Package Design Innovation: Genius in a Bottle

Food and beverage packagers are choosing bottle designs that pull out the stops.

By Kate Bertrand Connolly, Packaging Editor

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Creative package design is keeping things interesting for processors, particularly those with bottled products. The recent crop of break-out package designs emphasizes the personality of each product, with aesthetics ranging from minimalist to fashionista-fabulous and brands scaling from artisanal to multinational.

A bottle in the shape of a liquor flask and a bold typographic label are the key components of the striking package for Tavern Vinegar, a line of gourmet wine- and beer-based vinegars created by Jonathon Sawyer. He's chef/owner of The Greenhouse Tavern and Noodlecat restaurants and founder of Tavern Vinegar Co., all in Cleveland.

The inspiration for Tavern Vinegar's package design came from the look and feel of The Greenhouse Tavern, whose construction and décor incorporate many reclaimed elements.

"We wanted something that felt like part of the restaurant," explains Cleveland-based freelance designer Christine Wisnieski, who created the package design.

She adds that the package design is not a continuation of the Tavern's brand identity, per se, but it does fit with the ambiance of the restaurant. "We wanted [the package] to feel crafty and reclaimed but … modern at the same time," Wisnieski explains.

The package consists of a stock 200ml glass flask with an off-center label printed with a pattern created by repeating the brand name, end to end, over and over. The palette is monochromatic, with the exception of a pop of color in the vinegar flavor.

Each bottle carries a neck tag, printed: "Housemade by Chef Jonathon Sawyer." The tag, attached to the bottle with twine, also provides ingredient information and the batch number. The tags and pressure-sensitive labels are digitally printed. "The solution [is] simple and typographic," with a homemade sensibility that also feels professional, Wisnieski says.

Tavern Vinegar's products include vinegars made from red, white and rosé wines and one made from craft beer. In addition, the company recently introduced Garlic & Beer Garum Vinegar, Japanese Sake Vinegar and Japanese Plum Wine Vinegar. The products are sold through Sawyer's restaurants and websites and at select locations in Chicago, Houston and Boston.

For now, the bottles are labeled and tagged manually, but that is destined to change as Tavern Vinegar scales up production. "The batches were small and are getting bigger," Sawyer says, noting that his early homemade batches were as small as 25 gallons.

But starting this spring, Tavern Vinegar products will be crafted at the distillery of Middle West Spirits, Columbus, Ohio. "We'll start with about 40,000 bottles per year," Sawyer estimates.

The package design is likely to change only minimally in the transition to larger batches and with the switch to automatic filling and labeling. For example, the neck tag may no longer be used. But the bottle will remain, as will the typographic label design.

Stings like a B

In the spirits aisle, where packaging is a key element of brand differentiation, innovative designs continue to emerge. In some instances, that means less fussy graphics than consumers are used to.

The package design for a new Brazilian liquor, B Honey-Cachaça Sting Shots, Rio de Janeiro, illustrates the power of minimalism. The primary package is a stock bottle typically used for wine; the sole decorations on the bottle are the stylized-bee logo and a black-and-gold striped plastic capsule covering the bottle's neck and cork.

The product formulation blends handmade cachaça, a traditional Brazilian liquor, with honey and lime. The brand's bee theme is, of course, a nod to the honey. B Honey-Cachaça launched in Brazil in 2012, and the brand owner plans to introduce it in the U.S. this year.

B Honey-Cachaça name and logo are screen-printed on the bottle in a single color. Product information such as alcohol content is printed on the back of the bottle, but this text is invisible when the bottles are on-shelf, thanks to the visual distortion created by the product inside the glass bottle. Pereira & O'Dell, San Francisco, designed the package.

The design uses a "kind of Japanese minimalism," says P.J. Pereira, chief creative officer and co-founder of Pereira & O'Dell. And because it's so restrained, it's a very cost-effective design. With the money saved via single-color printing and streamlined graphics, "The little things that we did, we could do very well. We could spend money on a great bottle and great printing, which is very simple but very well done."

The product itself -- specifically its color -- plays a pivotal role in the B Honey-Cachaça package. If the bottle were opaque or covered with a large label, some color variability between batches wouldn't matter. But the B Honey-Cachaça bottle puts the product on display, making it part of the package design. So "the liquid has to have that [same] color every time," Pereira says. If the colors of the product and the printing don't match, "everything looks bad."

The designers worked closely with the brand owner to synchronize the color of the product and the ink on the bottle and capsule. "We did some tweaking on the color of the product to match the printing, and we did some tweaking on the color of the printing to match the product," Pereira says. With "the right kind of cachaça and right kind of honey in the right levels, you can … dial up or down the color" of the product.

The quality and taste of the liquor ultimately determined how far the formulation could be adjusted. "At the end of the day, the taste of the product is the most important thing. If we were interfering with that, then the most beautiful packaging in the world wouldn't make any difference at all," Pereira says.

In contrast to other cachaças on the market, the B Honey-Cachaça brand targets women -- thus the sleek graphics on the bottle and an equally sophisticated secondary package. The latter is a discreet black box; the sole decoration on the box is the brand's logo, which is printed in gold. Pereira describes the box, which resembles a jewelry or perfume package, as "simple, stunning, minimal, precise, elegant."

Fashion-forward Diet Coke

The Coca-Cola Company, Atlanta, took a very different direction with its limited-edition Night and Day bottles for Diet Coke in Europe last year. The package graphics dress a contoured glass bottle in either a lacy corset or a Breton-striped shirt.

The stripes are the signature style of the packages' creator, fashion designer and Diet Coke creative director Jean Paul Gaultier, who designed Madonna's iconic cone-bra costume in the early 1990s. For those who prefer to drink from a can, Coca-Cola introduced Night and Day Diet Coke cans emblazoned with Gaultier's name over a pattern of either black lace or Breton stripes.

Augmenting his Night and Day designs, Gaultier created the Diet Coke Tattoo bottle. Like the other packages, Tattoo uses the pink contoured bottle as a stand-in for the human body. But instead of clothing, this bottle depicts a fully tattooed torso. Though edgy, the design steers clear of putting the "graphic" in "package graphics" by using plenty of ink to cover the pink.

This article originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of Food Processing Magazine.

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