A little healthy competition can drive innovation – and often pays off for those who think outside the box. The beverage industry is no exception, and drinks industry awards continue to recognise some of the industry’s most creative ideas.

In the alcoholic beverage sector, the World Beer Awards is a major event for beer enthusiasts and breweries. Run by UK-based consumer beer review website www.tastingbeers.com, the awards programme announces regional winners every May, with the World’s Best Beer crowned in July – although this year Iceland’s volcanic ash cloud has postponed all results until July. The international contest accepts entries until February, and in 2010 it cost GBP115 (US$177) plus VAT to enter a category, with deals for companies who enter more than one product. 

The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), based in the UK, also presents a variety of annual awards, particularly to UK producers, including the Champion of Beer in Britain (CBOB) award for several classes of beer. Bitters, best bitters and ales are just some of the categories judged by tasting panels throughout the year. There is also an overall winner; Nottingham-based Castle Rock brewery's Harvest Pale took home the supreme CBOB award this year, with Timothy Taylor's Landlord coming in as runner-up. The awards are given out in August each year but, according to the organisation, the nomination process is ongoing and often arises out of local competitions and tastings around the UK.

Apart from beer, the International Wine and Spirits Competition has been awarding the best quality wine, spirits and liqueurs on the planet for more than 40 years. Entries from more than 80 countries are judged by variety, region and vintage, where the highest mark is awarded best in class. From there, category winners are re-tasted for national and international awards. Northern hemisphere wine awards were handed out in May, and the Southern hemisphere’s wine results will be released in October. Awards for spirits were released in July, and can be found here.

In Asia, the Hong Kong International Wine and Spirit Competition, sponsored by airline Cathay Pacific, is another award for beverage producers hoping to launch themselves in the growing Asia market. In 2010, the second annual Asia-focused awards will take place at the end of October, with results announced on 4 November. Beverage producers looking to compete must send applications by 8 October and samples must be delivered by 14 October. Entry forms and instructions can be found here.

For oenophiles and wine producers, the International Wine Challenge (IWC) hands out gold medals and trophies every year in June to wines according to their region and category. Gold medal winners are tasted a second time to determine if they also deserve a trophy. France’s wine industry came out on top in 2010, with 21 French wines taking home a trophy. Australia and Portugal came in second and third with 12 and 11 trophies respectively. Click here for entry details. The International Spirits Challenge offers a sister ceremony to the wine show. 

The Wine Innovation Awards encourages wineries big and small who have “done anything new” to compete. Any winery around the world with innovations in new wines, new packaging or new techniques is welcome. Entry for the 2010 awards was GBP115 plus VAT or EUR125. 

In the non-alcoholic sector, a major awards programme is the global Beverage Innovation Awards (BIA), which covers the international soft drinks and juice sector from best packaging to best television ad. The awards are presented annually in September at trade exhibition InterBev, and applications for various award categories are available here for US$195 per category. The company also organises international awards for the dairy industry and the bottled water sector, and a new US BIA programme will begin in September this year, in partnership with the American Beverage Association.

Apart from specific drink awards, the beverage sector can also enter some general industry competitions – especially when it comes to sustainable packaging.

Coca-Cola’s new PlantBottle, which uses 30% sugar cane and molasses material in its PET mixture to reduce reliance on petrochemicals, won a gold award at the Dupont Awards for Packaging Innovation, a global awards programme in Washington, DC, where sustainability is one of the main criteria for entries, no matter the category. 

This May, the 2010 top ‘diamond’ prize for excellence in innovation, cost/waste reduction and sustainability went to Exal Corp and Alcoa Rigid Packaging in the US for their ‘coil to can’ (C2C) aluminium bottle manufacturing technology, which uses up to 65% recycled aluminium alloy and is processed at high line speeds with up to 40% less weight – at a cost comparable to glass or PET. The company said this will allow marketers to consider aluminium bottles for large-scale beverage applications for the first time.

The DuPont awards cover packaging for all industries, not just drinks, but given a comrade took home the top prize in 2010, the drinks industry should not ignore it. According to DuPont, the awards are open to brand owners, packaging designers, converters and manufacturers around the world, and there is no entry fee. Companies interested in applying for a DuPont award can find more information here.

The importance of sustainability – particularly PET issues – is also highlighted at the Food and Drink iNet Innovations Awards, where the 2009 overall champion was Nottingham Trent University’s School of Science and Technology for its solution to leaching problems in plastic bottles, as well as the addition of anti-microbial properties to help kill bacteria and prolong a product’s shelf life.

On the marketing side, Coca-Cola recently won a global CLIO Gold Interactive Award (a global competition for advertising and design) for its ‘Happiness Machine’ marketing campaign, which installed a special vending machine that handed out extra drinks, prizes and pizzas to unsuspecting students at a US college. The YouTube video had more than 2m hits. Awards can also come from outside the drinks or marketing industry: PepsiCo this year picked up an award from the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) in the US, for its ‘We Inspire’ marketing campaign.