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.

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