Variety Packs 2.0

Beer sampler packs are now designed by style and theme.

To generate excitement for specific beer styles, many brewers are reimagining the traditional variety pack. Ithaca Beer Co. in New York uses its Box of Hops (pictured) to showcase its IPA offerings.
To generate excitement for specific beer styles, many brewers are reimagining the traditional variety pack. Ithaca Beer Co. in New York uses its Box of Hops (pictured) to showcase its IPA offerings.

With so many beer options these days, the variety pack—initially marketed to showcase a brewer’s range of styles—has been reimagined. Today’s craft beer drinker can now choose from variety packs offering a single style or theme across a range of brands, a mix of beers from sister breweries, or unique packaging configurations.

New York’s Ithaca Beer Co. was among the first craft brewers to market a variety pack dedicated to just one style. Box of Hops, an 8-pack of 16-ounce cans—two each of four different beers—was first introduced in 2013. “Since we were an IPA-driven brewery, we decided to do something different and go vertical, showcasing just one style,” says Ithaca marketing director Gregg Stacy. In recent years, the Box of Hops concept has become even more granular, with some of the IPAs highlighting a particular hop variety such as Mosaic or Citra. Last year, Ithaca branched out with its Box of Sours, featuring two each of four different sour beers. The brewery’s variety packs sell for about $20.

Virginia’s Starr Hill Brewery has also seen success with its variety style packs. The seasonal Box of Chocolates, a 12-pack of 12-ounce bottles ($20) featuring three stout variants, launched in late 2017. “The uniqueness of a stout-only variety pack fills a niche in the winter months when stouts come into fashion,” says vice president of sales Duke Fox. Indeed, Box of Chocolates’ success inspired last year’s launch of Starr Hill’s Hopped as Hell IPA and Say It Ain’t Sour variety packs (both around $20).

Other brewers have also chosen to market variety packs around a central theme in recent years. Delaware’s Dogfish Head Brewery, for example, offered the Off Centered Activity Box last summer—a 12-pack of four sessionable brews, including its popular Sea Quench sour and Slightly Mighty low-calorie IPA—for $19-$23, depending on the market. The beers were packaged in a water-resistant carton that could easily be transformed into a cooler by adding ice. “It’s a great example of how Dogfish Head identified and served a growing demand for lower-abv and lower-calorie sessionable beers,” says Alex Joerger, divisional merchandise manager at Cost Plus World Market, which sells beer in more than 250 locations across 34 states.

Canarchy, a collective of seven craft breweries, now markets a mixed IPA 12-pack of 12-ounce cans ($18-$22; pricing varies by market) comprising four different IPAs from member breweries. “The typical IPA consumer jumps from brand to brand, so we’re offering what the consumer is demanding,” says Canarchy president and COO Matt Fraser, adding that the package helps promote brands like Deep Ellum IPA, which doesn’t have wide distribution.

These brewers have also gotten creative with packaging. Canarchy’s Canundrum package from Oskar Blues transitioned from a 12-pack of 12-ounce cans to a 15-pack in late 2018, and volume nearly tripled last year, the company says. Canundrum—three cans each of five different beers—retails at $18-$22, depending on the market. New York’s Southern Tier Brewing Co. also markets a 15-beer variety pack of 12-ounce cans ($19). “Overpack’d is a 15-pack that’s priced like a 12-pack, but has a great assortment of premium craft brands,” says Derek Detenber, CMO at parent company Artisanal Brewing Ventures. “Since we introduced it in 2017, it’s more than doubled in volume.”

John Walker, corporate beer coordinator at Haskell’s Wine & Spirits, a 10-unit chain in Minnesota, says the new Summit Brewing mixed IPA 12-pack of 12-ounce cans ($14) is “going gangbusters” and he’s reordered it three times. But for those times when variety packs don’t resonate, Haskell’s will break them up and feature single bottles or cans as part of its “Mix-a-Six” program ($11). Cost Plus World Market even promotes its own 9-pack variety packs, such as Beers of the World, Local Brews, Winter Brews, and Can-Do Brews (pricing varies by market). “We strive for a mix of different styles, flavor profiles, and geographic regions,” Joerger says.

Retailers can expect continued new offerings in the variety pack space. Ithaca Beer and Canarchy are among the beer marketers currently considering new releases. “Consumers today are demanding variety more than ever,” says Fraser.