Alcohol and Innovative Packaging

02/06/2017

The alcohol industry has hugely creative people working in all areas, not least packaging design. It’s become increasingly important to make sure products stand out on the shelf, and the packaging, even more than the label, is becoming a key point of difference. Just like the label however, the shape and style of the bottle, can, pouch or whatever it may be is subject to the Code and should be considered as part of the whole. We’re proud of the industry’s creativity so here are some thoughts to help innovators keep up the good work and stay within the rules.

Sometimes innovative packaging is something completely new and never seen before, other times it may be new for the alcohol sector but already in use in other drinks sectors. In the case of the latter, due consideration must be given to what associations the general public already have for the packaging style.

In 2015 the Independent Complaints Panel considered a complaint about Beavertown’s Gamma Ray. Over the last few years the number of beers using 330ml cans has risen dramatically; before this, 330ml cans were pretty much the sole preserve of soft drinks. The complainant referenced both the art style and the size of the can as issues. Ultimately the Panel did not uphold the complaint, and noted that the size of the can in and of itself was not a problem under the Code so long as the whole package was identifiable as containing alcohol. The full decision can be read here.

There are two decisions worth comparing and contrasting regarding pouch style packaging. In 2008 the Panel upheld a complaint about ShotPak pouches. One of the points of complaint was that the small pouches were more reminiscent of children’s lunch box drinks than alcohol. The Panel noted the concern, though felt that did not necessarily mean the style of packaging was prohibited. However the artwork, flavour names and other cues, taken together with the packaging, did tip the product range over into particularly appealing to under-18s.

Three years later a complaint was received about Cell Drinks, which the complainant felt were sold in pouch style packaging reminiscent of children’s drinks. In this case the producer had worked with the Portman Group’s Advisory Service ahead of the product launch and made a number of changes to their initial design specifically to allay these concerns. In this case the Panel agreed that the drink was of more general appeal and was clearly labelled as containing alcohol.

Read the full decisions on Cell Drinks here, and ShotPak here.

So when you’re trying something new with packaging, what can you do to make sure it stays the right side of the line?

Whether or not the packaging is reminiscent of non-alcoholic drinks packaging, it’s even more important than normal to ensure it is absolutely clear that the product contains alcohol. Prominently including the ABV and the type of drink it is should be a good start. If the drink is of a less familiar style, then also specifically including the word ‘alcohol’ or ‘alcoholic’ should also be considered.

If the packaging shape or style could be thought of as reminiscent of a soft drink then including images of fruit or similar is likely to muddy the waters. That’s not to say fruit can’t be included, but for every visual cue which looks more like a soft drink, more work must be put in to making it clear it contains alcohol.

It’s important to note that products in more standard alcohol packaging, such as wine bottles, 440ml cans, 70cl bottles etc., also have to be clearly identifiable as alcohol – products in innovative packaging just have to work that little bit harder as the associations in consumers’ minds will not be as immediate.

Our Advisory Service offers fast, free and confidential advice on alcohol packaging (and more besides), and will respond within 2 working days. If you’re thinking about trying a new form of packaging, it would be a very good idea to send initial designs over for a view. Getting these discussions going early in the process will help alleviate the stress, reputational damage and costly repackaging that an upheld complaint could bring. You can contact the advisory service on advice@portmangroup.org.uk