Beerhive Blog: Fighting for shelf space and the great rebrand

Strong, clear branding is more important than ever for beers to stand out on the shelf.
MICHAEL DONALDSON

Strong, clear branding is more important than ever for beers to stand out on the shelf.

OPINION: 

Heading to the bottle store to pick up a beer or two is now a far more complicated procedure.

Supermarkets present a veritable assault on the senses as dozens, sometimes hundreds, of beers line the shelves.

With breweries popping up in every town, space is becoming limited.

Now, I like to think I know quite a bit about beer. But sometimes I become overwhelmed and simply go for something that, well, looks pretty.

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During the past year or so we've seen the first of what will be many rebranding exercises from small breweries as they try to stand out from the crowd to consumers.

With many more redesigns likely to come, I decided to speak to a few businesses about the change and how good marketing and design is as at least as important as what's inside the bottle.

MARTIN TOWNSHEND - TOWNSHEND BREWING

Founded in 2011, one of the country's most well-respected breweries to this day remains basically a one-man band.

On his 1100l brewery situated at his property in Upper Moutere, Nelson, Martin crafts quality bottle-conditioned brews that saw him crowned Champion Brewer in 2014.

That award came with a huge increase in orders and Martin soon saw the need to change up his packaging that hadn't really changed since the brewery started.

The demand also meant Martin took a leap of faith and started brewing some beer at Tuatara north of Wellington.

Unfortunately, that didn't work out for him.

But the earlier rebrand has, Martin says.

Townshend's old label (left) was replaced with a new version to stand out on shelves.
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Townshend's old label (left) was replaced with a new version to stand out on shelves.

"It was really really apparent we were getting missed on the supermarket shelves because we didn't have the right look and...the likes of certain breweries like Garage Project and Panhead were so good from a marketing perspective we really needed to do something. Even though what is in the bottle is great people need to see it, and recognise.

"Being a one-man operation I was doing absolutely everything on my own from label design to brewing to getting out and meet the public and it was fairly obvious from the outset I didn't really have the skills for that."

Martin contracted Christchurch-based design studio Deflux to refresh the brand and gave them a wide brief.

He admits the end result wasn't exactly what he wanted but his 100 per cent faith in Deflux paid off and there was a clear rise in sales once the new labels and packaging were introduced.

"Globally the craft beer market is doing really really well for itself so there are a lot of avenues opening up for us but if we're going to go down those avenues we need to make sure the look of the product is as good as what's in that product."

SIMON COURTNEY - DEFLUX

As noted earlier, Christchurch-based Deflux has designed labels for breweries including 8 Wired, Liberty, Yeastie Boys and Harringtons.

It helps director Simon Courtney is a beer fan himself, often taking his business meetings to nearby Pomeroy's.

He describes what he calls the "Garage Project effect", with the Wellington brewery having upped the game for marketing and labels.

With the quality of beer also increasing it was no longer enough to simply have good product inside the bottle.

Not wanting to name names, there were definitely some beers that could do a lot better at presenting themselves.

Deflux Design is behind the look of many popular New Zealand beers including Townshend's, 8 Wired and Liberty.
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Deflux Design is behind the look of many popular New Zealand beers including Townshend's, 8 Wired and Liberty.

"For a good number of years the thing was pushing the beer and making sure the beer was great. But now it's like everyone's beer is good... so now it's like how do we step it up and around all these other guys that are in the market."

While new businesses needed to ensure their design was up to scratch, for many of the established brands a refresh has been a long time coming.

"A lot of these guys started in 2004/2005 and have been carrying on their brand and look for a good seven to 10 years. It may feel like all of a sudden they need to change but it's been a while in the wings.

"We did Harrington's a couple of years ago. If you look at their old labels comparative to their new stuff it's a world away. Their old stuff was quite traditional and that cliche oval thing for a beer. It was a bit of a block for them getting into that mass distribution scale and getting supermarkets and big distributors to carry them."

So what makes a good beer label then? It has to relate to the company itself, Courtney says.

"I think the brewer begins the journey. You've got to start thinking about who the brewer is, who the brewery is and what they're trying to do.

"There's no point in slapping some gorgeous label on top of something that just doesn't make sense underneath it all. If I was an average Joe picking up that beer because the label looked amazing, tasted it once and it didn't correlate I'm never going to buy it again."

DAVID GAUGHAN - EAGLE BREWING

For another Christchurch-based company, confusion played a part in refreshing their brand.

David Gaughan started Golden Eagle brewing in 2010.

The bottles featuring, yes, a large golden eagle became well-known in the city.

But with competition increasing Gaughan realised the need to stand out on the shelf.

Taking into account feedback, the new design is a slick, paired back label that dropped the word golden.

Eagle Brewing dropped the word Golden from their name in favour of a slicker image.
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Eagle Brewing dropped the word Golden from their name in favour of a slicker image.

This was largely because it was confusing for customers, Gaughan says.

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With several other breweries using the word in their name it was getting crowded and many people believed they were from the US.

There was also some more humorous problems, such as some drinkers expecting every beer to be, ummmm, golden.

"Some people bought a stout and took it back and said why isn't it golden...that happened at Goldings Free Dive (in Wellington)."

Excel Digital printed the labels, well enough to win a gold medal at the Pride in Print awards.

But how has it gone for the company?

"You do it and you think is it going to help sales because at the end of the day we're in business... did [the rebrand] help sales? It has a bit but probably not as much as I thought."

There has been great feedback from fans though and it was important to Gaughan that he paid homage to those that have stuck with him since the beginning.

If you look closely at some of the new labels, they feature gold embossing in a cheeky nod to the original name.

DAVE PEARCE - MAC'S

Perhaps New Zealand's first "craft" beer, Mac's holds a special place in New Zealand brewing history.

After being purchased by Lion, it has become a common mid-range option for many drinkers.

Recently the brand went through a huge refresh, with the introduction of new brews and a complete redesign.

Mac's, owned by Lion, has had a major refresh from the old (left) to the new (right).
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Mac's, owned by Lion, has had a major refresh from the old (left) to the new (right).

The man behind that was Dave Pearce, innovation and insights director at the country's biggest brewer.

"Basically, we didn't feel like Mac's was living up to its potential and in a very exciting and dynamic craft beer market Mac's was looking and feeling a bit tired and stale."

Some beers were retired and new ones launched, including the Three Wolves Pale Ale, Green Beret IPA and the wonderfully named low-alcohol option Mid Vicious.

Pearce also thought there was a good opportunity for Mac's to play more of a gateway role in the modern beer market, helping bring people into the world of craft beer and introducing a "flavour scale" on the packaging and serving tips such as temperature and glassware.

A lot of market research was done, a lot of drinkers surveyed to figure out what was and wasn't working.

Auckland design company Dow Design and research agency FiftyFive5 played a big role.

Non-negotiables? Keeping the rip-top cap and ribbed bottles, of course.

It turned out better than everyone hoped, according to Pearce, with volume up 30 per cent compared to 18 months ago and packaged sales up 40 per cent.

That equates to about two million litres extra Mac's a year than before the rebrand and the brand overtaking Monteith's to be the biggest "craft beer" in New Zealand for the first time.

More new beers will be rolled out starting with a raspberry wheat beer (you stole that from us Lion) plus a non-alcoholic range to keep things moving.

"Our customers are really happy with how Mac's is driving their sales, and everyone in our business is more excited and positive about Mac's than I've ever seen.

"It's been incredibly successful - we were very optimistic about what the reboot could do, but the results have been better than we hoped."

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 - Stuff

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