New Product Development

In these days of the “Rotation Nation” business model it’s expected that breweries launch new products on a regular basis. How many times have you heard “What have you got that’s new?” from a customer in the past few years? While New Product Development can be a wonderful opportunity to slowly evolve your brand the expectation of constantly turning out new products places a burden on breweries who elect to play that game. Maintaining a professional, consistent brand is much more difficult when you’re releasing a new beer every month (or even more frequently) then it was back when you could get away with one new release per quarter.

We’ve been involved with dozens of NPD projects over the years and we’ve learned a few things that can help maximize the effect of the time, money, and effort that it takes to launch a new product. 

Hopped & Confused Session Ale  was a seasonal (summer) release from Mill St. Brewery that launched in 2018. It uses common design elements to anchor it to their other products (the brewery’s logo, the top illustrated band, and the placement of the beer style/legal info text) but then it goes in a very different direction from their other products with the primary illustration of the Canadian animals. The liquid and the design resonated with Ontario customers; it was one of the most popular new beers in the LCBO that year.  Photo by  Sean Fenzl .

Hopped & Confused Session Ale was a seasonal (summer) release from Mill St. Brewery that launched in 2018. It uses common design elements to anchor it to their other products (the brewery’s logo, the top illustrated band, and the placement of the beer style/legal info text) but then it goes in a very different direction from their other products with the primary illustration of the Canadian animals. The liquid and the design resonated with Ontario customers; it was one of the most popular new beers in the LCBO that year.

Photo by Sean Fenzl.

Let’s start with the steps in the NPD process. Many of these steps are geared towards beers that are sold in a retail setting. If you’re only selling a couple of pallets of sticker cans out of your tap room you don’t need to worry so hard about a lot of these steps and some of them could even be ignored completely. 

  1. market analysis, selecting which style of beer to make

  2. recipe development

  3. competitive set analysis

  4. naming & trademarking

  5. choice of packaging format

  6. primary packaging design (concept, execution, testing, revisions)

  7. secondary packaging design, if needed (concept, execution, testing, revisions)

  8. collateral design & production

  9. launch

  10. post-release follow-up

When it comes to the design of new products there are two important things to consider: how does this new product fit into your brand, and how does it fit into the market? These should be your two major areas of consideration. Some of the following tips inform one of those concerns or the other… some of them inform both. And, of course, many of these packaging design tips don’t just apply to new product development but also to redesigning the packaging of existing products.



Market Analysis:

DO’s:

  • If the products you’re going to be competing are weak or not very competitive then you have an opportunity to design something exciting or completely different.

  • If the competing products are strong or if it’s a very competitive set then you might not want to ignore common cues, references, or trends within that set.

DON’T’s:

  • Don’t forget to research design conventions for the beer style your launching. (for example, black letter text on pilsner labels or naming bocks with words that end in “-tor”. ) Even if you decide not to adhere to them, it’s good to know about them.



Recipe Development:

DO’s:

  • Consider how the ingredients, process, and beer style could be woven into a compelling story for the beer. If your volumes are such that the new beer will require any sort of marketing push it’s very useful to have something unique about the beer that can be emphasized

DON’T’s:

  • Don’t brew a beer that’s almost identical to any of your other permanent SKUs without a very good reason for why your customers should care.



Competitive Set Analysis:

DO’s:

  • Collect images of the products your new beer will be competing against and see what you can learn. It’ll end up next to them one day... in the beer press, on a beer blogger’s website, sometimes in the mainstream press, and - most crucially - on a retail shelf. 



Naming & Trademarking:

DO’s:

  • Run potential product names past your designer. Some names are fantastic concepts but are difficult to represent visually (at least if you’re looking for a literal representation). Some that sound good on paper are difficult to represent well on a small canvas, especial when it's wrapped around a cylinder.

  • Consider the “bar call” of your product name - how will it sound out loud when someone orders it in a busy bar?

DON’T’s:

  • Don’t launch a beer without checking to see if the name has been trademarked or is in use by another brewery. And you should probably get a lawyer to at least run a knockout search on the name.

  • Don’t tie a beer’s name (or packaging design) to a specific date. Calling something a "Winter Ale" is much better than calling it a “Christmas Ale” because as soon as Jan. 2nd rolls around people lose interest in all things “Christmas."

Whitetooth Brewing  launched in 2016 with a core line-up of six beers, each one with a label that represented an outdoor activity that’s popular in their region. A year later they released their “ High Gravity ” series, a high-end lineup of adventurous, high ABV beers. We created a new, darker look for this tier – distinct from their  core lineup , while playing to the strength of the Whitetooth brand.  Photos by  Sean Fenzl .

Whitetooth Brewing launched in 2016 with a core line-up of six beers, each one with a label that represented an outdoor activity that’s popular in their region. A year later they released their “High Gravity” series, a high-end lineup of adventurous, high ABV beers. We created a new, darker look for this tier – distinct from their core lineup, while playing to the strength of the Whitetooth brand.

Photos by Sean Fenzl.

Choice of Packaging Format:

DO’s:

  • Consider how your choice of packaging format affects your product’s placement in retail: do you go with the norm, or try to disrupt?

  • Consider the common packaging formats for the beer style you’re launching. Customers might be put off by a huge BBA stout in a 6-pack of 355ml cans or a 750ml cork & cage bottle of Pilsner.

Primary Packaging Design:

DO’s:

  • New product concepts need to be considered in the context of your existing product lineup. How will it fit in? Or will it fit in at all? Could it become the first product in a new tier? How long will the product stick around? Will it be tied to a specific season or event? 

  • Compare the packaging design concepts for the new beer against the packaging of your existing SKUs. Does the new product look like it came from your brewery? Do you care? Does it look like it came from one of your competitors? (Do you care?)

  • Take the images of competing products that you collected earlier in the process and mock up your new design into that lineup. What do you notice? Evaluating your new design in this context helps you avoid making aesthetic decisions based purely on personal preferences.

  • Test your new packaging design in real-world scenarios such as in a liquor store beer fridge. Does the bar that keeps the beers from falling out of the fridge obscure the beer name? How does it look when none of the cans in your 6-pack are facing “forwards"?

  • If you’re trying a new beer style that's outside of your comfort zone, make sure that the design lets people know this. People who aren’t normally attracted to your products because they don’t prefer your typical area of focus should notice this new product.

DON’T’s:

  • Don’t launch a beer without considering how it fits into your portfolio of other beers. Even if you decide that you don’t care that this product looks “off-brand” or doesn’t fit in with your existing tiers, make this a conscious decision.

  • Don’t launch a beer without considering what happens if it becomes your next best-selling beer. What happens to that dumb-ass name you gave it? What about the can design that bumps up a little too closely to someone else’s IP? If it ends up being a runaway SKU you may have to rebrand it at some point.

  • If you’re relying on your consumers to pick up on visual cues (i.e. ripping off Champagne labels for a Brut IPA) don’t expect that everyone will get the cues. The design needs to stand on its own for the people who don’t get those cues. And don’t forget to research what impressions the visual references in your design give.

  • Be wary of following design trends too quickly and aggressively. For example, the repeating geometric patterns that are all over the BC hazy IPA’s. With so many breweries jumping on this trend it’s difficult to tell the one from the next on a shelf. It’s easy to disappear when you’re following a trend.

  • Don’t undersell your beer. Don’t be afraid to inform your audience about what makes your beer unique. Beer nerds love to have something to talk about.



Secondary Packaging Design:

DO’s:

  • Consider how the number of cans in your pack affects the perception of the beer, its use, and its placement in retail settings. For example, 15-packs of craft lager might end up getting shelved in the Value section and will need to appeal to more price-sensitive customers.

DON’T’s:

  • If you’re working with a new dieline, don’t skip the physical prototyping stage to test for strength and performance on your packaging line.



Collateral Design & Production:

DO’s:

  • Collateral should be considered as early as the product naming stage. A great product name can lead you effortlessly to ideas for unique, desirable collateral and merchandise.

DON’T’s:

  • Don’t confine your ideas to typical brewery merchandise (hats, shirts, glassware, etc.) If your new beer has a fishing theme, get some branded lures made up.



Launch:

DO’s:

  • Ask your designer for input on the product launch - they’ve been in deep with the beer for weeks, sometimes months… they may have thought of some creative ideas you could incorporate into the launch.

  • Get the new product graphics up on your website, social media, and UnTappd, etc. as soon as the new beer launches. Build this into your launch process so it becomes second nature.

DON’T’s:

  • Don’t just drop a photo on Instagram and expect customers to come running. 



Post-Release Follow-Up:

DO’s:

  • Build this step in to your process so that you do a “post-mortem” on each new product after it launches. Be consistent about how long you wait before doing the review so that when you look back on a year’s worth of NPD you’re comparing apples to apples.

DON’T’s:

  • Don’t skip this step because you got caught up in the excitement of focusing on your next release. That which is measured, improves.



Arcus Pilsner  and  Raised By Wolves Wild IPA  are two new seasonal releases that we named and designed for Driftwood Brewing. They both ended up becoming part of the brewery’s year-round offerings. Driftwood’s approach to their packaging design is what we call the “Fully Custom” approach, where there is almost no consistency in the designs from one beer to the next. In their case, the brewery branding stays the same, each label has a custom die-cut shape, the label stock is always the same, and the illustrations are always very detailed and dynamic.  Photos by  Sean Fenzl .

Arcus Pilsner and Raised By Wolves Wild IPA are two new seasonal releases that we named and designed for Driftwood Brewing. They both ended up becoming part of the brewery’s year-round offerings. Driftwood’s approach to their packaging design is what we call the “Fully Custom” approach, where there is almost no consistency in the designs from one beer to the next. In their case, the brewery branding stays the same, each label has a custom die-cut shape, the label stock is always the same, and the illustrations are always very detailed and dynamic.

Photos by Sean Fenzl.


As we’ve said before, we like to think of your brewery’s brand as your promise to your customers. It tells them what to expect from your products and (ideally) it differentiates your offerings from those of your competition. New product development can be a wonderful opportunity to slowly evolve your brand, experiment a bit, and gather feedback. If you do happen to goof-up with your new product - the style, the beer, the packaging, or the rollout - realize that you’re not stuck with it. Brewery brands are very resilient and the craft beer market can be surprisingly forgiving in terms of design, allowing breweries the opportunity to make mistakes and course-correct.