The Package Design Industry Should Embrace Whiskey Capsules

In early 2018, the “Tide Pod Challenge” took the media by storm. We even reported on it ourselves, meditating on the implications that the phenomenon had for brands to deal with crisis communications in the age of social media, when digital disasters are highly unpredictable and increasingly out of the hands of professional marketing departments.

Over a year later, the meme is back on everybody’s minds – at least in the world of food innovation. In a widely-reported collaboration between The Glenlivet and packaging developer NOTPLA, The Glenlivet Capsule Collection has been released to the world (albeit in a limited capacity; so far, it’s only available as part of London Cocktail Week).

The capsules – which are edible, meaning that the consumer is supposed to pop it into their mouth whole – contain single malt whiskey cocktails, and are being promoted as a premium drinking experience that appears to rise above its unfortunate association with the toxic viral challenge.

Despite the fuss that the media is kicking up about these whiskey pods, maybe this was always going to be a natural evolution for the industry. Lightweight, practical, biodegradable packaging has been part of a major industry push for years. Just look at innovators like Bota Box, which introduced a similarly sustainable single-serve product to the wine market in 2011 with their 500-mL Tetra Pack cartons. You could even point to the recent success of brands like White Claw, which produces cocktails in recyclable cans, as part of this larger trend.

Packaging studio Tomorrow Machine received a lot of attention from the food industry in 2014 when they debuted a series of exciting packaging concepts made from alternative materials like seaweed – which is what The Glenlivet capsules happen to be made of. We saw so much interest in the development of this kind of packaging at the time, only to see so much ridicule online five years later.

Of course, it has everything to do with timing – anything edible even vaguely resembling a Tide Pod is bound to drum up controversy for the next few years. But let’s not forget either that the Tide Pod Challenge came about in the first place precisely because the detergent happened to be designed with unintended appetite appeal. Tide’s product design team inadvertently borrowed from the food and beverage industry, and maybe it’s inappropriate for commentators to roll their eyes and pretend that it’s now the other way around.

For now, alternative packaging is still a bit of gimmick. But this is quickly changing, and in order to stay at the forefront of innovation and keep in line with the kind of sustainable agendas that consumers are increasingly embracing, brands will have to continue to take risks like this and experiment with imaginative methods of delivery.

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