Packaging: Putting primary packaging first
From cans to bottles to aseptic containers, beverage packaging is attracting attention for more than how it looks these days. Consumers, the media, Wal-Mart, other retailers and grocery chains, state legislators and whole countries are examining what a product is packaged in. Regardless if the issue is health, safety, the environment or aesthetics, packaging material is becoming an even greater consideration.
“Consumers are dramatically changing their views on packaging,” says Laurens van de Vijver, vice president of marketing and product management at Tetra Pak Inc., Vernon Hills, Ill.
A couple of years ago packaging was all about making a product more convenient for consumers, he explains. Today, consumers are more interested in packaging solutions that secure the basic needs for packaging a product, which is a certain amount of convenience, safety of the packaging and what’s inside, but basically about simplicity, van de Vijver says.
“We will never get rid of packaging, because it’s really a part of our daily lives,” he says. “… But it’s really about consumers wanting to become part of the solution instead of part of the problem.”
Sustainability and recycling
Today, packaging innovations are about providing solutions. Social and environmental responsibilities, such as recycling, using less material and carbon footprints are at the forefront of packaging companies’ minds.
“Reducing the carbon footprints is a way of trying to work with your supply of natural resources and raw materials to be closer to the factory site as well as the deliverables of the packaging to the product manufacturer,” says Joe Cattaneo, president of the Glass Packaging Institute.
Additionally, manufacturers are under a lot of pressure to become sustainable, and sustainable products and companies are appealing to eco-conscious consumers.
“We think it’s great for glass,” says Kevin Stevens, vice president of sales and marketing for the North American division of O-I, Perrysburg, Ohio. “It’s great for the environment. It’s great for consumers to become aware of this sustainability effort.”
Sustainability is also having a beneficial impact on the use of PET in the beverage industry, says Thomas Henning, director of marketing at Constar International Inc., Philadelphia. “PET packaging is highly recyclable with a high recovery value, lighter weight resulting in cost savings, and a leaner environmental footprint enables more efficient transportation of products with less secondary packaging,” he says.
Recycling plays a significant role in a package’s sustainability effort. For example, using recycled glass in the manufacturing process saves on raw materials by reusing the glass and on energy costs because glass doesn’t need to be heated to as high a temperature the second time. “The more recycled glass we get back, [and] we can put back into the glass process, the more energy we can save in making the glass bottle,” Stevens says.
Additionally, glass does not need to be treated with chemicals before a bottle is melted down and used again. “You can take one glass bottle and melt it down and turn it into another glass bottle infinitely,” Stevens says.
The aluminum can is also recyclable indefinitely, and has a recycling rate of 52 percent, says Jennifer Hoover, manager of marketing communications for Ball Packaging Products Americas, Broomfield, Colo. “Aluminum’s recycling rate helps reduce the energy used to produce U.S. aluminum by nearly 50 percent,” she says. “The typical can also comprises more than 40 percent recycled aluminum.”
Currently, Exal Corp., Youngstown, Ohio, uses 53 percent post-consumer recycled content in the coil for its C2C process, a technology that turns coil into cans. But that fluctuates with the number of cans returned for recycling, says Michael Clark, Exal’s director of sales for beverage and C2C.
For PET, more than 1 billion pounds of PET bottles put into the recycling stream were sold in the United States in 2005, 42 percent of which were exported, Hoover says.
“While the reclamation capacity in the U.S. is almost 1 billion pounds, there continues to be considerable demand for this material outside U.S. borders,” she says. “The 2005 PET recycling rate was 23.1 percent, a number that could be much higher considering the economic and environmental savings of using recycled PET feedstock that continues to keep this industry thriving and demanding more recycled PET bottles.”
More than 56 million people in the United States live in communities where they can recycle aseptic carton packages, and that number increases every year, van de Vijver says. “We are committed to continue to invest in all kinds of ways to increase the recycling rates.”
Like many consumers, packages also are concerned with their weight. Whether for environmental principles or cost saving practices, PET, glass and aluminum bottles and cans are shaving excess material.
“Since Ball first began manufacturing aluminum cans in 1969, lightweighting has been a fundamental part of our business for economic and environmental reasons,” Hoover says. “The size of the end (lid) diameter has been reduced five times, saving substantial amounts of aluminum each time. Our newest can end uses 15 percent less aluminum per end than its predecessor.
“The amount of aluminum used for the can body has continually been reduced over the years as well. Today’s 12-ounce aluminum can package uses about 40 percent less aluminum than in 1970.”
Additional lightweighting is being done in extruded aluminum packaging by using different alloys and new processes, such as coil-to-can processing, Exal’s Clark says. “Our C2C process is really the next generation of these bottles in that it is a lightweighted version of the extruded package,” he says.
Even though PET bottles are lighter weight, enabling savings in shipping and handling costs, additional lightweighting in PET is a trend for this material as well.
“Finding better ways to take weight out of the material, to make it lightweight is a trend that will continue to go on as it addresses a lot of the sustainability issues,” Constar’s Henning says.
“Lightweighting of PET bottles allows for savings in resin and energy,” Hoover says. “For example, Ball’s 500-ml. water bottle has been reduced from 23.5 grams in 1994 when we began operations to 15.2 grams today, a 35 percent reduction.” Compared to other packaging materials, glass is heavier to transport, but looking at glass from cradle to cradle â€” from the time its raw materials are extracted from the ground through the recycling stream back into another material â€” glass rates as environmentally friendly, Stevens says.
From resealable aluminum cans and bottles to resealable gable-top cartons to clear PET bottles and colored glass, the core of primary packaging is still presentation.
Ball offers 18 sizes of aluminum cans, and 20 percent of its aluminum can business is now in specialty aluminum cans, Hoover says. “Developments in aluminum beverage packaging are focused around incremental gains in functionality and package appearance, all designed to improve brand connection,” she says.
New advancements in can graphics from Ball include thermochromatic inks that change color as the beverage can cools, and lets consumers know when the beverage is cool enough to drink. Ball also introduced Eyeris, an enhanced, photographic-quality printing process for cans. “When a consumer sees high-quality imagery, their perception of the quality of what’s inside the can improves.”
Innovations around the can end also are providing added value for beverage companies. In April, Coors Brewing Co. introduced its new Vented Wide Mouth Can, with a built-in vent that uses Ball’s SmoothPour vented beverage can end. The modified aluminum beverage can end features an 8 percent wider opening and a vent tube that directs airflow into the can to deliver a smoother pour and draft-like drinking experience, as well as a visual cue to consumers, Hoover explains. All 12-ounce Coors Light and Coors Banquet cans feature the Vented Wide Mouth Can.
Another trend in aluminum beverage packaging is reclosability, an added convenience aluminum has not been able to provide before. Last year, Caribou Iced Coffees launched in Ball’s Alumi-Tek aluminum bottle. The bottle features a widemouth (38 mm.) roll over pilfer proof (ROPP) closure. A 16-ounce Alumi-Tek bottle will be introduced later this year, Hoover says.
An additional resealable innovation, Ball Packaging Europe along with Antonio Perra, director of Netherlands-based Bound2B B.V., developed the Ball Resealable End (BRE), which makes it possible to reseal both steel and aluminum cans after initial opening. BRE will launch on a 500-ml. aluminum can for Coca-Cola Co.’s Burn energy drink for the French market. The BRE is an aluminum can end into which a flat opening mechanism made of plastic is integrated. When consumers push their fingers to open it, it opens a mouth piece. The opening mechanism can be rotated back again to its original position to seal the can. The can has a tamper-proof feature so the consumer can easily verify that the seal has not been broken prior to first opening.
Rexam Beverage Can North America, Chicago, also expanded its 24-ounce resealable aluminum Cap Can with technology from Dayton Systems Group in March with the release of Aqua Planet from Power Brands, Van Nuys, Calif. Rexam introduced Cap Can with technology from Dayton Systems Group with Monster’s 24-ounce resealable aluminum can in 2005.
Exal also is manufacturing the first resealable aluminum extruded bottle for carbonated soft drinks. Available for both extruded and C2C aluminum bottles, the packages have a 28-mm. ROPP finish, and the company soon will be launching a 38-mm. ROPP finish. The aluminum bottles offer full-body shaping as well as shoulder and neck area shaping, Exal’s Clark says.
Convenience and options
For Tetra Pak, demand for aseptic packaging is coming from all beverage categories, but particularly for dairy, wine, 100 percent kid’s juices and other chilled drinks. The company also is seeing demand increase from niche companies like O.N.E. Coconut Water, which launched in a single-serve Tetra Pak carton last year.
“The core of Tetra Pak technology is aseptic technology where you are actually able to deliver product quality on an extremely high level without any preservatives in order to maintain the quality of the product and the nutritional value,” van de Vijver says.
Last year, Tetra Pak released Tetra Gemina Aseptic, a roll-fed gable-top shaped package with full aseptic performance for both juice and milk-based products. The package’s top and distinctive shape, combined with easy handling and ease of pouring provides convenience to the end user, van de Vijver says. Already launched in Spain, Tetra Pak will be offering family-pack and portion-pack sizes of Tetra Gemina Aseptic to the U.S. market later this year.
“It’s an aseptic package, so it brings all the advantages of an aseptic package, but it offers also the convenience of resealability and closeability for those packages that normally have a big cap or very big spout,” he says. “…The interesting thing as well is that due to the shape, it relates closely to the classic gable-top package. So what you get from all kinds of consumer research is that consumers also experience this package as a package that relates to freshness of the products.”
For glass, the material’s premium image and “purity,” are playing a role in its use. “By [purity], I mean how it protects the product that goes in it, so the flavor that they intended for it to have when they put it in is the flavor that the consumer enjoys when it goes out,” Stevens says.
Additionally, O-I is finding that every beverage category has a high-end segment that glass packaging is appealing to consumers who are paying more for a product, Stevens says. For example, the spirits category is predominately packaged in glass, and particularly the premium-priced end.
“If you look on the shelf, you’re seeing more and more very unique designs, very thick base glass, all targeted at a premium image,” he says. “…The liquor industry as they go after the trade-up consumer, every time they come up with a more expensive brand image, they want a more expensive package to convey that image.”
Glass also is experiencing a retro trend. Coca-Cola North America in April released a special vintage Coca-Cola bottle called the 1906 Diamond Label. The 8.5-ounce bottle is available in four-packs that feature the early 20th Century Coca-Cola Spencerian script logo and Diamond Label design elements.
A lot of activity in glass decorations, design and coatings also is occurring, Stevens says. “There is a lot of desire for unique colors in glass,” he says. “Traditionally, you’ll see clear, as we call it flint, amber and green. Sometimes you’ll see some blue bottles out there … but that’s pretty much the extent of it, because changing colors is an extremely expensive option.”
O-I has been working with third parties to develop a coating process. A bottle would actually run in one color and then be coated through a secondary process to become another color, Stevens says. The company expects to see test quantities in the market this summer.
PET innovations for spirits have also been released. McCormick Distilling Co., Weston, Mo., released the first PET liquor bottle with a built-in handle. Manufactured by Amcor PET, the 1.75-liter PET McCormick Vodka bottle is blowmolded around a perfectly placed grip. Amcor PET built a proprietary “reheat, blow” machine to manufacture the bottle at its Nicholasville, Ky., plant.
Greater design flexibility, new glass-like shapes, lighter weight packages and new barrier technology for PET have all combined and are designed to keep products looking and tasting fresher longer, Henning says.
Last year, Constar’s MonOxbar technology, an active oxygen scavenger material, was used for the launch of Yellow Jersey, an imported line of wines from Boisset Vins & Spiritueux, Bourgogne, France. Constar’s multilayer Oxbar technology has been used in many beverage applications, including beer, Henning says.
In 2007, Constar also released DiamondClear, the next level of oxygen scavenger technology that offers glass-like clarity, gloss and extended barrier products. The DiamondClear technology launched last year in ConAgra Foods’ Hunt’s Ketchup, which was recognized by the Institute of Packaging Professionals as the top sustainable package of 2007. This year, Constar received approval from the Food and Drug Administration for expanded use of DiamondClear, including PET bottles and containers for shelf-stable products like juices.
“Our active scavenging monolayer technologies, MonOxbar and DiamondClear, eat oxygen, which can destroy your products,” Henning says. “These barrier materials are cost effective, and are tolerant of distribution temperature swings and rough handling. These technologies are being used today in juices, teas, functional beverages and wines, to name a few.” Constar also has several new technologies designed for hot-fill beverages that are hitting the market during the next several months.
“Constar has new panel-less, single-serve hot-fill bottle technology,” Henning says. “Some of the many advantages of this new technology include a glass-like look with no vacuum panels, resulting in a smoother feel in the hand.”
The new technology will be available in multiple stock sizes and neck finishes, as well as custom designs. The company also has a new single-serve, lightweight square designed for sustainability that offers better cube spacing. Additionally, Constar is offering a new Horizon bottle that provides a more upscale panel-less look, Henning says. The Horizon bottle’s tall and slender appearance can adapt to any hot-fill finish form. All of the new technologies can be used with Constar’s MonOxbar and DiamondClear monolayer barrier technologies to enhance the total performance, Henning says.
Ball’s latest barrier technology introduction SIG Plasmax is an enhanced passive barrier for oxygen-sensitive products. “Ball is the only PET bottle manufacturer in North America to offer this transparent, internal silicon oxide (SiOx) barrier coating technology, and is currently using it in many commercial applications, including wine, beer and flavored alcoholic beverages, with shelf-life results that meet or surpass those provided by alternative barrier solutions.”
The ultra-thin (less than 100 nanometers) material is recyclable, flexible, transparent and resists cracking, abrasion and delamination. Because Plasmax does not degrade over time, the length of time bottle inventory can be stored is not limited by the barrier material, Hoover says.
“PET packaging developments include the continuing proliferation of shapes and sizes that only plastic packaging can easily provide,” Hoover says. “The light weighting … continues to take place across all types of PET packaging. Development in barrier solutions also continue to make PET a more viable choice for sensitive beverage products.”