We’re seeing these crests on more of the drinks on our shelves. Certifications symbolized with leaves and arrows, and checkmarks. But what are these beverage certifications? And why would a brand want to certify its beverage? Why would a beverage certification be valuable to a consumer?

Certification symbols are more than pretty icons on your beverage packaging.

Beverage certifications are optional verifications that a brand may pay to use. The use of the associated symbol may be regulated by a third-party organization, which confirms the brand’s products follow the related best practices. You may recognize some of their names: Among them are Fair Trade, Gluten-free, Halal, and USDA Organic. But with 456 global options in eco-focused certifications alone, it can be difficult to sift through all of the options to decide which certifications for your brand are optional and which are essential.

Determining which certifications are essential for your beverage brand.

Beverage certifications can be tools to give consumers confidence in their preferred brands. In recent years, the world has seen a significant boom in the popularity of gluten-free diets and increased awareness of sustainable business practices. Gluten-free markets have grown in recent years specifically due to their health benefits, and research shows that consumers are becoming more environmentally conscious as well.

According to GreenPrint’s Business of Sustainability Index, three-quarters of consumers “want to buy from companies that help them achieve a more sustainable and socially responsible life.” Beyond nutrition, consider certifications that align with the values of your consumers. One example is the New York State Grown & Certified program, which “makes it easy for consumers to identify local, safely-handled, and environmentally responsible agricultural products.” This program is a voluntary and cooperative effort among producers, processors, wholesalers, retailers, restaurants, and the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets “to meet consumer demand for high-quality food and agricultural products.”

Greenwashing brands and other misguided beverage certification strategies

Not all labels are created equal. The popularity of healthy and eco-friendly consumer goods has led unscrupulous brands to “greenwash” themselves. Whether by ignorance or on purpose, these brands represent themselves as “all-natural” or “environmentally friendly” to influence a positive public image. 

The Code of Federal Regulations states that these claims must be truthful, but the claim that a product is “free from” something is not regulated. Some brands may choose to use this terminology to assure the customer of the quality of their product without committing to third-party certification.

In order to successfully make a “free from” claim, smart beverage brands back up their statements with supporting stories, research, and data.

It is important to note that some certifications, such as “gluten-free,” are regulated by the FDA. That government body requires brands to be “truthful and consistent” when making any gluten-free claims on packaging. Any product labeled as “gluten-free” but failing to meet the requirements of the regulation is subject to regulatory action by the FDA.

Clearing up the confusion around beverage certifications

The wide variety of certifications and related terminology causes confusion among customers, 78 percent of whom do not understand how to identify environmentally friendly products (U.S. News). NYU professor Matthew Hayek even encourages consumers to focus on the Nutrition Facts panel rather than on certification labels. This, he says, is “federally regulated, transparent, and benefits from decades of hard science.” 

Once you understand the meaning of beverage certifications and which are available to your product(s), it’s then time to explore and decide which of these certifications are relevant to your business. 

Choosing certifications that align with the values of your brand

Experts in the industry suggest that a company’s mission is equally as important as the appearance of its label. According to Food & Beverage Insider, “Choosing which of these certifications, if any, is right for one’s brand can be done through an understanding of the brand’s positioning—what the company stands for and the intended consumer target.” 

In other words, the brand must reflect the certification. Therefore, if your company is bee-friendly, but the consumer doesn’t recognize the bee-friendly certification label, and there is no communication beyond the label, then the expense and time committed to receiving the certification fall flat. 

In order to truly compel your customers, your brand must tell the consumer who you are on the packaging, throughout the branding, and on the website.

Becoming certified may not be for all beverage brands. In fact, certifications can be expensive for smaller brands or startups, with each certification requiring an expense or time commitment. 

Overall, it is important to note that third-party certifications do not indicate that a product is better or healthier than any other product on the market. They may help to build trust in your customer base if allergen, faith, or sustainable practice are essential to your product’s success, but you can also explain product qualities through your packaging design rather than through certification labels. 

Certifications as part of your overall beverage brand strategy

If you decide to commit to third-party certification, ensure that your brand communicates this seamlessly through its branding, marketing, and packaging. Ensure that you present a brand that aligns with your core values and that of your target audience. This will be key to establishing trust and finding success in an ever-crowded beverage marketplace.

If you would like to know more about how 29 Design Studio can help your beverage brand grow, whether that’s setting a strategy in place or determining the elements of your beverage packaging, please let us know. We would love to help.