The big alcoholic beverage brands appear to regard the 18-30 year old market as infinitely more attractive than that provided by the 50 plus sector and the rapid growth of flavoured alcoholic beverages and premium packaged spirits goes some way to proving the point. Rodney Abbott reports

Mature drinkers – the so-called third generation – may fail to be impressed by brightly coloured sleeves and marketing speak, but they do represent a fast growing market with a thirst of its very own.

With ever shifting demographic and social trends, the role and nature of glass beverage packaging has to change and, looking at current marketing attitudes, it is interesting to see that some suppliers are making fresh attempts to court the older consumer independently of the big brands.

Market researcher Mintel projects the 55-64 age-group increasing by 7% from 1998 to 2007. Datamonitor also highlights that the over 55 age group controls 80% of the UK’s wealth and accounts for 40% of spending. Surely, it is time to think about packaging and solutions for products that will satisfy their requirements?

They know what they like and are not ashamed in making their own decisions and choices. They are inclined to enjoy beer or wine at home, but do not consume large quantities. So packaging must reflect these more premium considerations and perhaps even look at some retro ideas that remind this audience of its youth?

What is refreshing is that even drinks manufacturers are at last recognising that this is an increasingly affluent sector of the market for them to target.

Among United Glass’ key alcoholic drinks customers, increasing attention is being paid to the segmentation of brands to distinct audiences. “This can be achieved through product variation, such as the creation of flavoured alcoholic drinks to extend the reach of older product groups like gin and vodka to a younger audience. Alternatively, it can be achieved through packaging,” says new UG product development manager Richard Cutler.

“The main responsibility of packaging suppliers is to provide high quality, attractive and functional containers to fit the product brief designed by the customer. It is not in the remit of UG or any other supplier to dictate brand strategy to customers.

“Glass has long been recognised by the older target group for its inherent values of purity, quality, recyclability and strength. After all, people over 50 grew up with glass packaging as the primary container for food, drinks and medicines in a way that the younger generation has not. Therefore, the glass industry has seen a pre-diposition towards the material in this age group whenever research has been carried out.”

Cutler obviously holds strong conventional views and they don’t end there. “The fixation with younger drinkers has been rather overplayed in the media and in public perception of brand development,” he says. “The activities of the glass industry in supporting its customers show that the qualities of glass are still popular with all age groups and that the customers themselves recognise that brand developments need to be undertaken continually to appeal to drinkers whatever their age profile.”

He does concede, however, that there are signs that drinks manufacturers are indeed looking to develop new ways of targeting more mature consumers through glass packaged products.

Well, he doesn’t have to look too far. According to intensive market research at Rockware by marketing manager Sharon Crayton, it is becoming more and more fashionable to drink at home, and this is applying increasingly to those in the 50 plus category and female drinkers. The trend towards more home entertainment is also having an effect on food choices where indulgence is seen as a key factor.

As the take home share grows in the beer and lager sector, there is ample scope for more innovation or experimentation.

Major trade players are predicting that about 50% of alcoholic beverage consumption will be in the home within the next three to four years, compared with 30% 10 years ago. This trend is driving considerable growth in the packaged lager sector.

“The rise in home consumption has created a demand for more choice and variety of sizes, and there is a definite trend towards premium bottle design. We have anecdotal evidence from brewers that the short neck 250ml Bidon bottle that was popular five years ago is regarded as inappropriate for social occasions,” says Crayton.

Stella innovation

An example of a new size and shape to represent modern drinking trends is the innovative 284ml bottle that Rockware produced for Interbrew UK’s new Stella Artois “La Demi Artois”, which offers consumers an unusual half pint format. The design brief was to maintain the authenticity and heritage of the Stella Artois brand while creating a premium offering in a 284ml bottle.

“In our research consumers demonstrated a lot of adaptive behaviour in opening, decanting, stacking, relabelling and even stock rotation,” adds Crayton. This indicator of unmet needs in terms of size and functionality is stimulating some development work on individual portion sizes, better grip, pour and opening features.

UG’s Richard Cutler notes that “at a recent conference, staged by the magazine Marketing Week, a Tesco spokesman outlined what consumers are looking for in store. He concluded that they want things that are easy to open, easy to find, easy to use, resealable, and with clear and simple instructions. Not rocket science!

“Two specific market sectors are commanding considerable attention at present: the female and 50 plus. There has been much talk in the trade about the feminisation of alcohol having a big impact on alcohol in the past 10-15 years. While wine is still the preferred product, there is evidence premium packaged lager is weaning back some of those migrating FAB and PPS consumers.

“We can certainly make the lager drinking experience more feminine by looking at more curvaceous designs in the straight-sided long necked beer bottle, but we should also be looking at smaller bottle sizes as well, such as the 200ml serving representing one alcoholic unit.”

Cutler continued: “Today’s 50+ consumer does not consider him or herself to be old. Therefore, we have participated in a great deal of development and repackaging activity in the whisky and ales sectors designed to refresh brands that traditionally have appealed to this age group.”

Two examples of this, he says, have been the complete overhaul of Adnams premium packaged ales in a bullet-shaped bottle which has seen sales soar and the creation of a striking, new 800ml glass bottle for Marston’s Pedigree ale. “Both these designs have injected new life into traditional ale brands no matter what the age profile of the consumer”, says Cutler. “Special promotional products and packs help too. Marston’s Fever Pitch English beer, created for Euro 2004, appealed to the ale drinker who wanted to participate in the tournament and the fun, but did not want the highly carbonated lager beers seemingly favoured by younger drinkers.”

Brand owners are also creating families of packaging to enable them to present the same product in a variety of ways that appeal to different sectors. Kronenbourg 1664 is a good example of this – it offers a 250ml multipack for family occasions like barbeques, 300ml bottles for social drinking and a 660ml and 750ml bottle for savouring over a relaxing meal.

In the whisky market such size differentiation has long been the case – from miniatures through half bottles to traditional 70cl and 1-litre sizes, to 1.5 and 1.75-litre for pubs.

Over the past couple of decades, UK wine consumption has risen dramatically. This has seen the development of a sizeable UK wine filling industry and, working with bottle merchants, A E Chapman, UG has recently introduced a new standard wine bottle. It has a screw cap to capture the momentum toward this style of container, which provides for much greater ease of opening and resealing and reduced wastage from corking.