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DESIGN & PACKAGING – Back To The Future

“standfirst”>The UK market, tired of critter brands, is witnessing a return to traditional wine cues as conservative retailers and focus groups exert their dominance, while the industry tries to get everyone to trade up. Fionnuala Synnott reports

07_05_designThe New World, in particular Australia, rocked the design world with its colourful and funky (some might say brash) wine labels and has been challenging the dominance of old school sepia labels with pictures of châteaux for many years. But, there are signs that the worm has turned in the UK market, which is witnessing a backlash against so-called critter brands. After flirting with contemporary designs, many producers are now demanding a return to traditional wine cues when briefing their design agency. Abigail Barlow, marketing director, Barlow Doherty Creative, says: “We have been asked to add reassuring, premium cues such as seals of approval or a winemaker’s signature to the label. Contemporary labels can still work but they need to have a story attached to them, be it about the winery or the winemaker. We are not asked to create fun labels anymore – it is all very serious.”

Paul Shelton, trade marketing coordinator at PLB, thinks this trend is limited to certain countries. “In the Old World there is definitely a move to more traditional style packaging, especially for French wine. But this is not so much the case in the New World where there is a larger spectrum of modern, vibrant designs.”

Yet a few brands are bucking the trend and doing things differently. Andy Sanders, joint managing and creative director, Robson Dowry, says, “Constellation Brands’ Melbourne Lounge label has a funky, flocked feel to it. The textured finish replicates the Art Nouveau-style, floral, flock wallpaper that’s seeing a big resurgence at the moment. But, in general, whenever we have tried to push the design further, focus groups inform us that consumers want wine to look like wine.”

Customer feedback

In fact, consumer research is often cited as an important factor in wine bottle design and can pick up trends that might otherwise go unnoticed. Recent research commissioned by Vinexpo, for instance, shows that although you might expect young people to opt for contemporary bottle designs over traditional ones, in practice, they often don’t. “In fact, those who buy wine infrequently tend to shy away from the more modern designs and tend to go for more traditional labels. Older consumers are more confident and start to take a chance on a different design,” explains Neil Tully, creative director, Amphora Design.

But opinion regarding the usefulness of consumer research is divided. Some view it as a hurdle to innovative design, while others think it is invaluable when it comes to giving designers an insight into consumer behaviour patterns. Sanders says: “We like to carry out quantitative and qualitative research. Some companies only use internet scoring and shelf tests but, in these cases, consumers don’t have to justify their responses. Focus groups, on the other hand, give you the reasons why consumers act the way they do. We think knowing the drivers behind consumer behaviour gives designers insight.” But Sanders is realistic about the limitations of consumer research: “You have to be careful that you don’t neuter what you are trying to do

by listening to research results. There is a danger that over reliance on consumer research will make everything bland and homogeneous. You have to use your intuition, foresight and experience.” Barlow feels that people are spending quite a lot of their marketing budget on consumer research only to end up with a safe bet. She says, “consumer research tends to follow the crowd, with a lot of ‘me toos’”.

“I would not like to see too much sacrificed on the altar of consumer research,” says Tully. But he is heartened by wine producers’ diminishing reliance upon consumer research. He explains: “In the past, consumer research was sometimes responsible for driving changes to design and packaging and sometimes ignored. There are signs that wine producers nowadays are adopting a more balanced approach to consumer research.”

Building a brand ladder

One of the explanations for the current return to traditional wine cues is the trade’s obsession with getting consumers to trade up. Producers and retailers, anxious to reassure consumers that they are delivering a premium offering, are demanding a return to wine cues traditionally associated with fine wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy.

Shelton says: “Consumers tend to go back to Old World regions when trading up or on special occasions – Rioja, Bordeaux and Burgundy are all popular.” In this case, the design has to reflect the quality of the wine in the bottle, so the packaging is more traditional, even if the wine labels are still simplified in order not to intimidate the consumer with complex appellation systems. Kevin Shaw, MD and creative director at Stranger & Stranger, says: “In today’s competitive market, everybody is trying to show that they are better quality than their competitors. You have to look better value than the bottle next to you.”

However, it is possible to overdeliver on packaging, particularly in the case of wines that are discounted. Nowadays, many designers are asked to add reassuring cues to bottles that are on half-price promotion, (even if the wine in the bottle was never intended to be sold at full price), in order to make the consumer feel that they are getting a genuine bargain. Tully says: “You have to be clear on the relationship between price and quality. As a designer you can make a £2.99 wine look like a £9.99 wine, but this will lead to disappointment when the consumer opens the bottle and tastes the wine. A bottle can be well-designed while being approachable and inexpensive at the same time.”

According to John Blackburn, executive creative director at Blackburns Ltd, there should be a clear distinction in design between wines below £5, above £5 and at £8-£10. “You should be able to detect that a wine is more expensive than another without having to be told. The designer is failing if he is not showing that difference.”

The conservative streak currently running through the UK market can also be attributed, in part, to the retailers that drive it. Stranger & Stranger’s Shaw thinks that a certain amount of homogenisation is inevitable as long as one big retailer continues to dominate the UK market. He explains: “Everything is homogenising as people are playing it safe. But this is hardly surprising

given that the whole [of the wine] business is dominated by about six labels.” According to Shaw, the increase in own-label wine in supermarkets is also to blame for the return to traditional wine cues. “With own-label wine retail buyers have more influence over design and packaging than before, when brand owners brought their brands to the buyers with the design already complete,” he explains.

Playing it safe

Some designers feel that the edge has gone from the UK market and are looking to the US for more interesting commissions. Critter brand design styles are only just beginning to hit the US, which is not as mature as the UK market. But like all fashions, design trends come and go. “These things are cyclical. As everyone in the UK goes back to using traditional wine cues and the market becomes more homogenous, producers will need to use funky labelling once more to stand out from the crowd”, says Shaw.

Blackburn explains: “The traditional ‘wine formula’, which uses a picture of a château or a vineyard and looks like it was designed 80 years ago, works if it is done very well. So many people go down that path, that if you do it, you have to do it brilliantly. But whatever the brand, be it wine or whisky, it should be distinctive.” In fact, being different is often the key to success. Sanders explains, “Even if one in ten consumers likes a design and nine out of ten hate it, those are still not bad odds for a brand, given the average number of SKUs in a supermarket.”

Blackburn continues: “If it doesn’t stand out the rest is academic. There are so many wine brands, that you must have a memorable point of difference or you will be invisible and won’t be remembered. A lot of clients are missing a trick by reverting to a formula. You don’t create a brand by returning to ‘wine cues’. The consumer knows he’s buying wine so there’s no need to keep emphasising this fact. If everyone else is using classic cues then your wine will just look like everyone else’s.” 


UK consumers are looking for authenticity, meaning that provenance is a key factor when purchasing wine. According to Neil Tully, creative director, Amphora Design, the move away from contemporary designs to more traditional wine cues can be explained by a much greater consumer interest in the provenance of wine and food. He says, “Wine is one of the few foodstuffs that comes from all over the world. If a wine comes from a weird and wonderful country then perhaps it should look like it does.”

Even though the importance of country cues varies according to the wine, the market and the price point, they can help people to navigate the wine category. However, interpreting the overall mood and flavour of a country is not always easy. “We’re currently trying to differentiate Argentina and Chile through design and packaging. As designers, we have to be one step ahead and find a clear message to send to the consumer,” says Tully.

Kevin Shaw, MD and creative director at Stranger & Stranger, believes that country-specific cues are important in order to bring authenticity to the wine but he warns, “producers should look for a new angle and not just use critter brand ‘me-toos’”. Paul Schaafsma, regional director, UK & Europe, McGuigan Simeon Wines, agrees, saying: “Appropriately used cues that reflect a country’s provenance can be advantageous in attracting potential consumers; however when used as a cheap gimmick they can devalue and detract from the brand.” According to Schaafsma, Australia can be used as a case study for the use of the best and worst national cues. He adds: “Given that over 70% of all wine in the UK is sold in supermarkets and most of them segregate wine by country of origin I am not convinced that using cues that reflect a country’s provenance is the number one priority. Understanding and identifying your target consumers’ preferred cues when creating a label is more important than slapping a kangaroo or a koala bear on the bottle.”

Meanwhile, in the Old World, the traditional Spanish offering (usually from Rioja) is easily identifiable on supermarket shelves and is probably what older consumers are familiar with. But for younger shoppers, the New World route is easier to understand and is therefore more approachable. Anthony Collet, marketing manager, United Wineries, explains, “Depending on who companies are trying to target, the route to reaching their audience can vary from highlighting how modern the wine is (and therefore losing some of its national identity) in order to attract today’s consumers, to emphasising tradition and identity for older drinkers, who have known and enjoyed a certain style of wines for years.” Sanders, whose agency designed El Prado, a funky interpretation of what modern Spain has to offer, says: “Obviously, you have to create a comfort zone for the consumer but if you want to stand out from the crowd you have to poke your head above the parapet.”


The drinks manufacturing industry may needlessly be wasting materials and losing hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of profits due to the hidden problems of dust and static, according to John Penman of Microclean Technologies 

Medical equipment and drugs are packed under the most sterile conditions to prevent contamination from dust and static. But can the same be said of the drinks sector?

Obviously it is uneconomic for drinks manufacturers to invest in the type of clean rooms used in medical packaging or the electronics sectors. (These clean spaces are used to control dust particles and other debris that have an adverse effect on product quality.) However, drinks manufacturers need to be aware of the dangers of dust and other debris entering the packaging and bottling production line, to ensure a cleaner product at a critical point in the process.

There are two key issues to be addressed. The first is dust and other particles getting onto the packaging materials or bottles.

The second is static, which is created whenever materials such as film or paper move over rollers.

 Dust and static

The key sources of dust and debris are machines, people and the material being processed. For example, machine conveyors, even on bearings, create dust particles, and operators contaminate through skin flakes, hairs and clothing fibres.

Static is a big problem at the filling or bottling stages, as whenever materials such as PET bottles move and jostle on the conveyor, high static charges are generated. This is an obvious health and safety hazard but will also attract all the surrounding dust particles from any adjoining surface and from the air.

This not only contaminates the packaging, but if particles also get trapped in the bottle seal it will not be airtight. The end result could be that product can escape, but the more serious problem is a shorter shelf life of the goods inside or even worse, potential bacteria getting inside of the package. This can severely affect yields as such packaging will have to be destroyed.

Static can also cause the flowing liquid to be drawn to the sides and lip of the seal area of the bottles. Due to this residual liquid, the product would not seal properly, or worse, leak on the production line. In some cases, the static can push the cap off the bottle completely, resulting in an entirely wasted product.

Static also causes big problems at the bottle formation stages. On blow molding machines, as the bottle is being formed, static causes the hot plastic to become attracted to the metal upright part of the forming head. Dust particles can then also be attracted to the hot plastic, creating a cosmetic defect.

Furthermore, static and dust can affect the labelling of products. If the surface is not clean when screen printing on a bottle it can affect the print quality. Likewise static can mean that labels are not positioned properly as the static charge on a plastic bottle can effectively “push” the label in a different direction resulting in a misplaced label.

This affects the cosmetics of the product which then results in expensive wastage.

Solving the problem

So what solutions are available? To remove static, neutralisation bars and ionised blowers would be most suitable for drinks manufacturers as they deal with the problem at the critical areas and can also be easily integrated into the production line.

The BR4400 is an extended range static neutralisation bar that is ideal for most packaging and bottling applications. Often it is difficult to get a static bar close enough to the materials to have any major impact. The BR4400 allows for extended range efficiency and keeps the material free of airborne lint and debris.

Contact cleaning systems or vacuum systems can also be used to ensure that dust is effectively removed from the packaging or bottling materials before they enter the production line. A roller made of a special elastomer material lifts particles down to one micron in size and these are transferred to an adhesive roll for disposal.

The key benefits of installing an efficient cleaning or anti-static solution is a  production process free of static and contaminants, and substantially improved end of line yields, with some manufacturing companies experiencing as much as a 30 percent decrease in waste. These solutions can also reduce wear and tear on machinery and extend the lifespan of equipment. In fact, many companies have seen a return on investment in the equipment within a few weeks of installation.

Microclean Technologies, based in Bridge of Weir, Glasgow and its US partner Static Clean International specialise in contact cleaning and static neutralisation solutions for a wide range of industries including packaging, bottling, labelling, cosmetics, printing, pharmaceutical/medical and electronics.

© db May 2007

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