• 15th October 2018

Time to ditch the GTR bling?

Sustainability has quickly moved up the agenda of the global packaging industry in recent years, as consumer concern and government legislation on the issue has intensified, especially on the topical issue of waste plastics.

The sustainable packaging market will be worth $244bn by the end of 2018 and is set to be the number one challenge facing packaging companies by 2023, according to a report by packaging consultancy Smithers Pira. Yet in the image-conscious shop-window world of global travel-retail (GTR) drinks packaging, sustainability has taken a back seat to other concerns such as the perception of luxury, fine detailing, evoking craft values and provenance, telling a brand story and adding value.

Mark Tosey is the production editor at leading drinks packaging designer Lewis Moberly, whose past client list includes the likes of Johnnie Walker, Glenmorangie, Moët & Chandon and, most recently, Ardbeg. He says the GTR channel has yet to wean itself off from a reliance on luxury adornments and decorative additions.
The ease of recycling is complicated when the pack components are not easily separated, which tends to be when packs are adorned with extra embellishments, such as tags, badges and wax dips,” Tosey explains. “As duty-free packaging tends to be gift-orientated in a highly competitive environment, the decoration of the pack is a key feature of its design.
Perhaps an interesting disruptor in this busy market could be sustainability, where a pack is stripped back to its core component needs – a container and closure? Of course, recyclability is not the only factor in becoming more sustainable, but consumers are becoming more intuitive about unnecessary or over-packaging, so efforts to demonstrate the opposite could be a smart move for the right brand.”

Sustainable packaging is now a focal point, according to Toby Wilson, COO of MW Luxury Packaging, whose drinks clients have included Johnnie Walker, Bombay Sapphire, José Cuervo and Zacapa. “Premium and luxury packaging, for a very long time, managed to avoid the challenges presented to the more mainstream packaging markets, but there is huge focus on this now,” he observes. “This is not just something that can be adopted by one part of the supply chain; this is from ideation to disposal and every touch point in between. It requires a collaborative approach of total engagement between brand owners, design agencies and manufacturers to see this happens and still develop and produce beautiful and striking packaging. Correct use of materials, use of new production techniques and the use of alternative methods to present standout packaging is the focus.”

Neil Osment, managing director of NOA a UK-based research consultancy for the paper packaging industry, even notes a move towards over-packaging in the luxury drinks sector, a trend exacerbated, he believes, by ‘unboxing’ where people record the moment they unpack a product and upload the video to social media sites such as YouTube. However, he notes the weight of paper being used in cartons and packaging is typically falling, especially in Europe, not that consumers would notice from its appearance. “We are getting better performance from thinner paper,” Osment explains. He also reveals that demand for both corrugated and carton paper has been growing at 4% a year in Europe in the past two years, leading to price rises of about 25%.

Glass bottles remain standard for both spirits and wine in duty free and Lewis Moberly’s Tosey says this is unlikely to change soon. “There are several feasible alternative materials to glass for bottle (or rather ‘container’) manufacture,” he concedes. “PET is used extensively in the beer sector and more recently in the wine sector. Drinking occasion tends to be a significant factor for driving the use of alternative materials such as cartons for shared consumption. Some more unusual materials such as moulded pulp have been trialled, but with premium spirits the quality of bottle and print decoration/embellishments are still key factors at point of purchase. However, for travel retail, glass is still the number one material for bottles and it’s likely to remain this way for the foreseeable future.”

Moving beyond glass

Rowena Curlewis, CEO of design agency Denomination, takes a different view. “While glass bottles remain king in duty free, we believe it is time to experiment beyond this,” she says. “Glass is, by definition, both heavy and fragile, and therefore not the ideal travelling companion. We are currently exploring a solution that uses aluminium bottles for the duty-free market. The lightness and robustness of aluminium suits this retail environment, as well as encouraging reusability and recycling. The material is extremely versatile as it can be moulded into any shape, thus enabling brands to create a unique visual look and personality.”

Curlewis argues that the luxury packaging cues that have held sway in spirits packaging are now transferring to wine brands. Denomination has recently been working with Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) on GTR-exclusive brands such as Penfolds Cellar Reserve and Taylors Wakefield Reserve Parcels, as well as GTR-focused lines such as Taylors Wakefield The Visionary Imperial, Penfolds Fortified Collection and De Bortoli Noble One. “The investment in special limited editions such as Penfolds 50yo Rare Tawny Port, Taylors Wakefield The Visionary and Wolf Blass Estates of the Barossa has taken the lead from whisky brands such as Johnnie Walker and The Macallan,” argues Curlewis. “They have ultra-premium price points in the thousands, bespoke gifting, and in the case of Penfolds 50yo Rare Tawny, hand-blown, bespoke bottles. These brands all play to the factors that [research firm] Mintel found encourage consumers to pay more for alcoholic drinks as gifts – ‘premium brands, limited edition, customised bottle, unique flavours’ [Mintel, September 2016].”
Curlewis insists packaging for GTR is all about the detail. “For most wine consumers, the purchase is for a gift or a special occasion, she explains. “Textured paperstocks, foiled details, embossing and debossing all aid in giving consumers the premium or luxury cues that they require. Taylors Wakefield introduced The Visionary to the ultra-premium segment not only pursue additional growth opportunities, but with a view to the additional halo benefit to the rest of the brand. Seven of The Visionary 6L were produced primarily for the GTR market and sold alongside the 75cl size, AU$3,000 ($2,189) for 6L and AU$250 ($185) for 75cl. Thick, textured paper stocks with individually torn edges help communicate the handcrafted nature of the product and the brand has experienced significant success in the GTR market through both sales and brand building.”

Packaging key to GTR credentials

Curlewis is also keen to stress the important role packaging can play in highlighting the fact that a product is GTR exclusive. “Consumers are
also attracted to GTR-exclusive offerings,” she says. “They can purchase products that most consumers can’t; it gives them kudos as part of the club of international travellers. Clearly calling out a product as a GTR exclusive is key, and with Penfolds we did this by way of colour. With the entire Penfolds range consisting of white and pale grey, the Penfolds Cellar Reserve design was treated as a black-coloured range. The black immediately gave luxury cues and clearly differentiated this range from the other wines available in retail stores. Other brands, such as Johnnie Walker Explorers’ Club, clearly state this feature on their packaging.”
Similarly, French winemaker Gérard Bertrand has also been raising the bar for wine packaging in GTR, unveiling a collection of rare and exclusive fine wines at Le Clos, the Dubai-based fine wine and luxury spirits retailer, in July this year. The Legend Vintage Centenary Collection comprises 18 rare fortified wines from the south of France, dating back from 1875 to 1977, which have been sourced from various Roussillon wineries in the Pyrenees.
Priced at $100,000, The Centenary Box is a unique and rare luxury oak wood cabinet created by French artisanal firm Adam. The handmade cabinet was created with 18 concealed drawers, styled in the French royal furniture tradition. Each Centenary Box contains laser-engraved individual cases containing vintage wines from 1875, 1900, 1945 and 1969, and the Rivesaltes 1977, 1974 and 1955. The collection also contains two specially created Riedel glasses, placed in the lower case of the set, to provide collectors with an additional tasting experience.
Over half of purchases in GTR are now made by the key Millennial demographic so unsurprisingly, many current packaging trends in the sector are driven by this customer demographic. Take Scotch whisky packaging, for instance. It has tended to rely on traditional cues such as tartan patterns, misty mountains, copper hues, royal crests, casks and pipers to assure consumers of provenance and quality. Yet Hilary
Boys, strategic director at design agency Lewis Moberly, says that the packaging of many nonage- statement (NAS) single malts finding their
way into duty free are ignoring those cues to appeal to a “younger, different target audience”.
He cites The Macallan Question Collection, an NAS, GTR single malt range unveiled in Cannes last October. The collection comprises four variants with unusual, conceptual names – Quest, Lumina, Terra and Enigma. The packaging features photography of oak tree leaves, bark,
tree stump rings and the sky. “The professed aim is to celebrate the distillery’s ‘passionate and tireless quest for oak’,” Boys explains.
Another brand with good shelf standout which has caught Boys’ eye is Hendrick’s gin, which saw its duty-free sales grow by 12% last year. “Millennials are often attracted to brands that have an engaging personality rather than a serious heritage, and Hendrick’s continues to
entertain with its Cucumber Day displays and its GTR giftpacks with quirky tea cups,” he says. “This year localised ‘Curiositariums’ [in-store, cucumber-themed displays] were created for specific airports, such as ‘The Dam Cucumber’ (Specimen No.7) for Amsterdam
Schiphol, and ‘The Tubular Cucumber’ (Specimen No.9) for Melbourne and Sydney.”
Gin remains the in-favour category among Millennials and has been one of the fastestgrowing subcategories in the channel in recent years. According to MW Luxury’s Wilson, gin packaging has now so diverse it has become hard to determine category, the sector’s traditional green bottles mostly consigned to yesteryear. “You can see gin being packaged in anything from tin bottles to ceramic bottles to traditional glass bottles of all colours,” he says.
The increasing premiumisation ongoing in the gin sector was clearly reflected in the new bottle for Quintessential Brands-owned Berkeley
Square London Dry gin, which initially launched exclusively with World Duty Free in April this year, priced at £75 ($97), before a wider roll-out.
The new decanter-style bottle design is inspired by London’s upmarket Mayfair district and features a name plaque, a sculpted lion’s head door knocker and a reeded pattern on the sides of the bottle, evoking the distinctive railings seen in that part of West London.

Millennials drive trends

Millennials tend to be more brand loyal than other customer groups, but research indicates they expect more personal interaction with businesses and brands than previous generations. A one-design-fits-all-markets approach to GTR drinks packaging is increasingly being questioned and regional and locationspecific bottles are becoming more apparent. In June, German herbal liqueur brand Jägermeister
released eight city-themed bottles, featuring famous landmarks and tourist attractions from the respective destinations, exclusively into GTR.
By creating this range, we can reflect a playful and contemporary image, while at the same time reinforcing the premium credentials of Jägermeister,” says Mast-Jägermeister SEdirector of GTR Dietmar Franke. 
The range focuses on eight key international cities – Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Munich, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Oslo and Vienna. Each bottle depicts images of famous sites printed directly on to it and in a twist, there is a discreet hidden reference to local experiences, for example the music scene in Berlin and the lively nightlife in
Hamburg. The city range will extend to include Istanbul, Moscow, Sydney and Auckland from autumn 2018. We are also launching one
country edition highlighting Norway, a key market for Jägermeister, which will be available in all Norwegian airports from August onwards.”
In-store bottle engraving and the printing of personalised messages on labels are other ways the GTR sector is personalising packaging for
travellers. Dubai airport fine wine and spirits retailer Le Clos is one of the many operators to now offer this service. It takes just 10 minutes
in-store or can be ordered ahead of time online and collected on arrival at the airport.

Personalisation has seen a significant increase in recent years, but the practicalities of this in-store can be limiting,” argues MW Luxury’s
Wilson.True personalisation frequently consists of a purchase with the finished article delivered to the consumer at a later date. Techniques such as engraving and direct printing or badging cannot be easily done, but with the significant advances in digital printing, this is a real opportunity. However, with more accessibility comes a decrease in aspirational cues, therefore eroding the uniqueness of the offering.”
NOA’s Osment agrees that digital printing creates interesting opportunities for brands and their GTR partners. He says there is potential for travellers to pre-order personalised messages and inscriptions on products while browsing GTR websites, which can then be collected at the airport. The opportunity to personalise packaging
for travellers (potentially at a price premium) is much broader than done at point of sale, he argues. “Digital print is not about lower cost,” he warns, however. “Everybody wants to sell digital printing at a premium. It’s about short runs and being done quickly. There’s no artwork. Some of the costs are removed, such as the origination cost of the printing plate. However, the ink heads and the ink itself are very expensive compared with other materials.

Innovation in materials and finishes

Alongside digital printing, Lewis Moberly’s Tosey points out that interesting new natural materials and finishes are now being offered by
paper suppliers. “Previously, these were more niche products and were often difficult to use in mass production, but the innovation of new
materials and their application on bottling lines means there are more materials available. For example, paper-thin wood grain and renewable materials made from algae, seaweed, food chain by products such as coffee, and alternative sources such as cotton and bamboo.”
Despite this progress, premiumisation, the communication of craft credentials, gifting appeal and an emphasis on place, provenance
and personalisation remain the key drivers of GTR drinks packaging. Light weighting of glass bottles and thinner outer cartons make packaging slightly more sustainable, but green issues are not top of the agenda for this sector of the drinks business just yet.