The deep thinking and design that goes into HEINEKEN USA’s packaging

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The deep thinking and design that goes into HEINEKEN USA’s packaging

February 20, 2015 - 06:58


Joe Pagliaro is one of America’s most thoughtful speakers on the art of the package. He’s put many years into the study of effective packaging, the practical implications as well as the psychological and emotional, and has been behind some of the most innovative designs, including L’Oreal, Unilever, Johnson & Johnson and now HEINEKEN USA, as its Director of Innovation and Packaging. What Pagliaro does isn’t like a science, it is a science.

Pagliaro has an advanced degree in packaging, and has been working passionately in the industry since college. His first inspiration came not from an iconic box or an ad in Times Square, but when he was working in a glue-making department that serviced the auto industry. “A piece of cork would come in sheet format and you’d have to cut the cork in the pattern of the engine block, and that was how you sealed an engine block.”

Pagliaro learned early on how packaging relied on innovation and technology as much as the product itself did, and could find inspiration in surprising places.

Pagliaro’s gotten to where he is today, working for a company with one of the most recognizable packaging schemes in the world, by constantly finding inspiration. “Look at the Sherman Williams paint can; instead of a steel paint can, they came up with plastic jug with a pour spout, and what happened? Paint sales went through the roof. The same design went into Folgers coffee, Maxwell house, and baby formula, to allow consumers to get every last drop of the product they purchased. This is a perfect example of how unrelated industries inspire one another’s packaging designs.”

With Heineken, the packaging is part of the total premium, upscale experience. “This means you need an opener for our bottle,” Pagliaro says. “We’re signaling subliminally that you have a higher quality product in your hands.” Just look at a Heineken Light can for a second; notice how slender it is? That’s because the product’s packaging itself is signaling to you that this is low in calories.

One of the crucial things Pagliaro has learned is that the first thing a packaging expert must do is assess the consumer need. “What’s the actual insight that leads us to believe we can be successful in the marketplace?” he says. “It’s the simple things you can do to enhance the consumer experience.” A great example is Coca Cola. They designed the fridge pack, which was a way of signaling to the consumer: we know what you want and need, and we’re going to create it for you.

Pagliaro says that HEINEKEN USA is working on some revolutionary packaging innovations right now. One of these innovations is a draft product for Heineken lager and Newcastle Brown Ale in a proprietary keg called the BrewLock. “It’s a plastic keg that is 100 percent recyclable,” he says, “and it’s designed so that no external forces, via gas lines, ever come in contact with the beer, allowing for the best possible quality in every drop. The beer is never flat or over carbonated.”

This new technology will allow Heineken and Newcastle to buck the industry-wide trend in which approximately 85% of all kegged beer is pushed out of the keg with mixed gas, which is designed for stouts. “Nitrogen is a killer of quality for lagers and ales,” Pagliaro says. “With BrewLock, we’re providing brewery fresh beer with no foam and 99.9% keg efficiency.” 

When asked what sets HEINEKEN USA packaging apart from other beers, Pagliaro says that the packaging is a direct reflection of the brand itself. “Each brand has its own distinct bottle, and the graphics and imagery of each bottle are a direct reflection of what the brand stands for,” he says. If you put the bottles next to each other they’ll all have slightly different profiles.”

In honoring Heineken’s legendary green color, Pagliaro says you always want to package in a way that’s true to the brand’s identity, using the brand’s primary colors while only using secondary colors to accentuate. The Heineken green is a very specific shade, one that’s recognizable across the globe.  “We always want to own the color green when it comes to beer,” he says.  “Ask someone: what beer comes in a green bottle? Everyone will say Heineken.”