It is the middle of summer and you're outside relaxing on the beach. Or at a cabin. Or in a park. It really doesn't matter where you are because one thing is certain, you're going to need something to drink. A glass of wine might be fine for a romantic dinner or wistful lunch, but nothing beats an ice cold beer in the dead heat of summer. Why do we enjoy beer so, so much? There are many reasons. But perhaps it all starts with the package.
Steam Whistle and why a good package is essential for business
Take Steam Whistle, for example. The Canadian beer company has built a package that is as distinctive as its product, winning international awards for package design — like the 2015 PAC Global Leadership Awards in the Corrugated Containers, Structural Enhanced category for its Oktoberfest packaging — as well as the hearts of Canadians. Clearly, Steam Whistle's packaging is all that and, well, a box of beer. But what, exactly, makes for a good beer package? And why should we even care?
The thought process: aesthetics, durability, and endurance
The first thing that is considered is, of course, aesthetics. No company wants to produce unattractive packaging. Packaging is perhaps especially important for a beer company. "Beer is a social product," says Sybil Taylor, Steam Whistle's Communications Director. "It is consumed in social settings, and it is often described as a 'badge' product, like fashions or products that have a name and portray something to others." Indeed, the kind of beer you drink says something about you, and is something brands like Steam Whistle consider when they put a package in stores. The package, says Taylor, "gives you presence on a shelf. It gives your brand personality."
Steam Whistle aims to craft a cool product that starts with the bottle and ends with the cardboard packaging, all in the company's classic green. But beyond just looking good, there are other considerations. Strength and sturdiness are key, because the success of a beer is reliant on the effectiveness of its package. Broken bottles can't be sold, they can't be reused, and they certainly aren't good for business. In fact, Steam Whistle prides itself on using glass in their bottles that is roughly 30 percent heavier than some other companies' bottles. They wash and refill glass bottles up to 45-50 times. Because of this, the strength of the packaging is essential.
Beyond the ability of a package to hold glass bottles, beer-containing structures must also protect the product in other ways. "A lot of the time when you buy a product these days, you open the cardboard and it falls apart," Taylor says. Bottles go into the package cold and sweaty, and they can cause damage to cardboard and glue that is lesser in quality. To protect the bottle itself throughout all stages of its life cycle, the cardboard used must be sturdy, it must protect the product from light and UV rays, and it must hold in the face of moisture and other elements. The packaging must have endurance.
"The package must provide the right barrier performance to protect against natural elements such as moisture, oxygen, and light to name a few, while also offering a substrate that can be adhered to and printed upon," says Jennifer Richardson, Market Segment Manager for Sustainable Packaging at BASF Corporation. For traditional beer packages, she says that brewers should start with wet-strength beverage board, adding that it will retain 80% of its strength when wet if virgin fiber versus recycled fiber is used.
Monetizing the package: sustainability and the environment
So, a proper package means increased durability and efficiency, and that is good for customers. But it also produces a lower bottom line, proving it crucial for the company, too. One of the main ways packaging is improving is through the light weighting of materials.
"Companies are trying to find ways to increase their efficiency and are looking to reduce their packaging weights to do so," says Richardson, noting that light-weighting is a current trend in the industry. "By using lighter materials, such as flexible and rigid plastic, companies can save money on energy and transportation costs." Light weighting reduces the overall costs of the supply chain, keeping companies happy, and it makes for a less bulky package, which no consumer is going to turn down — particularly those with an eye on the environment.
Speaking of the environment, sustainability is another important factor when it comes to packaging. "North American consumers favor sustainable packaging when shopping, with almost half willing to spend more for the higher price for these choices," Richardson says. According to a 2014 Nielsen survey, 42 percent of North Americans are willing to pay more for products with affirmative social and environmental impact. The statistics are similar to European consumer statistics, and the figures are even higher in other parts of the world. "One reason is because the consumer is closest to the package's fate," Richardson explains. "They are looking for alternative options besides the landfill."
Bioplastics and other sustainable materials are in favor by many companies. Wet-strength cardboard is another environmentally sound option. In addition to being able to hold beer's weight and keep out water, wet-strength board is fully recyclable. "It also allows the manufacturer to use less fiber than recycled fiber because it is thicker and stronger," Richardson says. At Steam Whistle, they use a Solid Bleach Sulfate (SBS) folding carton, which is a high-quality board. Wet strength adhesive and, in some packages, sesame tape, are also used.
"Packages can offer a consumer an experience with the brand that they wouldn't get from advertising alone."
Another way Steam Whistle stays environmentally conscious is with their use of ink on the bottles themselves, as opposed to plastic or paper logo on bottles. Unlike many other brewers,, Steam Whistle uses ink to paint their logo directly onto their glass bottles. They are able to do so because the company sells only one product, and this lends to the environmental-friendliness of the brand. Resins are at the heart of most typical paints. For a brand logo to keep its quality, either on cardboard or on a glass bottle, Richardson says it must be printed with an ink that promotes specific performance properties, including resistance to scratches, water, and alcohol. Steam Whistle uses flexo inks on the corrugate, and litho inks on the folding carton. An AQ varnish holds the inks.
Finding repeat customers: the lasting effect of a good package
Proper packaging can ensure a fresh product, an undamaged product, and a product that has withstood the elements. It can also help decrease a company's environmental footprint, as well as their bottom line.
But at the end of the day, perhaps the brand personality argument is the most important one there is. "Packages can offer a consumer an experience with the brand that they wouldn't get from advertising alone," Richardson says. "They can use the package to change the customer's perspective because what the customer perceives about the brand is just as important as the package itself." Clearly, Steam Whistle understands this perspective.