The label as an expression of your beer
Craft beer drinkers are particular about their choices; packaging captures their attention and imagination, but also serves the practical purpose of helping them navigate the ever-expanding variety of options on the shelf. Your label gives customers an idea of what they can expect when they crack open that ice-cold can or bottle and take that first sip. Labels may be attention getting, but if they don’t convey the quality and persona of the beer inside, you could miss an opportunity to land your next new customer.
Packaging opportunities in the age of COVID
Like most businesses, craft brewers pivoted in 2020 when COVID shutdowns led to dramatic declines in the sales of keg beer. To preserve profits, market presence and hard-earned customer relationships, brewers began channeling their volume into packaging. But that was not without its challenges, as brewers faced long lead times for cartons and aluminum can due to supply shortages. On the other hand, packaging created new opportunities to market products in retail channels and gain new customers.
Craft beer packaging design trends
Smart brewers tailor every aspect of their product to give them a distinctive edge over the local competition—from unique flavor profiles to creative packaging that stops beer lovers in their tracks. And with 71 percent of craft beer customers deciding which product to buy at the point of purchase, design and packaging are big branding differentiators.
Craft brewers are famous for their bold, quirky packaging, as evidenced by the year’s biggest design trends:
• story-driven packaging (mascot, characters, scenes that span across cans)
• quirky product names at the front and center of design
• strong typography that carries the brand’s aesthetic
• technical, finely-detailed and precise illustrations
• organic color blocking and bold, simplistic geometry
• vibrant, full-scale patterning
• interactive features including augmented reality, QR codes and thermochromic inks
Pressure sensitive labels are popular with agile breweries who need the flexibility of fast lead times and low inventories for limited runs. A pressure sensitive label can signal that your beer is rare or fleeting; major brewers like Samuel Adams have been known to mimic the look of a pressure sensitive label on its cans to convey a “small-batch” feeling.
Craft brewers tend to be environmentally conscious and seek sustainable packaging solutions including refillable growlers, and recycled and recyclable materials. Belmark’s Mindful Solutions labeling and packaging products give brewers a range of sustainable options to label their bottles and cans. Our tru-IMPACT® labels contain 30% post-consumer waste materials, and our eco-READY™ products are easy to recycle, so that label materials can be reused again and again.
Success Story: North Country Brewing Company
“In the beer world, things can change at the drop of a hat. Belmark has been right there with us for any changes, concerns or problems that we have run into...Like most humans, I have made a few mistakes with label processes. Belmark was there to facilitate our orders every step of the way, from conceptualization to finished product. Having a team like Belmark at our disposal takes a huge weight off of the brewery here. The label, being the most visible thing to a consumer, has a huge impact on our product; therefore, we want the best possible product...that’s why we choose Belmark."
—Andy Hamilton, Director of Marketing and Media, North Country Brewing Company
Designing your beer label
Unlike mass-market beer, each craft beer is unique, with its own story and persona. Its label is an extension of that identity, and design, color and texture all serve to reinforce it. You’re creating an experience and a connection with your customer that starts on the retail shelf and keeps your branding front and center the entire time the customer is enjoying your product. The great news is, labeling technologies offer more opportunities than ever for breweries to express their creativity and maximize visual impact.
Choosing the right type of label for your brand
Once you’ve established a design concept and your container choice, it’s all about choosing the label solution that best executes your creative vision and brand identity. Creating a beer label that attracts first-time buyers and contributes to an enjoyable drinking experience comes down to how the label looks and feels, and how it performs.
Think about label size, shape and placement. Here, you are spoiled for choice: Go for a wraparound label or separate front and back labels. Choose a traditional shape and size, or create a unique shape with a custom die cut. It’s important to choose labeling that allows you to create a consistent, easily recognizable visual identity across your packaging, from individual beers to cartons and overboxes.
Label quality: Color consistency and accuracy matter
Color is the design element that makes the most emotional impact and communicates your brand message the fastest, and matching brand colors across products is paramount. But the best label designs can be undone by poor color matching, imprecise registration and inconsistent color rendering. At Belmark, we understand the science of color consistency across our entire line of pressure sensitive labels, shrink sleeves and paperboard cartons.
Finessing the “feel”: finishes and textures
A beer can or bottle, unlike a wine bottle, is continually in sight and in hand as your customer enjoys your product. Think of this as an opportunity to cement that customer connection and emphasize your brand values through textures and effects. Here’s where you can really make labels work for you: Choose a modern, elegant matte finish; add a premium feel by highlighting design elements with embossing, stamping, metallic effects, foils or fluorescent inks. You’re only limited by your imagination.
Your label’s performance—its ability to maintain integrity under the stress of environmental factors including light, temperature fluctuations, moisture and handling—is a not-so-subtle reflection of the quality of the beer inside the package. Labels should never peel, crack, loosen, run or fade, even in the hot sun or buried at the bottom of a cooler.
Avoid potential problems by choosing the correct label materials, adhesives, and inks for your container. Belmark’s experts are always on hand to help you choose the most durable, best-looking label for your beer.
The labeling process
Your main investment in the beginning is perfecting your beer, so consider how you’ll be applying labels to your cans or bottles as you move beyond the tap room to retail space. Hand labeling may be a necessity early on, but the process can often be time consuming and tedious. If your goal is mass production, it’s time to invest in a machine applicator.
Types of Labeling Equipment
Labeling machines are available in manual, semi-automatic and automatic models. Defining your production goals and labeling requirements will narrow your choices.
• Manual labeling machines require a person to physically load and affix each individual label to a container. While this option is safe, portable and immune from power issues, it’s labor intensive and exposes the process to human inaccuracies.
• Semi-automatic labeling machines are generally operated by hand or footswitch; a worker loads bottles or cans onto a conveyor belt and presses a button to apply labels. Semi-automatic machines provide more control and consistency than manual machines, and can be integrated into a production line.
• Fully automatic labeling machines remove the human error factor by extending automation to loading and activation. Automatic machines are available to accommodate a range of container sizes and shapes and apply up to 500 labels per hour.
Labeling machines can range in cost from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. When weighing your options, it’s important to evaluate costs in the context of projected volume, integration with your production line, and overall productivity benefits. No matter how fast you can bottle your beer, your output will be limited by the speed at which you can package it and get it to market. Go with a solution that not only fits your brewing operation's current needs but can scale with your needs as you grow.
What to look for in a label supplier
If you’re a craft brewer, you’re likely a small, tight-knit operation, and you have to be an expert in a lot of things, from brewing beer to marketing your products to managing your business. You shift gears on a dime as you continually seek new ways to surprise and delight your customers. Labels shouldn’t have to be another challenge for you to solve; eliminate the learning curve and the concerns by choosing a supplier that understands your challenges and will help you execute your brand vision and get your product to market.
Meet your deadlines with short lead times
Brewing is a deadline-driven business. When your beer is ready to be packaged, it can't wait for labels to arrive. At Belmark, speed is a core value of our business. We have the fastest turnaround time in the industry; our lead times run one week, faster if you need it.
Speed in manufacturing, speed to market
At Belmark, when we talk about speed, we don’t just mean speed of manufacturing. We’ll shorten the time it takes to bring your labels from concept to approval to production. We’ll leverage our extensive industry experience and expertise to take that burden off your shoulders. In short: Leave the labels to us, so you can get back to business.
No minimums means what you need, when you need it
Craft brewers strive to continually offer customers new flavors and different experiences, from seasonal brews to experimental flavors. Frequent small-batch production runs call for low label inventories and short-run packaging solutions.
At Belmark, we have no minimum label order requirements, making it easy for you to sync new packaging with your short production runs.
Consistency is key in beer branding. Customers should be able to identify your brand at a glance, whether it’s in a bottle, can, carton or case. Because Belmark offers a comprehensive, diverse range of pressure sensitive labels, shrink sleeves and carton styles, craft brewers save time and effort by working with a single supplier for all of their packaging needs. And, we ensure perfectly consistent execution of your designs across your entire product packaging range.
From concept to execution, we’re here for you
When it comes to customer service, at Belmark, we take pride in our “all in” approach. We’re ready to guide you through every step of your journey, from idea to finished product. We’ll help you scale production as your products evolve and your business grows. We’ll make a complex process easy for you, and we’ll do it fast and deliver the quality and consistency you expect. Let us handle your label production so you can stay focused on what you’re best at: making great beer.