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Brand and packaging rethink needed as convenience and sustainability trends accelerate

Published:  15 July, 2020

A major shift in the way alcoholic drinks are packaged, dispensed and branded may well be here to stay in the wake of the pandemic.

This was one of the insights delivered by the panel at a recent Harpers webinar, NPD: Innovation in the time of Covid-19, where convenience, local focus and sustainability were identified as trends that would remain to the fore long after the Covid-19 crisis subsides.

This, in turn, could have far-reaching implications for brand-owners and retailers across both on- and off-trade, with innovative new thinking needed regarding NPD (new product development).

Spirits consultant Michael Vachon highlighted how in the on-trade there has been “a major pivot away” from traditional dispense and serve, with businesses putting out their own products, such as take home cocktails, self-bottled drinks, refills and more, during the closure of the on-trade.

Similarly, and not least with so many hybrid venues now being operated by indie merchants, such initiatives and innovations have also been creeping into the sales mix in the off-trade.

For their part, consumers have moved to support local, embracing ‘own-label’ and often very minimally branded food and drink takeaways, with such purchases often bypassing traditional branded products.

“There has been a consumer shift away from foreign brands to things that are just functional, towards refillable and with businesses creating their own labels – often just a minimalist sticker – with people more concerned with the quality of the product than the brand,” said Vachon.

Concurrently, the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, said Denomination’s CEO Rowena Curlewis, has refocused people on sustainability with regard to packaging and sourcing of product, accelerating an already existing trend.

Speaking from the design perspective, Curlewis highlighted environmental concerns, saying that the move to non- or light-branded products, with more eco-friendly and sustainable packaging, with more drinks bought locally and with local production in mind, “will affect the ways in which packaging is branded”.

This, in turn, would continue to drive the trend towards pre-mixed drinks, wines on tap, plus convenient formats such as cans, boxed and bagged wines, across the trade.

“I think we are seeing a split, with younger consumers buying into the bar or restaurant ‘brand’, supporting that local and ‘just been made’ aspect, and not meaningless packaging, while in retail, the older and less trendy consumer is buying into tried and trusted wine and spirit brands,” said Curlewis.

Paul Schaafsma, MD of Benchmark Wines, which recently introduced its collaborative Kylie Minogue Rosé, is no stranger to the volume end of the market. He also suggested that the current situation would act as a springboard for greater acceptance of bulk wine and the NPD flexibility that allows for a bigger volume scale.

“Shipping in bulk is not talked about enough, but there is little consumer resistance and the wine industry has been doing an incredible job in terms of becoming more environmentally friendly, moving wine in bulk and bottling in lightweight glass, removing carbon miles out of shipping glass around the world,” he said.

“The second thing we need to look at is packaging, what, through innovation and NPD, we can do there, to make things more sustainable, with various formats [such as] lightweight glass, pouches, and cans, which are a great option for that.”

Much of this, the panel agreed, comes down to listening to what the consumer needs, finding and better exploring opportunities to fulfil shifting requirements in a world that is unlikely to fully settle back into pre-pandemic habits of consumption.

“For innovation to really succeed you’ve got to have the insight to find what is missing in consumers' lives that you can actually fill, then you will succeed. Any other form of innovation that is not about consumers just has a really limited lifespan,” Curlewis concluded.

A link to download the full version of the NPD: Innovation in the time of Covid-19 webinar can be found here.