Rule No. 1 for a brewery’s success is to offer an appealing product. But making a tasty brew isn’t the only consideration in winning customers. With numerous artisan beers sold in Asheville and around the mountains, the packaging for bottles and cans as well as brewery logos must also catch a shopper’s eye.
In order to stay competitive on the presentation side, Highland Brewing Co., the area’s oldest craft brand, is making a dramatic design change this month. Gone is the brewery’s mascot, Scotty, the bagpipe-playing Scotsman, who has been used since the company began in 1994. In his place, Highland’s new look features bright colors, a mountain vista and a new circular logo that includes a compass.
The change was considered for a long time, says Highland President Leah Wong Ashburn. The brewery commissioned Nielsen, the same company that rates the popularity of television shows, to survey people who had no knowledge of Highland. In addition, the brewery itself reached out to loyal customers. “And we talked with people who know us the best — our own staff,” Ashburn says.
The results from Nielsen and Highland’s own findings were surprising. “We learned that the group that doesn’t know us at all thought it was a Scottish name, but [wondered,] ‘Where [is] the Scottish beer?'” Ashburn says. “And the people who know us and like us, 49 percent of them said our logos, fonts and packaging were dated. That was a huge number. And another 24 percent said we should change something. So, almost 75 percent of the people who like us said we should change our packaging.”
Ashburn adds that, in describing their feelings about Highland, no one who was surveyed associated Highland with its Scottish logo. While it was meant to convey Western North Carolina’s Scottish and Irish pioneer settlers, she says that intention was lost on consumers. In turn, the decision was made to move away from Scotty.
Helms Workshop of Austin, Texas, provided direction and expertise in creating the bold new Highland design. The branding company has created packaging for Fullsteam Brewery of Durham, New Belgium Brewing Co.’s cider, Boulevard Brewing Co. of Kansas City, Mo., Jack Daniel’s Distillery and Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, among many others.
Helping matters was Helms founder Christian Helms‘ long-standing familiarity with Highland beers. “My whole family is in the Asheville area,” he says. “This was a dream project for me.”
Helms says Highland was looking to develop a visual language that addresses its history and future trajectory. “They knew they wanted change but weren’t sure where they wanted to go,” he says. “A lot of the decisions about the Scotsman were made before we came on board, but we certainly agreed with that.”
The redesign took about six months, and the rebrand will also include new merchandise and tap handles plus an overhauled website. “You need packaging that differentiates you on the shelf,” he says. “The follow-through is delivery. That’s brewing exceptional beer.”
The name game
Highland isn’t the only Asheville brewery to change its look. When John Cochran took over the old Altamont Brewing Co. in West Asheville 18 months ago, he changed its name to UpCountry Brewing Co., a switch that required a new logo.
“I felt it was important to create something new,” Cochran says. He came up with the UpCountry name on his own but sought outside input on the design. “I am not an artist myself, so we needed help with that,” he says.
Now Cochran is in the process of another redesign, this one involving new labels that will be unveiled in a few months. “It’s key that everything ties together and tells your story, and I feel like what we have now could do a better job of that,” he says. “We are going with something more relevant with the idea of being in the outdoors and in the mountains.”
Asheville’s French Broad River Brewery made a redesign after it was sold by founder Andy Dahm to Paul and Sarah Casey of Chapel Hill. “When I started looking at the brewery, one of my first questions was, ‘Where did the name come from?'” Paul Casey says. At the time, the word “river,” which had been part of the name when the business first opened, had been dropped, adding to confusion among drinkers outside Asheville.
He restored “river” to the name and decided the packaging needed a new look. He hired Trone Brand Energy of High Point to create the redesign, which incorporates river rocks and watery imagery. “I think it ended up very successful,” Casey says.
Catawba Brewing Co. made a redesign in 2013, changing its original name of Catawba Valley Brewing. “This put more emphasis on the word Catawba — which is a river, a town, a county, a college and a federally recognized Native American tribe,” says brewery marketing director Brian Ivey. Catawba also redesigned its labels to have a cohesive look. The current logo depicts mountains, rivers and the Blue Ridge Parkway, and, when flipped upside down, shows the geographic outline of North and South Carolina.