Savvy Distilleries Are Putting in Extra Effort to Make Their Hand Sanitizers Look Stylish

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Last year, the family-owned distillery Mammoth decided to invest several thousand dollars in a professional roll printer so it could make labels at its home office in Central Lake, Mich. Mammoth runs three tasting rooms and makes a full line of rye, bourbon, vodka and gin, so it already has a standing contract with a high-volume label producer. The in-house machine was just for the select runs of 100 bottles or fewer. CMO Mark Scheer figured that would be all the use the pricy machine would see.

Then COVID-19 blew into town.

Like many distilleries across the country, Mammoth made the overnight decision to do its part for the community and switch its production to making hand sanitizer, a commodity the pandemic has rendered rare and precious. But instead of just funneling the product into bottles and getting it out the door, Mammoth’s distiller, Collin Gaudard (who also happens to be a visual artist), sat down and designed an elegant label—one whose panache matches the ones customers usually see on the brand’s $45 bottles of whiskey. Mammoth’s new printer turned out crisp, glossy rolls of Gaudard’s labels, which in turn went onto retro glass bottles with black screw caps.

The resulting “artisanal hand cleaners” are chic enough to be part of a luxury skincare line sold at Neiman Marcus, but Mammoth is giving most of it to front-line workers for nothing.

“If we have an opportunity to distribute a product widely, putting our brand on it is an investment that pays off in six months when everything is normal again,” Scheer said. “We hope our brand resonated at a time that was difficult. [And then] in the future, hopefully, we’ll reap the benefit of that.”

Mammoth is among the overnight sanitizer-makers to have recognized a small but potentially important truth about business during COVID-19: Daily routines might have stopped, but branding never does. And a little extra effort poured into package design now not only keeps a brand’s image consistent but will quite possibly create a lasting impression that leads to better business later on.

“Many of these brands are finding clever design strategies to connect to the quarantined world,” said Chris Lowery, CEO and chief strategist of Chase Design Group, whose clients include Nestle, Starbucks and Coca-Cola. “Apothecary cues and trend-driven graphic treatments will connect with younger consumers, making it cool to carry hand sanitizer and increasing the prevalence of clean-touch practices. This is an amazing way to use your brand’s reach to make a difference that matters.”

Below, an assortment of makeshift hand sanitizers whose parent brands applied a bit of elbow grease to make the packaging impactful and memorable.

Hanson of Sonoma

The Hanson family’s eponymous line of organic whiskey and vodka has won accolades from O, The Oprah Magazine to Chef Alice Waters. But once California became a COVID-19 hot spot, the distillery started producing these hand sanitizers in cobalt-blue spray bottles with pulp labels reminiscent of the days of hand printing. “Things are moving very quickly as we convert our distillery from making vodka to hand sanitizers, so there wasn’t much time to spend on this,” marketing director Alanna Hanson told Adweek. “We pulled the labeling together in 10 minutes. Even so, we wanted the product to reflect who we are and also believe it’s important to find beauty in everything you do—especially in stressful times. As a family, we come from a strong art and design background, so it was important to stay true to our brand and aesthetic.”

Lexington Brewing and Distilling

Part of Kentucky’s Lexington Brewing Company, the Town Branch Distillery produces a range of whiskeys, bourbons and, lately, a prodigious run of hand sanitizer. At press time, the distillery had fielded well over 1,025 individual requests for the stuff. The off-white paper label and its typeface match what consumers were already used to seeing on the liquor bottles, but Lexington added a ghosted photo of the distillery in the background, a subtle reminder that a local business is rising to the occasion.

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