One reason why the craft brewing industry is seeing such rapid growth is the exploratory nature of its fans. Very open to trying new things, craft beer lovers revel in the fact that they are living in historical times when it comes to beer. There’s a craft brewing renaissance taking place, and they want to try as many of these new beers as they can get their hands on.
Aware of this, craft brewers have made variety packs an increasingly important part of their business. What better way, after all, to allow consumers to taste-test their newest offerings, and, hopefully, find a favorite or two they’ll return to again and again?
Kevin Sullivan, an account executive servicing the craft brewing industry for the Hanover, Pa.-based TimBar Packaging & Display, has noticed this trend for some time now and his company is coming out with new products and programs to cater specifically to the craft beer segment.
One of the hottest trends in the market Sullivan is noticing is the 12-bottle variety pack. “Peruse your local retail beer cooler and it is easy to see why,” he says. “A variety pack serves as a marketing tool. When a brewer introduces a variety pack, new customers snap them up.” Sullivan says variety packs offer up to 40 percent more lithographic real estate that includes top-panel print space. Micro-flute material, which is what TimBar offers, also delivers package strength. This package style also is being utilized for 12-packs of single beer styles.
TimBar offers a variety pack program that Sullivan says delivers economical solutions to the craft brewing market while minimizing start-up costs. “It is a turn-key process for brewers of all sizes,” he explains. “We came up with the concept of group printing them, grouping multiple brewers together, and the benefit of that is, it limits the set-up costs for the brewers. One of the bigger advantages is that the smaller brewers can jump into that part of the market at a small quantity. So it’s helped a lot of them participate in that part of the market.”
After assisting a local brewery in the development and offering of its first variety 12-pack, within six months it became its top seller. “‘Wow…but painful,’ said the brewery’s packaging manager,” Sullivan recalls. “Most variety packs have to be assembled off line, by hand, alongside the automated bottling lines. Often re-packing is happening in the material and finished good aisles, when time allows. There are also supply logistics to consider. Often cases of single beer styles need to be redirected to the growing consumer thirst for the variety pack.”
Oskar Blues is one brewer that has toyed with the idea of offering variety packs for its cans, but is not yet ready to make the leap. “It’s incredibly labor intensive,” says Jeremy Rudolf, the company’s ‘Traffic Control Freak.’ “You have a machine that’s doing something once in a blue moon. The return on that investment is very long.” But he has not ruled out offering them in the future.
Oskar Blues, in an effort to make its can packaging as eco-friendly and as sustainable as possible, has been offering photodegradable rings from Hi-Cone for its 4- and 6-packs. One advantage is that the rings are safer for wildlife should they end up as litter outdoors. The reason: The sun’s ultraviolet rays cause the carrier to become brittle, so that it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces under the effects of wind, rain and other environmental forces. The ring carrier loses approximately 75 percent of its strength within days of direct exposure to sunlight. Also, Hi-Cone collects used ring carriers through its Ring Leader Recycling Progam. Recycled rings are made into a variety of industrial products.
PakTech is another packaging company that is catering to the booming craft beer business. Many of its new craft brew customers are utilizing the company’s Can Carrier handles, particularly the 6Pak for standard 12-ounce cans. Several are also using QuadPak Can Carrier handles for 16-ounce beer cans. Another popular new option for craft brewers has been the new plug and play CCA120 handle applicators. These automated applicators have a small footprint and price tag, allowing many growing craft brewers to apply handles at the rate of 120 cans per minute.
Although many brewers tend toward a manual operation, those who have obtained PakTech’s compact unit have enjoyed some labor relief when it comes to assembling the 6Pak packages. Also, while the can carriers and CCA120 machines are ongoing popular items, the hottest new package at the recent BrewExpo show in San Diego was handles for glass bottles. PakTech’s 12-ounce glass bottle 6Pak is new to the market and becoming popular with brewers that have not yet converted to a can line. In addition, the 22-ounce TwinPaks, 3Paks and QuadPaks initiated new interest. PakTech also has updated its handle designs, removing material.