Dressed for the Press

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Hey, is it just us or are all these cold-pressed juice brands starting to look the same?

Look, we get it, these guys are spending a lot of their money on produce, and custom mold bottles don’t come cheap. But the juice game is changing. Thanks to the cold pasteurization technology known as high pressure processing (HPP) – which has extended these juices’ shelf life to up to 45 days – the cold-pressed category has left the juice bar. So much so that in August, The Coca-Cola Company made a $90 million investment in San Diego-based Suja Juice.

This probably goes without saying, but a brick and mortar juice brand and a Coke-backed one operate under entirely different sets of rules. So as the business of HPP juice continues to expand into more conventional retailers, the importance of packaging choices has increased, with brands competing for consumer eyeballs alongside one another in the cold case.

Because of the intense pressure in the processing machines, the HPP process does have some restrictions, most prominently no glass. But the homogenous look that’s been seen across the segment might have more to do with the startup nature of these brands and that they’ve elected to allocate their resources outside of expensive custom mold bottles, rather than any significant technical structural limitations, experts say.

“A bottle’s shape actually isn’t really relevant for HPP to do what it’s supposed to do,“ says Joyce Longfield, an independent consultant who works with HPP machinery manufacturer Hiperbaric. “If the bottles provide some headspace, the plastic has 15 percent compressibility and they fit into the carrier, those are the properties that are really relevant to the packaging.”

So what about the label designs for these beverages, with their transparent bottles and white font lettering? The template for package design in the HPP juice segment came from Blueprint Juice, whose clinical, entirely ingredient-focused approach captured the cleanse crowd aesthetic. Upon Suja’s inception in 2012, Jeremy Dahl and Becky Nelson of San Diego design firm Bex Brands took an alternate approach, shifting away from Blueprint’s exercise in minimalism to a busier, friendlier bottle aimed at inviting more mainstream consumers into the fold. But at their core, both Blueprint and Suja let their juice do the talking, having their design work play second fiddle to the beauty of the premium product behind them. That aesthetic is what’s driven the look of the bulk of the brands that have emerged since.

“You don’t want to over package this kind of product,” says Paula Grant, founder and CEO of Flood Creative, a boutique design firm out of New York. “What you’re selling is the fresh juice and that is what is really supposed to look spectacular.”

Still, there’s room to color outside the blueprint, pun intended. Last year Grant featured colorful fruits and vegetables on a jet black label in a packaging revamp for o2 Living, a health and wellness brand out of Cross River. The Fuze co-founder’s work with o2 living would go on to win her firm an American Graphic Design Award earlier this year.

Fellow Big Apple designer Jody Levy also made some bold packaging choices when introducing her cold-pressed juice brand WTRMLN WTR in 2013. Concealing the contents of the bottle behind a nearly full shrink sleeve, the design emphasized the product’s humble beginnings as a watermelon more so than the finished product, and the label’s back panel promotes the juice’s functional benefits in a playful, more personal approach. When WTRMLN WTR launched a lemon-infused line extension a year later, its bright yellow lemon rind label moved even further away from the category’s less-is-more status quo.

“We have a brand promise of quality and that’s never compromised” Levy says. “But really that’s the baseline. In order for brands to succeed, in every industry, there’s a need to be that personal connection with the consumer.”

So as the category continues to grow, what might the future of high-pressure-processed beverages look like? What will a Coke acquisition of Suja entail? Blake Mitchell of Boulder-based firm Interact on Shelf is of the belief that there’s opportunity in the category for a brand to plant its flag in the segment with a logo akin to the Nike Swoosh or McDonald’s arches.

“The most iconic beverage brands – Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Monster, Gatorade – their brand identity is the highlight of their package,” says Mitchell. “With these HPP drinks, there’s room for someone to come into this space and visually disrupt it with a big brand mark and letting that do the heavy lifting. At the end of the day consumers recognize before they read. You can always choose whether you want to read something but you can’t choose whether you recognize it.”

Until then, though, it might be the bottle that’s more recognizable than the brand.