Grolsch is an authentic Dutch beer brand with a great deal of history and heritage. It is recognised worldwide for it’s iconic ‘swingtop’ bottle, a design that has enabled the brand to exist in third place in the market after Heineken and Amstel.

However, for a number of reasons, the old swingtop bottle has been going out of fashion. It’s large and heavy. It’s more expensive and looks somewhat outdated. Grolsch approached FLEX/the INNOVATIONLAB to create a new type of relevance for the brand.

One of the reasons for the waning popularity of Grolsch, Lewerissa explains, was circumstantial. In the Netherlands there is a returnable bottle logistic system, where bottles are returned, cleaned and refilled. On average, every bottle goes through 60 cycles.

However, as the Grolsch swingtop bottles were not returnable, and the normal 30 centilitre returnable bottle did not have the iconic swingtop that is such a large component of Grolsch’s success, the sales volume of the swingtop bottle was diminishing.

“This trend was rapidly reducing the relevance of the Grolsch brand, especially in the younger market,” says Lewerissa.

The project for FLEX, therefore, was to design all of the primary and secondary packaging for Grolsch (returnable bottles, one-way bottles and a new swingtop bottle); the point-of-sale materials (coasters, holders, beer glasses, etc); the beer tap used in restaurants and bars; as well as bar decoration and signage – to transform it from a brand with an iconic bottle to an iconic brand.

The design team was committed to maintaining the bottle’s distinctive swingtop, but created a new slimmer bottle shape and retro grip strips. The new 33 cl returnable bottle is manufactured by OI in the Netherlands using standard press-blow narrow neck technology.

However, the swingtop bottle – manufactured in Austria – uses a new technique. The iconic brand panel is placed on the front of the bottle, while the holes for the metal wire for the swingtop closure are on the sides.

Therefore, it was necessary to develop a tooling system with moving parts in order to be able to form these details.

There were four stages involved in the process for transforming the 111-year-old brand.

First, Lewerissa explains, “The original swingtop bottle could be characterised, of course, by the swingtop closure, however, it also had strong embossed elements, and typical use of colour (white and red in the closure) and the absence of a label on the belly of the bottle.

"FLEX created a new swingtop bottle and a bottle with a normal crown cork that both used those original values but with a much more contemporary look.”

The vertical brand panel was developed, which offers a new visual element as well as a high tactile value. The Grolsch lettering can be felt with the fingertips, while it also creates an excellent grip on the bottle.

Not only does this new element have relevance in the primary packaging, it is also a feature of all other Grolsch objects that can be touched. The old-fashioned brown glass remains as it gives the actual contents of bottles a much more refreshing appearance.

The second stage was innovation.

Grolsch needed to infiltrate consumers’ lives in a broader capacity than just with the bottle. “Therefore,” Lewerissa explains, “FLEX developed an innovative draught system based on two-litre PET bottles.

"These bottles could simply be stored in the door of the fridge, ready for the next occasion. Unlike competitive systems, it did not require a complex appliance but just a simple tap head that could be snapped onto the bottle.

"This technically advanced system was extremely simple to use and offered people a fresh draught beer at home for any occasion.”

Further to this, another – less complicated – example of the innovation FLEX introduced is the Grolsch beer cooler. Designed for portability, the double-walled container can be filled with ice to keep beer cool in recreational situations, such as barbeques and the beach.

The next stage involved activating the brand in an out-of-home capacity with a variety of point-of-sale materials (POS). “To make the brand more visible in out-of-home environments (bars, events, concerts, restaurants), FLEX/the INNOVATIONLAB developed a range of POS materials that would help the brand to become more recognised in these situations,” says Lewerissa.

“Elements such as coasters, holders, glasses, candle holders, etc helped to make the Grolsch brand more visible and its values more tangible. These elements were designed with many of the original iconic details that were also used in the bottles.”

Finally, the fourth step in the project was to build relationships with industry partners, as strong relationships with food-service industry partners are important in order to create volume in out-of-home sales and to reach younger consumers.

“In order to develop these relationships as well as make the brand more visible, FLEX created a number of different products that would help bar owners to enhance the bar environment,” explains Lewerissa.

“The display fridge, of course, displays the swingtop bottles beautifully but also acts as signage for the brand and the icon with a back-lit line showing the shape of the swingtop. A unique photo frame system was created that could enhance the bar environment. The images displayed could match the character of the  bar but the look of the frame itself is iconic to Grolsch.”

In addition to this, in order to appeal to a younger crowd, a special-event bar was developed that can be used for concerts or other events. “For more than two years FLEX worked on a new draught system that can deliver the beer at exactly the right temperature – and, again, shows the brand values that characterise Grolsch.” And the result? Success.

“Even though the beer that goes into these new bottles is the same, research shows that people find that Grolsch beer now tastes better,” says Lewerissa. “Design can improve much more than just looks!” 

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