the current and very strict regulations around all alcohol promotion.
They build their brand using the means that are available, except from the product itself what is left is basically, the website, the shop and the bar.
At the point of sales there is nothing else you can use than the packaging itself. This is a clean case of marketing by packaging. The pack type, size, design and decoration are key to positioning and sales of a beer product in this market.

They utilize the packaging very well with brilliant graphic design, creative fonts and inspirational product names. And of course, a great product with a high and stable quality is very helpful when you want to convince consumers. 

An inspiring industry
This is a small scale industry with very limited resources that is constrained by square and rigid laws. They have still managed to turn the opinion and make something considered as a very basic packaging into a premium container. And successfully claiming a price three times the “normal”.
This is quite an achievement and well worth to celebrate. Why not with an unfiltered, hoppy and hazy beer? From a can, plenty to choose from…

Between a brew and a hard place

The SABMIller/AB-InBev deal seems to go through. This is great but will obviously trigger a few consequences and produce both relative winners and losers. The packaging industry doesn’t necessary have to be one of the latter but it will definitely make things a bit more challenging.

balance

Now this consolidation of the industry is in combination with a micro/craft brewery trend that grows seemingly all over the world creates a market place with two extremes.

The polarisation of the field will give the packaging industry a headache. On the one side we have a few really large customers with an impressive leverage and with logistical and geographical demands never seen before. On the other side we have the really small but rapidly rising producers with limited reach that each demands very few but special bottles/cans/kegs at the time.

These opposing customer demands will have to be addressed and solutions must and will be found. The craft breweries are growing and they have aggregated formed into a significant and fast growing market for kegs and bottles and an even faster growing number of cans. It would be a mistake to not support them with suitable packaging solutions that meets their needs. Even if all the action seems to be in the other end of the field right now…

Beer on the loose…

Whole Foods Market in London is a great place to visit to pick up some quality organic food and beverages. It is also a place for spotting new trendy products and also innovative packaging solutions.

This is an however an example of the opposite. Beer sold “loose”… A variety of the Bring Your Own concept but in this case, bring your own keg. This is not a trend but more an interesting fact and a way for a micro brewery to get a bit of attention.

It might give the consumer a nice brew, but the one who washes up the keg is you.

Crafty canners

According to The Beer Institute 52% of all beer was in 2010 sold in cans in the US but only
3% of the craft beer segment came in cans. Craft brewers or microbrewers prefer bottles and kegs, or has preferred. According to an article in Packaging Digest we can now distinguish a shift towards the use of beverage cans.

More craft brewers than ever are now filling beer in beverage cans for several reasons. The distribution of canned beers opens up new channels like convenience stores and arenas. Also financial and logistical aspects are weighed in.

Still the consumers of craft beers are traditionalists and have gotten used to the idea of drinking from bottles. Using bottles is often an obvious choice for the small brewer with a challenging cash-flow looking for a used filling line. The use of co-packers opens up for alternative packaging solutions. Is this a trend or will the scepticism from consumers hold the can back.

A can is a can is…a can?

The beverage can industry is developing the can concept further by making it more light weight, developing stunning print technologies, introducing the widget to get the right foam, making it withstand a retort process, improving lining and the pull ring is now better than ever. But is still not resealable… Until now when Miller Coors is set to launch its Coors Light in a metal bottle. It is not the first product found in a can bottle but it is a significant launch when it hits US store shelves 1 September. The aluminium bottle is produced as a beverage can, cupped, bodied and finally beat into a bottle neck on the end. And here it is, the 16oz (47cl) Silver Bullet Aluminium Pint.

Beer in a new gear

China is not only the second largest economy on the planet it is alsothe largest beer market, and growing. A few years ago China surpassed the US as the main beer guzzler and that will be hard to change given that the Chinese only consume an average 31 litres per capita. That is far from the 79 litres the average American consumes yearly. http://bit.ly/dn4KnF China is a growing market while Russia used to be a growing market for beer. The Russian beer market is struggling with the effects of the recession and is then hit with a new tax increase, a sobering rise of 200% on all beer from this year on.  This will not help developing the market in the short term. Estimates of a 10% decrease of this year’s sales have been recorded.

It’s my drink!

Beer Savers, or a lid for your bottle is a new concept recently launched by Beer Interactive. It is simply a silicon closure, slightly stretchable to fit a bottle opening. Not everybody has an articulated need for resealing their 33cl beer bottle. But this cap not only identifies your bottle in the bar/night club scene it also makes it more difficult for bad guys to tamper your beverage.

It is of course also a cool thing to use for promoting your bottled beer brands. Cheers.

Beer in China

It was a few years back in time when China took over the position as the largest beer country from the US. In 2003 more beer was officially consumed in China than in the US, the former beer giant. Beer consumption in the US is stagnant while in China it is booming, like so much else in the new land of hope and glory. From a packaging perspective however the Chinese situation is a gigantic opportunity, for everyone, as 95% of the volume is in refillable glass bottles.

Now the country consequently, within a couple of years, is going to become also the largest market for packaging machinery.  This through an outstandingly rapid growth and it obviously makes sense given the size and potential of the market.

Everything is growing but the big question is what will be the beer container preferred in a few years time? The market is developing fast and does not necessarily have to go through all the phases we have seen in the developed world. The market can go straight to whatever it pleases, PET bottles or cans or one-way glass bottles. That is the big question and probably it will be a bit of everything in the end but it is all determined now. It is now that the market is buying packaging machines and filling lines. What they invest in now will set the future pack-mix.