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Image by Marco Verch (The Draft House: STOP! BEER HERE) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

In a recent article in IndustryWeek, Jay Billings, VP at Ball Corporation, gave a fascinating inside view on packaging innovation.

He highlighted Ball Corporation's bottom up innovation culture where everyone is encouraged to identify problems or rather opportunities for innovation. Another equally important success factor is a close collaboration with customers – both multinationals and small start-ups, like a micro-brewery in a garage.

I loved their co-innovation on the “The Crowler” coming myself from an area in Germany, Franconia, famous for its small, independent breweries – centuries before micro-breweries became en vogue.
The Crowler originated with the craft beer brewery “Oskar Blues”. It’s “portable beer” in an aluminum can filled with fresh draft from the source – “draft beer to-go”.

In Heidelberg, where I live today, I know a few smaller pub breweries where you can get a liter bottle of beer to take home, a very old idea. I remember my father telling me that he was sent as a little boy to the pub with a pitcher to get some beer.

Driven by customer preference

Packaging companies are driven by customer preference. In a world of fast-paced change, this is not an easy feat. Companies need to find the sweet spot between hyper-customization, convenience, and sustainability.

Transferring and translating ideas from one continent and culture to another

Would German customers prefer the Crowler, a can?

Most small breweries here have intricately designed non-standard glass bottles, at a rather up-market price point. Even "special" bottles work well in Germany with its well-established deposit scheme. Beer in cans may have to counter a perception of being less sustainable, and rather lower quality & price range.

Great wine in cans – would this work in Europe?

Jay Billings gives another example. Ball Corporation collaborate with Wild Goose Canning.

The Infinite Monkey Theorem urban winery (I did not even know there was urban wine making)
sell “ridiculously good wine” in a can. They still feel they need to explain why they use a can instead of the traditional bottle.

In my opinion, this is a smart marketing twist against the "stuffy wine culture" (as they put it) – targeting a different segment of millennial wine lovers rather than older “connaisseurs”. Looks like a great niche to me.

Would this work in Germany? Probably in Berlin and Hamburg. A wine can would for sure stand out in the shelf.

“Talking through the can” to the end consumer

I love Jay Billings’ way of putting the role of packaging: their customers are “talking through the can” to their end consumers. In many cases, it’s this “telling the brand’s story” that makes a product unique. The more unique a product claims to be, the more important is the role of the packaging.

But it needs to be well-aligned to the promise of the product. Organic wine in a can may proof to be an uphill battle, at least in Germany, where glass has a better sustainability reputation.

Talking about your innovation journey at SAPPHIRE NOW in Orlando

My favorite place to discuss packaging (and other mill-related) innovation is the upcoming SAPPHIRE NOW in Orlando, Florida. Let's meet over a coffee or - rather a draft beer.
I will look around whether I could even get urban canned wine if they sell this in Orlando.

Make sure to check out Jen Scholze's blog about the conference -and the packaging and mill companies presenting their innovation journey in Orlando.