The Spearhead Group brings packaging innovation to Bourbon country

This article was written by Maggie Kimbrel of American Whiskey Magazine

Oftentimes when you visit a craft distillery that has had a product on the market for a couple of years, you’ll see a progression in packaging from something that is easily lost on a shelf to something that stands out from the crowd. Invariably you’ll get similar stories about the progression: we worked really hard on that first bottle but then we went into a bar we knew had it and couldn’t find it on the back bar. Packaging is one area where newer distilleries often struggle, mainly because they don’t know where to turn and they end up using what is cheap and readily available in order to get their product to market faster. Poor packaging decisions don’t always hurt new brands, but they can, and a new branch of a packaging company aims to address that problem.

The Spearhead Group recently launched an innovation center in Louisville, Kentucky in order to be closer to the distilled spirits industry. At this innovation center, clients from distilleries of all sizes can come to learn about packaging options for everything from their mainstream products to holiday packages and more.

“As part of The Spearhead Group’s expertise in the spirits business, we lead clients through the whole development process of how brand and packaging work together through the end-use and engagement with consumers,” says Spearhead Group Innovation Advisor Lana Toler. “We are able to lead the packaging development as one contact across all of the packaging comments to ensure that the closure works with the bottle, the labels and adhesives work with the bottle, and the bottle works with the shippers. We have developed a thorough protocol to test the spirit and contact points with the packaging to ensure compatibility and shelf stability. As an example, the proof of the spirit changes the amount of headspace needed in the bottle to ensure that a cork wouldn’t pop out.”

The Spearhead Group takes the time to get to know the product in order to make the best recommendations for that product’s packaging. For smaller distilleries, this can mean less wasted time and energy for a sub-par product package. For larger distilleries it can mean a wider array of options for things like amending existing packaging to reflect a recent spirits competition win, building a special tasting kit for brand ambassadors, and even creating gift packs that will stand out from the crowd.

“One of the issues that many spirits companies may face is properly sizing their new bottle to fit a pour spout,” says The Spearhead Group’s Global Packaging R&D Advisor Ben Abernathy. “This may sound like an easy task until you take into consideration the number of different pour spout sizes on the market and how they are used at bars and restaurants. Often times, bartenders use pour spouts in many different size bottle necks. If a spout is used for even a short time in a small bottle neck, the spout will deform and may not properly fit in a normal size bottle. To combat this, we’ve worked closely with bartenders to better understand the plastic deformation to ensure we can design bottles that will fit all pour spouts, new or used, perfectly.”

“For startup distilleries, we do a deep dive into the category of spirit,” says Toler. “Where does the new brand fit?  Who are the competitors? Then we visit on and off-premise accounts, discuss what important assets will start for your brand and become icons for your brand and what the brand stands for, and discuss and determine how to use brand assets with the packaging. We have a long term discussion on where the brand could go to develop that packaging hierarchy within a spirit category, but we’re also mindful of whether new categories will be added in the future. We narrow down options for differentiating packaging for the client to pick and choose, either new designs or unique physical brand enhancements, to create differentiation, such as using the existing bottle structure and adding metal, leather or other embellishments to create packaging that represents the brand while differentiating it on the shelf.”

Photo Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl

“For legacy distilleries, we do a more specific brief for a more specific packaging project, such as creating a premium gifting box that includes one 750ml of bourbon and two custom-designed rocks glasses within a given cost range,” says Toler. “We present opportunities to bring new technology and “outside-in” innovation to brands on a regular basis, like when we look at sustainability and the minimizing of packaging from the health and beauty category. If a brand is established, we think about other unique ways to bring the liquid and the experience of drinking the liquid to the consumers, such as custom glassware to be used with a signature cocktail.”

There are some things you have seen that The Spearhead Group is responsible for, such as production of the various Crown Royal bags. But there are lots of things they do that aren’t often noticed by the general public, such as helping distilleries find more sustainable suppliers for things like paperboard boxes for special bottles. They do value-added products, such as those gift packs you see at holiday times with special branded glasses, and they can help startup distilleries distinguish their products through things like ceramic bottles and special closures.

“The first Innovation Center Flagship is located within Acuity in Louisville, Kentucky,” says Toler. “Acuity is one of the Pioneer Partners and offers thermoforming, co-packing, and logistics and shipping. Not only is Acuity local to work with the whiskey category partners, but having The Spearhead Group working directly at the facility gives the clients a more cohesive look at the flexibility and end to end processes that The Spearhead Group can provide.”

Whether a distillery is new or established, has a great package already or is struggling, there are various ways in which The Spearhead Group can help you make your packaging go from good to great, regular to holiday, or mid-level to premium.

“The Spearhead Group has decades of cumulative spirits experience from the direct team, the global advisory committee and the Pioneer Partners,” Toler says. “The various backgrounds complement each other and enable the group to provide insights to clients to minimize time to market, execute quality packaging and “wow” the customer’s experience with the brand.”

Where packaging designs come from isn’t something that is usually at the forefront of the end consumer’s mind, but seeing the process and understanding the thought and time that goes into it can be a fascinating experience.

Photo Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl

About Spearhead

With more than 45 years of collective experience designing and delivering memorable Physical Brand Enhancements that make a lasting impact, we understand the importance of a customer’s connection to a particular brand.

Companies choose The Spearhead Group because they know we are invested in all aspects of the process. We bring a unique and personable approach to each and every brand we represent and work towards ensuring the most rewarding outcome on PBE activities.