Craft Beer Buyers Strongly Influenced by Packaging

NEW YORK — Craft beer sales in the United States have grown more than 65 percent in the past five years to nearly $5.8 billion for the year ended Jan. 28, 2017, and with major growth comes major competition. Craft brands have to work harder than ever to get consumers' attention, and packaging is a key part of doing so, according to Nielsen Co.

Two-thirds of American craft beer buyers (66 percent) say that a beer's package/label is "very" or "extremely" important for getting them to notice it, Nielsen's Craft Beer Category Design Audit found. Additionally, 60 percent say that the package/label is "very" or "extremely" important in convincing them to give it a try and purchase it.

Overall, 71 percent of craft beer buyers say that they like to try brands that have bold and interesting packaging. Package and label design is relevant to all consumers, but design has a stronger influence on women than men (75 percent vs. 66 percent, respectively) when it comes to the craft beer category.

The Craft Beer Design Audit study tested 17 craft beer package designs, including nine that sell well on the East Coast and eight that sell well on the West Coast. Of the East Coast sellers, Big Kona Brewing's Big Wave Golden Ale and Deschutes Brewery's Black Butte Porter were the only brews viewed as distinct in their ability to stand out and establish brand personality. Of the West Coast sellers, Kona's Castaway IPA and Saint Archer's IPA ranked highest in terms of equity differentiation.

Among the West Coast beer packages, the study found that consumers engaged most with illustrations and logos, and less so with package copy. In terms of equity differentiation, the beers that were found to appear distinct did not feature hops imagery. Among the East Coast beers, consumers tended to notice and engage with unique brand logos and unusual package carrier graphics, while heritage and brewing process claims did not perform as well.

Package design is also a key consideration in growing sub-categories like cider, Nielsen found. There were three times as many new cider entrants in 2016 as there were in 2012, and cider competed with an average of 627 beer items on the average liquor store shelf. As a result, consumers who buy cider report than 72 percent of the time, they make a purchase decision after looking at all the options, instead of knowing it ahead of time.

For both beer and cider, standing out visually is important, as purchase decisions are more likely to be made at the shelf than overall fast-moving consumer goods purchases (70 percent vs. 58 percent).