That’s great!…Unfortunately that’s not enough. How are you going to deliver that to your customer? And how will you stand out in a market full of great (and perhaps not so great) beer? In this article, we’d like to share our journey towards finding what we believe is the right product to market.
On a filling day at the brewery, we currently fill both 20L kegs and 0.33L bottles. We are a craft beer brand, delivering our brews through our own pubs. The focus of the brand is on creating a community of GOATs and bringing people together through our (predominantly tapped) beer. However, small-size packaging also belongs to a beer brand and will be an increasingly important part of our plans to bring more beer to more GOATs in the future.
Our objective here is to make the product as premium/GOAT as possible - A craft product is a premium product after all - and achieve that most economically. The process towards that goal is what we will explore with you throughout this article, breaking it down by the physical components of the beer packaging and the various iterations (and associated challenges) which you will have seen from us so far.
The look and feel of the product are often directly associated with beer quality before it’s even been tasted. It’s also the customer’s first impression of a product. Our objective from the start was therefore to create something unique, characteristic to us and attractive to the consumer. These principles have guided and continue to inform our decision making when it comes to the final product.
Let’s start with the obvious. Every beer has one. Just design something nice, make sure it fits on the bottle and away you go. That should be easy, right? Well…Do you know what needs to be on the label?
We can start by making it a little less complicated for you and showing our current Helles label:
How did we get to this? Initially some intense research (read: googling) of the regulations in Germany, the UK and the Netherlands gave a good basis as to the guidelines and requirements for how and what needs to be shown.
Let’s start with the ‘How’, or specifically the text size: any font, but It needs to be readable (Shock!). But that degree of readability happens to be based on the absolutely minimum size of the lower case 'x'. Specific, but we can work with that. Ok, nice. Text format: Check.
Now that we’ve figured that out, let’s look at ‘What’ information we must include on the label:
This label is pretty full already! But besides this, there’s still a bunch of information we also want to include, to make it a bit more fun for both well-trained and inexperienced beer drinkers - and certainly also for our designer:
Right, so that’s a lot. And then of course there’s the not-so-insignificant challenge of keeping the label looking clean and easy on the eye. Welcome to the wonderworld of design. A grown-up's puzzle! And a difficult puzzle which has been taken apart and put back together several times and ways through long nights in front of a computer screen.
After a good amount of playing around with layouts, sizes and spacings, we’ve got our label. Lovely stuff GOATs. This is getting somewhere! On to the next challenge…
There’s a bunch of pros and cons to both formats. And depending on where in the world you’re from, cans can come with a very different image or perception. What’s the perception of cans in Germany? Many call it ‚Obdachlosenbier’ – beer for the homeless people.
It is, however, increasingly the chosen package for craft beer. It’s great for the beer; protecting against light strike and oxygen-tight; cooling is easier; it’s more practical in transport, storage and use; cans are much less likely to break, and there is little difference in the environmental impact of both. Most people in Germany, however, still opt for bottled beer in the end. And that, including the fact that there’s a higher deposit on cans (€0.25 vs €0.08), is why we decided to start on bottled beer for our small-sized packaging. But we still dream of and plan for The Baby Goat in cans! Collectively there’s just a bit of work for beer brands to do on perception here.
Right, we’ve got a label, we’ve decided it’s bottles (for now)….
There are a lot of different beer bottles on the market. As with label the design, one might initially think that it’s a case of choosing the most appealing and/or economically viable. It turns out again that there is much more to that decision, and that’s before you’ve figured out which supplier can get you the bottles.
Our first few batches of beer were filled on the Dutch longneck. Our brewery is in Holland, and it was logical to use the bottle the brewery was using as the filling line was optimised for it. It looked different, was unique to us and it was efficient. We thought that was ok. Our First mistake. There was no deposit on these bottles, which is compulsory in Germany. Any bottled beer product needs to conform with the Mehrwegpfand system – a huge and amazing system in which beer bottles are recycled by consumers and re-used by breweries, with a cycling deposit fee. And this bottle didn’t conform. It wasn’t accepted at any Pfand return sites. Sorry about that! Time to chuck a bunch of glass in the recycling bins and quickly move to another bottle.
Bring in the APO Vichy. Sounds like a term regularly used at Elon Musk’s SpaceX company. But no, it’s a beer bottle. We chose it as it differed from the standard and widely recognised German longneck and so gave us some point of differentiation. And yes! We’d heard and read that this was used and accepted in Germany, it had a deposit on it: In Germany €0.08, Netherlands €0.10, and eligible for glass recycling in the UK. A great find and job done. A bottle that would work in all our target markets. But then, after filling a couple of batches on this APO Vichy we found that the German Mehrwegpfand system didn’t always take these bottles. How was this possible? Was it the barcode, the label, our GOATNESS?! Something wasn’t right and we couldn’t immediately figure it out. That’s until we recognised that there are two deposit versions of the Vichy. The APO Vichy and a regular Vichy. Our second mistake. Thankfully at this stage, we were able to offer a Pfand return system at our own pub. But once more, some glass in recycling bins. Sorry again!
We sourced the right bottles – the regular Vichy (minus the APO bit) – through our malting company, The Swaen, and we got ready to go again! The right bottle, finally our beer ready for distribution into the wider German market…we arrived at the brewery for our first planned fill day to find that we had been sent the German Longneck, the wrong bottle. Bottling plans put on ice again, we opted to fill the batch completely on kegs rather than compromise on our intended product and drove quickly back to Hamburg to order again.
The good news is that we now think we’ve cracked it. Challenges overcome (for now) and we’ve filled our first two batches on the new Vichy. Try it out yourself, you’ll get your 8 cents back at all the German supermarkets. You’re welcome.
Did you know…the use of a neck label historically serves the purpose of ‘masking’ the fill line consistency. In the largest breweries this is tightly controlled and very consistent. On our scale there can be tiny variations in the fill height – we’re talking 1-2ml of beer (for those with an eye for detail you can see this in the Version 3 bottle above), but that’s still important if we’re selling a 0.33L product. We had tested our own version successfully with bottle Version 1 (the Dutch Longneck). We persisted with it on our move to bottle Version 2 (the APO Vichy) where it was still ok, but not perfect. And then on moving to bottle Version 3 (the Vichy without the APO) it was a nightmare. We had to make another quick decision and opted to get naked and go without the ‘scarf’. This may actually be the best option. It gives the bottle a cleaner look, shows a lovely bit of neck and saves a bit of paper! It did, however, mean another label redesign as we had used the neck label to showcase our ‘The Baby Goat’ logo. Without the neck label this had to be planned into the main label…time to pull out that laptop again.
So, GOATs, please don’t be mad when there’s a slight difference in fill height. We do our best and you’re just as likely to get one filled slightly too high as you are too low. It’s the same beer. And within a group, a quick Rock/Paper/Scissor should do the job nicely!
Last one. Applying the ‘belly’ label of the beer. We’ve got our new label, how do we physically fix our freshly designed (very proud CEO speaking here) label on to our new bottle?
We’d have to take a couple of steps back here to answer this. Our beers are directly filled from the tank into the bottles. At the time of filling, the beer has a temperature of -1.5°C, which helps minimise foaming when filling the beer. This means, however, that the beer bottle will be wet from condensation after filling. And exactly this, the wet bottles, gives brewers a headache.
We have always used two belly label pieces (a front and back). A bottle label should fit exactly and be flawless while using the product. That’s a given. But then here comes that lovely German word again: the Mehrwegpfand system dictates that the label also then needs to be easily detachable for re-use of the bottles. Initially, that’s why we decided to use wet-glue paper labels. This was, again, a simple fix as this was the approach recommended and implemented with the in-line labelling machine in our brewery. But, with condensation on the bottles, we found ourselves having to manually adjust many of the labels coming off the line (with 2000 bottles that’s time-consuming!!!) and wet wet-glue paper labels & transport in cardboard boxes from our brewery (NL) to Hamburg (DE) didn’t turn out to be a match made in heaven. On arrival in Hamburg, we often found labels moved/skewed, ripped, ragged and torn, stuck to each other, stuck to the bottom of the box, or some bottles just completely without labels. Our first fix here was to use plastic beer crates in transit rather than card boxes – which already made a huge difference. But the labels still weren’t perfect. And that annoyed us. A lot. Remember, a craft product is a premium product.
After much consideration, we saw two possible solutions to get to that perfect product:
We decided to go for option 2. A quick email to a Mehrweg-dude and calls with a lot of label suppliers taught us that it is essential that the label stickers come off without any problems during the Mehrweg cleaning process – which is a glorified warm bath - and that the label paper is “Nassfest” / "Water-strengthened", i.e. that it doesn’t dissolve in the cleaning machine. To those requirements, we added our own, third point. It had to look and feel GOAT.
Through some Chinese colleagues met via Alibaba we’ve found a solid labelling machine – with a date stamp that allows us to order labels in bigger quantities. And we hope to be able to do this bottle stickering in-line on a filling day. Just before filling, so that we don’t lose too much time with this extra handling.
Crikey that was long. Well done for sticking with it until the end. Of course there’s even more that goes into all of this…a personalised bottle cap, the specific material for the label paper, the colours and the coatings, the price of all elements and the logistics of getting it to the brewery ready to fill, and then stacking and storing it, keeping track of the stock, getting it registered, priced and online / in-store(s) / in fridges for you GOATs to enjoy. But we can tell you more about that over a beer or two…
So the long story short - A new version of our small-size packaged GOAT beer will be available soon. On the Vichy bottle, without a neck label, but with one long sexy sticker label! And the title here is a bit misleading. The 'final' product is only really the 'next' iteration of the product. There will be more labels, more designs, new bottles, new challenges. All in pursuit of the perfect beer.
We can't wait to get there.