The Packaging of Craft Beer, Part II: Retailing

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Last issue, we discussed how breweries approach their package design. In Part II, we find the beer on shelves. But where? In the cooler or on the warm floor? How does a package influence what a retailer will stock?


“Every brewery wants you to put all their beer in the cooler,” says Todd Taylor. “It just can’t happen.” He manages seven locations for MGM Wine & Spirits. Even with massive cooler space—upwards of 40 doors in some stores—he has to scrutinize planograms like a battlefield general.

“We do an initial cooler set, everything looks great, and we pat ourselves on the back,” he says. “But it degrades over time. It’s good for about six or nine months. New things come along, and it’s important to get them cold for consumers to try new things.”

For retailers, organizing a cooler is a never-ending struggle between what’s new and what sells. And it’s in that tug-of-war that a brewery can do itself a huge favor with good branding. Most retailers will attempt to stock an interesting new six-pack in their cooler initially. Whether it stays there is a matter of sales.

We asked retailers how much faster the same package would sell at eye-level in a cooler, as opposed to a prime spot on the sales floor. The answers ranged from five or ten times faster, up to “like a million times faster.” It’s also an extraordinary expense to power a large cooler. So SKUs with slow turnover won’t be tolerated for long.

Successful beer packaging, therefore, should begin with the view from the cooler. It will consider the inch-tall lip on the bottom of the shelf. It worries about package dimensions in an environment where millimeters quickly add up to dollars. Wider bottles or taller longnecks can easily lead to spatial headaches.

Brewers should also pay special attention to the short side of their package. “We don’t necessarily look at the broad face,” says Taylor. “In a cooler, you have five slots across a 30-inch door, and it’s all end-facing six-packs. I would think that should be the most important thing to a brewery because that’s what the consumer will see.”

Even though many consumers still make purchase decisions on aesthetics, retailers ultimately don’t care what a package looks like. If a beer came in a blank cardboard box, but it turned over a couple cases a day, it would be stocked in every cooler in America until the end of time.

“We don’t hold up two packages and decide which looks better, we’d rather get both in the cooler,” says Jeffrey Abbott, VP of Beverage Display Company, a marketing partner with MGM. “We look at what customers buy, what the style is, what the trends are. In my time as a beer buyer I have never looked at a package and thought this needs to go eye-level mid-center. Rebranding can help drive sales to the consumer, but it doesn’t necessarily affect where we place it.”

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John Garland About John Garland

John Garland is the Senior Editor at the Growler Magazine. Find him on twitter (@johnpgarland) or in real life at various bar patios in South Minneapolis.