CPG Trends

Thirsting For Change

How Disruptive Brands are Shaping the Beverage Landscape of Tomorrow

Jennifer Garcia
Design Director

November 28, 2023

In the ’90s (bless them), the world saw a surge in the popularity of bottled water, with brands like Evian becoming quite the fashion statement. However, as our understanding of environmental issues grew, it became evident that the excessive use of plastic bottles had a negative impact on the world around us.

These days, many brands have shifted their focus toward more sustainable and eco-friendly packaging options. Flow Water, Boxed Water, and Liquid Death are just a few examples of brands that have embraced alternative packaging materials to reduce their environmental footprint.

Yet sustainable packaging is just one way challenger hydration brands are changing the category. Flavor innovation centered around health, wellness, and mood benefits has exploded. Brands like PRIME, Hop Water, and Recess have emerged with value propositions that go beyond traditional water and cater to changing consumer preferences.

Here’s a look at the branding strategy and packaging design of some of the most unconventional beverage brands getting our attention now.

PRIME: Lightning in a bottle

The rise of PRIME is a little head-spinning. Just how did it get to #2 in the hydration beverage market? One answer: social media. YouTubers Logan Paul and KSI, once adversaries in the boxing ring, came together to take on Gatorade. They used their social media presence and combined 40 million followers to create a myth around their rival fruit-flavored sports drink, PRIME Hydration.

What is PRIME doing differently?

While the taste does not rival that of Gatorade, PRIME promises a sports drink with lower sugar content and additional sodium for electrolyte replenishment, as well as added vitamins and minerals that aid in muscle recovery. But really, it’s the badge of value that comes with carrying the bottle for its young tween and teen audience (like what a Starbucks cup does for Gen Z).

What’s so special about the packaging design?

Honestly, not much! PRIME uses stock bottles and very simple graphics. Even the flavors are pretty basic, like lemonade, orange, and strawberry watermelon. Again, the brand is winning on the status front. What could be more resonant to the YouTube generation than two self-made Davids coming for Goliath?

Liquid Death: Murder the status quo

Liquid Death claims it’s “just a funny beverage company who hates corporate marketing as much as you do,” with an “evil mission to make people laugh and get more of them to drink healthy beverages more often, all while helping to kill plastic pollution.” Given the press this brand gets, we’d say their strategy is working.

What is Liquid Death doing differently?

Social media. Celebrity endorsements. And seriously provocative branding for a water company.

Liquid Death is a cult fav among Gen Z. It’s in a can, it’s edgy, and it’s often mistaken for beer, when in fact it’s just water. The brand has a huge social media presence and touts itself as more than a highly branded can of water—instead, it’s a way of life (or death, as it were).

What’s so special about the packaging design?

Liquid Death is doing something no other water brand has done. Everything from the ominous name and skull to the flavor names and can stands out among the competition. At the very least, consumers are doing a double take every time they see it on shelf, and those eyeballs alone are raising the brand’s awareness exponentially.

Cure: Plant-based electrolytes

After suffering headaches and fatigue after long workouts, Cure Hydration founder Lauren Picasso set out to re-hydrate the world with plant-based, non-GMO electrolyte mixes. “When I looked at the electrolyte drinks out there,” she says on the company’s site, “I was shocked. They were all neon-colored and full of sugar and artificial ingredients. So I decided to make my own.”

What is Cure doing differently?

Competition like Liquid IV started out as an electrolyte for hangovers, while Nuun focuses on workout recovery. Cure claims to be the only formula that’s made entirely with plant-based ingredients “rich in naturally occurring nutrients like sustainably sourced coconut water and Himalayan pink salt.” This language tracks with the wellness boom of the last decade, but how much longer it remains relevant will be up to consumers.

What’s so special about the packaging design?

Compared to competitors that mainly use solid colors of blue, Cure uses vivid colors and fruit imagery to really dial up the products’ taste appeal. The brand has also chosen to use simple ingredient photography, cueing freshness and natural sweetness.

Hop Water: “A balanced buzz”

Like any good SoCal dads, Summer State Hop Water founders Jordan Bass and Nick Taranto liked to relax with beers after a surf or a climb. But after getting “burned out on the full-belly, foggy-head feeling that kicked in after a few rounds of IPAs,” they decided there had to be a healthier way to enjoy hops.

What is Hop Water doing differently?

The duo positioned their product line as “non-alcoholic Sparkling Hop Water with mood-boosting ingredients, purposefully crafted with no calories, no carbs, and no sugar, which is pretty unique in this space.” The company uses buzzwords like nootropics and adaptogens, but as this category gets more and more crowded, Hop Water will have to continue to evaluate how best to stand out.

What’s so special about the packaging design?

Nothing about the can branding particularly stands out, other than the fact that it’s a new and different offering. The design does, however, look refreshing and modern, and feels more like a water beverage than a traditional beer.

Recess: It’s a mood

Recess currently offers a few better-for-you beverages: Recess (its core “sparkling water infused with hemp & adaptogens to ease the day”); Recess Mood (“sparkling water infused with magnesium & adaptogens to help you unwind”); and Recess Zero Proof (alcohol-free craft mocktails). The brand claims it has “canned a feeling” with a goal to help drinkers feel more calm, cool, and collected in a stressful world.

What is Recess doing differently?

It’s all in the ingredients: those unique compounds (again, so many buzzwords!) that help us to stay sane with each sip.

What’s so special about the packaging design?

The design itself is a mood. It has a very calming and chill vibe to it. The gradients and typography come across as something from the beauty category, but the can clearly lets you know this is a beverage.

What does it all mean for CPG hydration brands?

While the brands above are capitalizing on current consumer trends—mindful or no alcohol consumption; a desire for wellness and stress relief; the cred of going against the grain—trends come and go. Whether or not these challengers can go the distance will depend on how resonant their positioning stays over time, how much their products adapt to consumer needs, and of course, if their packaging can deliver on a compelling RTB amid so much competition at shelf.

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