Dogfish Head lovingly polishes its packaging

Founder and president Sam Calagione
Founder and president Sam Calagione

By Joyce L. Carroll
Special to Delaware Business Times

It’s been said that you can’t judge a book by its cover. And, for the countless number of consumers who have come to love Dogfish Head beers, the contents, not the cover, defines the product. That said, with now thousands of craft beer and microbreweries nationwide, it was time for a revamp — one that focuses on the cover. Dogfish Head’s four- and six-packs share shelf space with dozens upon dozens of beers bearing catchy names and artistic graphics. In that vast sea of competitors, the 21-year-old Milton-based brewery has launched a comprehensive repackaging initiative to help its brand stand out in the crowd.

“There has never been a more competitive moment in the craft beer movement. There are two opening every day,” said Sam Calagione, founder and president of Dogfish Head.

While staying true to its mission of off-centeredness, the new packaging for Dogfish’s four- and six-pack carriers brings consistency across all brew recipes. Rather than relying on overused superlatives like new and improved, the grandfather of craft breweries uses colorful imagery, identifies natural ingredients, and shares the style’s inspiration on its packaging in order to invite current and new craft drinkers to sit and sip for a spell.

“We started from a pure, authentic place. Today’s consumers are educated. They’re aware of the hard-sell hokey, old-fashioned ‘buy our product because we’re the best,’ approach,” Calagione said, referring to a tactic that no longer works. 

The task of identifying a company that would take the beer’s packaging to the next level was not an easy one. Interact, a Boulder, Colo., brand/packaging company for the food and beverage industry, was chosen from the several finalists.

Calagione credits vice president of marketing Neal Stewart for vetting those vying for the job, and closing the field by choosing Interact. Stewart and Dogfish Head’s lead graphic designer Tim Parrott would also become integral to the collaborative team that brought the revamp to the marketplace.

“Interact impressed us all with the level of research they did on Dogfish before they even won our business. They are passionate about packaging but they also have an authentic passion for great beer,” Calagione said.

The Colorado company took a holistic approach to the task by immersing itself into the Dogfish Head culture. A three-day site visit to the brewpub, inn, and brewery — all now major components of the Dogfish Head enterprise, brainstorming sessions, and marketing research gathered from an online panel gave the Interact team what it needed to initiate its work. What it found was that Dogfish Head was a lifestyle beer, and, as such, needed a crystal-clear identity.

“We first wanted to know what was in Dogfish Head’s DNA,” said Fred Hart, creative director of Interact. He added, “How do you [define] off-centeredness?” Hart learned that the attribute was inspired by a Ralph Waldo Emerson quotation, one that spoke to non-conformance, goodness, and integrity.

new packaging for Dogfish
The new packaging for Dogfish’s four- and six-pack carriers brings consistency across all brew recipes and includes colorful imagery and identification of natural ingredients.

The challenge was in coming up with unifying components that didn’t compromise off-centeredness or limit the unique stories behind the individual releases. Again, Hart turned to Emerson’s quotation — with a mindset that the end product needed to stay true to who and what Dogfish Head was about.

“How do we bring an idea to life that has consistency with wiggle room for different artistic styles?” he said with regard to the challenge. Brainstorming rounds over the course of eight months eventually led to the computer-generated graphic designs celebrated on each carry carton.

The out-of-state and in-house creative teams ultimately designed packages that are informative, colorful and unique while keeping intact key components and traditional roots. Regarding the latter, the iconic dogfish logo is ever-present on all packaging, but in a more consistent fashion: Previous packaging included a logo that differed in color from one brew to another, sometimes included the brew name, and wasn’t always in the same location on packaging. Taking the craft of craft beer to its most literal level via color choice created a subtle reminder of the tradition itself. The background of the shark logo is brown — a color reminiscent of Kraft paper. Each release still has its own identity, but by way of a more unified presentation.

When one is working on a canvas of limited size, in this case, a four- or six-pack cardboard carton, utilizing every inch wisely is key. The carrier handle, often the spot competitors use for written ingredients, has also become a consistent location for Dogfish’s ingredients, but in this case, via imagery. Flesh & Blood, one of Dogfish’s newest releases features a citrusy recipe composed of lemon flesh and blood oranges. The consumer grabs a colorful graphic of those key ingredients by way of the handle.

An actual listing of ingredients is identifiable on all carriers inside a graphic of a bottle on the side panel. The silhouette of the bottle not only includes ingredients, but calls attention to process while capitalizing on Dogfish Head’s philosophy of transparency, integrity, and goodness. “We’re putting our premise back inside the bottle [through] distinction of the recipe and ingredients. It’s the bull’s eye of that approach [that’s] outlined on every four- and six-pack,” said Calagione.

Summer releases with the new eye-catching packages include the following brews: Flesh & Blood and Sea Quench Ale, both first-time batches with the latter being Dogfish Head’s foray into sour beers; and longtime favorites 60 and 90 Minute IPAs, Namaste, Indian Brown Ale, and Midas Touch.

Dogfish Head was Delaware’s first brewpub. Today, while the brewery continues to operate the brewpub in Rehoboth, an inn in nearby Lewes, and a beer and spirits production facility in Milton, its growth has far surpassed micro-batches of 10 gallons of beer at a time.

As a cottage industry, craft beer has defied demographics appealing to women and men, college crowds and baby boomers alike. Consumers can now buy Dogfish Head beer in 30 states. Moreover, the distillery, which produces gin and vodka, is sold in the mid-Atlantic region. Dogfish Head has earned awards, having the distinction as the first craft brewery in the country to enhance its batches with culinary ingredients ranging from herbs and spices to fruit and green spruce tips — Calagione’s culinary infusions have also earned him accolades.

What’s on tap next for Dogfish Head? The company turns a new page with the introduction of cans this autumn.

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