Liquid Thinking

Gen Z don’t want their booze to look like booze

28th June 2023

It’s a bold statement, but across a number of recent launches, we’re seeing brands deliberately distance themselves in their packaging from the world of alcohol. Instead, they’re taking their cues from lifestyle packaging and functional drinks, with their vibrant colours and health halo. Or else, they’re throwing out the rule book completely. 

Want a whisky that doesn’t look like a whisky? How about a beer that doesn’t look like a beer? Or even, a non-alc beer that doesn’t look like a beer? Considering that last one’s identity is entirely defined by the thing that it’s mimicking, that would seem a risky move. And yet these are some of the branding decisions we’re increasingly seeing being made. Next up in alcohol packaging design….not looking like you’re an alcoholic product. 

Notably, the US and Canada are stealing a march on this. Let’s look at the evidence. First up, Weirdo Whiskey. This US launch prides itself on not looking anything like a whisky usually looks. According to the brand, its tie dye, cosmic, and slightly psychedelic label design is intended to mark: “A new paradigm shift in the spirits space, Weirdo was born to service the odd ones, the ones that need celebration”. Intended to transcend traditional whisky cues, its design is a pointed call out to those that usually feel excluded by the category. That it is also flavoured with pomegranate is also intended to bring in those that usually pass by the whisky shelf. 

We need to give an honourable mention to another new brand, Turntable here. With images of fruit, palms, and the use of bright red, yellow, and orange, its new line of blended Scotch actually resembles a rum much more than a whisky. But then the brand does market itself with the line “blended to stand out”. And it does. 

A beer by any other name… 

Next up, we’re moving to the world of beer. Non-alcoholic brand Partake has just undergone a rebrand. The Canadian brews has ditched the motifs of its old design, which placed it firmly in the beer world. Its colour coded cans, with black and white images of raised hands at a concert, and font that puts the beer type, such as IPA, front and centre, is purposefully rooted it in modern craft beer. So its new pack design is a bold departure. 

Resembling much more a hard seltzer, a kombucha, or another trend-driven wellness drink, Partake has entirely ditched anything that visually links it to beer. The new pastel packs but the brand name front and centre, reducing the beer varietal to a small mention up top. According to a press release to mark the relaunch, “the new packaging design that demonstrates a visual storytelling appealing to today's multi-faceted, modern drinker who partakes in it all”. Rooting it in the wellness and lifestyle worlds, the brand is keen to visually identify itself as low calorie, and a key part of active lifestyles. In fact it claims its beers are the lowest calorie non-alcoholic craft beer on the market, at under 30 calories per can. Its pastel hues, it’s true, will now look much more at home thrown in a gym bag for a post-workout treat, than a can bearing images of a sweaty crowd raving at a concert. 

Break glass in an emergency

Then, there comes a curious new, duo. Have you ever seen a winebox that looks like this? Looking more like an emergency first aid kit or a pack of batteries than a box of rosé, this duo from House Wine and ionized alkaline water brand, Essentia has practicality at its heart. Gone are the floaty angels, pastels, and images of blossom so commonly associated with rosé, replaced by something that looks like it should say ‘break glass in case of emergency’. Of course, this is no ordinary wine box, it’s a wine and water duo, for balanced summer refreshment. But it’s interesting that House Wine’s blush branding has been entirely replaced by the functional brutality of Essentia’s “9.5 pH or higher ionized alkaline water” brand world. 

Why be so distant?

So why are brands distancing themselves from booze, and taking on the cues of non-alc categories? In the case of Weirdo, this seems more of an attempt to distance the product from a category that its target consumer has either felt is inaccessible to them at best, or unwelcoming at worst. These packaging decisions are rooted in a sense of rejecting that to which its target consumers feel they don’t belong, and welcoming them in with something that feels more comfortable and recognisable. 

There’s also a sense of rebellion. No-one wants to drink what their parents drank. Brands like Turntable and Weirdo visually don’t belong to those dusty bottles Gen Z may or may not have taken a few sneaky sips from and topped back up with water, before a night out. Shhh.

Aspirational lifestyles

However, as brands like Weirdo, Partake and the Essentia and House Wine collab show, that to really speak the visual language of Gen Z, and the younger cohort of Millennials, rooting brands in a lifestyle-driven space is key. What is aspirational to Gen Z is not what has driven many previous generations. There’s anomalies, sure. But it’s wellness, not wealth that universally appeals. To best appeal to them, brands need not concern themselves with looking overly premium, they need to focus on belonging to the wellness, lifestyle-led world these consumers want to belong to. By rejecting the traditional tropes of drinks design and instead opting for cues more associated with a growing wellness industry, brands are placing themselves in the heart of what appeals to this educated, image-conscious cohort. 

But it can’t be ignored that drink, and particularly drinking to excess, just doesn’t appeal as much to this health-conscious generation. Scrapping the visual style that many categories have long adhered to, and adopting that of the wellness market, enables a brand to not only stand out amongst its peers, but blend in with this consumer’s carefully curated image. 

Basking a little in the health halo of wellness brands through leaning into their visual style puts alcohol brands in a more neutral space, visually. This is something that will be especially important for non-alc brands as they seek to distance themselves and be less defined by what they are not, and celebrated and embraced more for what they are. As the non-alc category, and particularly spirits seek to redefine themselves as standing on their own two feet and offering something better, more-enhanced than alcohol (whether you buy into that concept or not), the visual language used to market it can only move ever further apart from its full-strength counterparts. 


Interested in finding out more about what this might mean for you and your business?

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