Stirrings Bar Solutions use SIG Combibloc's combiFit

The U.S. beverage container industry is an estimated $22.5 billion business, according to the Freedonia Group Inc., Cleveland, Ohio. Demand for beverage containers in the United States is expected to grow 2.4 percent annually to 272 billion units through 2012, the group says.
Gains are anticipated to be driven by a healthy outlook for single-serving containers, enhanced and functional beverages, and new product introductions, Freedonia says. Plastic containers, which held 61 percent of total gallons packaged in 2007, will remain the largest and fastest-growing segment, the research firm says. Despite environmental concerns, bottled water will continue to post above-average market gains, it says.
The second leading beverage container type, metal cans are expected to post minimal growth as a result of declining sales in some beverage categories, such as soft drinks, and growth of other beverage segments, such as energy drinks. Within the metal category, Freedonia expects demand for aluminum bottles to increase rapidly from their current low base. This is attributed to aluminum bottles’ upscale appearance, which offers a way to differentiate in the marketplace.
Glass container demand is predicted to grow modestly, due to the increased sales of such categories as wine, ready-to-drink tea and other non-alcohol beverages where glass’s premium image continues to be a marketing advantage. Demand for paperboard containers is expected to decline as beverage packages move from gable-top cartons to plastic bottles and aseptic cartons to pouches, Freedonia says.
Green packaging
Driving beverage packaging developments are beverage companies’ responses to what consumers expect from their beverage packages. Sustainability, which stands for numerous things to different consumers, remains a key issue this year. A beverage package’s recyclability, carbon footprint or amount of materials used are all factors in which interest continues to grow.
Across all packaging segments, demand in the United States for green packaging, which consists of recycled content, biodegradable and reusable packaging, is projected to increase 3.4 percent annually to $43.9 billion in 2013, using 59 billion pounds of material, Freedonia says. Growth of green packaging is expected to outpace overall packaging, but it will remain modest due to the maturity of many products and the fact that recycled content already has a large presence in paperboard and metal packaging.
The fastest-growing segments are anticipated for biodegradable plastic packaging and recycled plastic packaging, according to Freedonia. Biodegradable plastic packaging is forecast to climb nearly 13 percent per year through 2013, driven by increased price competitiveness with conventional resins, rapidly expanding capacity and lower pricing volatility than petroleum-based plastic packaging materials, the research firm says.
Lightweighting and using recycled content offer beverage companies costs savings, but also are becoming a marketing message for their position on the environment. Most recently, PepsiCo’s Aquafina began to market the Eco-Fina Bottle, the lightest half-liter bottle of any nationally distributed water brand on the market, the company says. At a weight of 10.9 grams, the Eco-Fina Bottle is made with 50 percent less plastic than the half-liter Aquafina bottles produced in 2002, eliminating an estimated 75 million pounds of plastic annually, the company says. In addition to lightweighting the half-liter bottle, the Eco-Fina Bottle will be produced in bottling facilities, which will reduce the product’s carbon footprint, and also eliminate cardboard base pads from Eco-Fina Bottle 24-packs, which will contribute to saving 20 million pounds of corrugate by 2010, the company says.
In regard to recycling and using recycled content in beverage packaging, last year PepsiCo began its “Have we met before?” campaign designed to communicate the benefits of aluminum can recycling. The messages featured on Pepsi and Diet Pepsi cans included: “Recycling could save 95 percent of the energy used to make this can,” “On average, aluminum cans produced in the United States contain 40-50 percent recycled content,” “The average person has the opportunity to recycle 25,000 cans in a lifetime,” “Recycling a single aluminum can saves enough energy to power a TV for three hours,” and “Recycle this can and save enough energy to power a 100-watt light bulb for four hours.” The recycling facts and messages, which were provided by the National Recycling Coalition, are featured on approximately 500 million Pepsi cans and 250 million Diet Pepsi cans nationwide each month.
“When you’ve got companies like Pepsi and Nestle doing this, you know it’s not a fad,” says Jim Peterson, vice president of marketing for Ball Corp., Broomfield, Colo. “When we take 4 or 5 percent out of a can or out of a bottle, the consumer really doesn’t get that. That is more of a price gain with the brand owner, so it really becomes about the recycling benefits to the consumer. It is what really gets played up most of the time.”
As concern for the environment grows, sustainability-related factors continue to influence primary packaging developments. Beverage cans offer the benefit of high recycling return rates, and the metals used in cans can be recycled repeatedly with no degradation in quality, says Tom Hughes, marketing manager at Crown Beverage Packaging North America, Philadelphia.
Beverages that are packaged in plastic typically use PET, which has a high market demand and recovery value, says Suzanne Cohen, senior manager of marketing service at Constar Inc., Philadelphia.
Packaging that contains post-consumer recycled (PCR) materials also is becoming more prominent. This year, Amcor PET Packaging developed a 100 percent PCR 50-ml. PET bottle for Weston, Mo.-based McCormick Distilling Co.’s 360 Vodka. The carbon footprint of the 100 percent PCR 360 Vodka bottle is 60 percent lower than virgin PET that Amcor supplies for other McCormick Distilling brands, the company says. Amcor incorporates varying percentages of PCR into PET blends for other companies as well.
Consumer trends for healthy packaging, organic beverages and environmentally friendly products continue to benefit the glass industry too, says Kevin Stevens, vice president of sales and marketing for O-I, Perrysburg, Ohio.
“New research continues to shed light on consumer preference for glass packaging,” he says. “Consumers are looking at not only what is inside a package, but also the composition of the package itself. This continues to lead many consumers to turn to glass. Because glass essentially is a chemically inert material, it will not interact with the product it houses, maintaining the purity and taste of products.”
Glass is also completely recyclable, and can be recycled into new glass containers repeatedly without losing its purity. O-I continuously looks to use recycled glass, called cullet, to produce new beverage containers, and in turn reduce the amount of energy used and emissions released in product, Stevens says.
“Some customers are coming to O-I looking for ways to lightweight their package to reduce energy,” he says. “In the case of the beer industry, O-I has been very successful in past lightweighting endeavors — reducing the weight of beer bottles by 20 percent over the last 10 years — and plans to use its global resources to continue this success in other categories.”
For the beer industry, O-I introduced the Eco-Lite bottle, an ultra-light 12-ounce beer bottle with a low center of gravity that improves stability and reduces costs in transportation and storage.
In the North American wine industry this year, O-I also is noticing a trend toward lighter weight bottles. The company developed technology needed to make lighter bottles that stay true to the winery’s brand attributes, and is working actively with wineries to reduce their carbon footprints, Stevens says.
Aseptic cartons from SIG Combibloc Inc., Chester, Pa., now use 28 grams of materials to package 1 liter of product, says Tom Shaver, vice president of marketing North and Central America for SIG Combibloc Inc. “The packaging accounts for less than 3 percent of the total weight,” he says.
The standard beverage carton from SIG Combibloc is made from 0.4-ml. cardboard. To prevent the cardboard from becoming soggy, it is coated with a 0.05-ml. polyethylene layer. In order to store beverages for longer periods without refrigeration, a 0.0065-ml. layer, seven times thinner than a human hair, of aluminum foil is added to the beverage carton.
SIG Combibloc’s commitment to environmental protection and sustainability covers the complete value chain of a beverage carton ­from the renewable resource wood to the recycling of used packages.
“Environmental management systems applied at the production plants help to use all resources and raw materials as sparingly and environmentally friendly as possible,” Shaver says.
New packages and technologies
With the slowdown in the economy, along with softening demand, some beverage companies have transitioned from branded packaging to private label due to price pressures. But packaging suppliers that work with branded products still continue to innovate.
“It’s very beneficial that the brands get that innovating in a down economy will set them up for when the economy turns around vs. if they wait for the economy to turn around and start the innovation process,” Peterson says.
Convenience is still a big driver of packaging innovation. To address this consumer demand, Ball Corp. developed the Alumi-Tek aluminum resealable beverage bottle. On the market in 12-ounce and 16-ounce sizes and this summer in an 8-ounce size, the Alumi-Tek bottles have the same high-quality graphics found on cans, and are decorated with the same printing process. Ball leverages its two-piece aluminum beverage can manufacturing expertise to produce the Alumi-Tek bottle because the manufacturing technology for both packages is similar. The bottle can be used for a variety of beverages, such as beer, carbonated soft drinks, juices, energy drinks and beverages requiring retort processing.
Another resealable innovation from Ball Packaging Europe is the Ball Resealable End, which makes it possible to reseal both steel and aluminum cans after initial opening. The Coca-Cola Co. launched its Burn energy drink in the French market using the Ball Resealable End, and a major energy drink brand is bringing the resealable end to the U.S. market this summer, Peterson says.
This summer, Ball also will be launching a 32-ounce cap can, targeted at the energy drink market, that features a lug nut cap. “You twist, and it makes a really cool sound when it opens,” Peterson says.
Beverage companies continue to work on packaging options that showcase their beverages’ value. Graphics are one way they are doing it. Last year, High Falls Brewing Co., Rochester, N.Y., introduced its rebranded Dundee Honey Brown using Ball’s Eyeris enhanced beverage can printing technology. The can graphics feature a 150-line screen, which is one of the highest graphic resolutions achieved in full-scale beverage can production, Ball says. Eyeris is particularly effective for reproducing high-resolution, photographic quality images such as fruit, vegetables, water, ice and people. The process uses up to six colors, is available for any of the 18 beverage can sizes Ball manufactures in North America and is compatible with all filling processes.
The idea of the can itself as a canvas for brands is essential, Crown’s Hughes adds. Crown has developed a number of printing technologies to help companies make the most of the beverage can as a package. Most recently, it introduced high-quality print technology, which significantly enhances the quality of images reproduced on beverage cans, enabling the finest details to be printed, he says.
Brasseries Kronenbourg, part of the Carlsberg Group, recently took advantage of this technology in an effort to create a new, fresh look for its Kronenbourg and 7.2 brands. The new beer cans feature a higher definition golden Kronenbourg logo surrounded by glistening water droplets using Crown’s high-quality print.
Beverage companies also can break the landscape of store shelves with shape, using Crown’s proprietary blowforming technology. The technique produces cans in a wide variety of unique shapes and sizes with fine detail and significant expansion capability, Hughes says. Shaped cans have been well-received in Europe, he says. One example of a shaped can in the U.S. market is the Heineken Keg can.
In aseptic carton innovations, this year SIG Combibloc launched the first of its combiFit Premium package in 500-ml. and 1-liter sizes in the U.S. market. CombiFit Premium is available for non-carbonated beverages, and features a slim style with a slanted top. In addition, SIG has launched a CombiSmart opening feature, the smallest screw-cap available for small size product applications such as condensed milk, creamers and sauces, the company says.
Tetra Pak, Lund, Sweden, also announced the global availability of Tetra Gemina Aseptic, a roll-fed gable-top package for juice and milk-based products. Tetra Gemina Aseptic 500-ml. Square and Tetra Gemina Aseptic 750-ml. Square open up opportunities for customers to enter alternative retail channels, and develop new products at attractive price points, Tetra Pak says. The Tetra Gemina Aseptic package also is available in 500-ml., 750-ml. and 1,000-ml. sizes.
Driven to further innovate in glass, this year, O-I launched an Ideation Center at its headquarters. The Ideation Center is a hub where O-I engineers, designers, R&D teams and marketers collaborate with customers to create innovative breakthroughs in glass packaging. One example is in the beer category, in which O-I is working on a bottle called The Share Bottle. The 750-ml. beer bottle allows consumers to share their beer experience together with a larger package design, Stevens says.
PET packaging suppliers continue to innovate across beverage categories as well. For the wine segment, Ball offers SIG Plasmax, an ultra-thin, transparent, internal silicon oxide barrier coating technology that protects the wine inside the bottle and is easily removed during the PET recycling process.
“It allows the product to be super lightweight with a barrier,” Peterson says. “It extends the shelf life because the barrier does not kick in until the product is filled. Typically in a PET bottle, the clock starts ticking for the effectiveness of the barrier when the bottle is blown.”
Constar also offers barrier technologies for PET containers. DiamondClear and MonOxbar employ oxygen scavengers blended into lightweight monolayer PET containers to protect oxygen-sensitive products from spoilage in the package.
For beverages manufactured using a hot-fill process, Constar developed PET bottles with Vertical Compression Technology (VCT) to provide a high performing, appealing package that employs a special geometry to address the hot-fill process. The panel-less bottle for hot-fill beverages was first commercialized in a line of 20-ounce teas and juices for Arizona Beverage Co. The new bottles were designed using Constar’s CONStruct advanced predictive engineering software, which optimizes performance and material use.
The newest technology Constar released is PET monolayer bottles with X-4 technology. Significantly lighter in weight than both glass and comparably sized PET contains, the PET bottles with X-4 technology give a more glass-like structure without panels and fewer ridges, the company says. Currently used by Sobe Lifewater, Constar’s X-4 technology is designed specifically for hot-fill applications of non-carbonated beverages such as juices, ready-to-drink teas, sports drinks and functional waters.
Whereas traditional PET hot-fill bottles employ flexible vacuum panels to withstand the intense temperatures and pressure of hot filling, bottles with X-4 technology are cylindrical with rigid body walls. The vacuum required during the heating and cooling process is accommodated in an unlikely place: the bottom of the bottle, it says.
Constar has invested heavily in both its CONStruct advanced predictive engineering software and i-Design automated package development process to design bottles and jars with the minimum amount of material required for the application. In combination, these technologies make it possible for Constar’s PET packaging to replace older multi-layer PET and glass to provide sustainability gains to the industry, the company says. The technologies also succeeded in cutting product development timelines — in some cases by as much as 90 percent, the company says.
Graham Packaging, York, Pa., continues to develop new technologies for lighter weight containers with new shapes for PET packaging. The company offers a product line called Sustainers that features reduced weights. The family includes single-serve and multi-serve containers. “In some cases, we have reduced bottle weights by 20 percent using new technologies,” says Mark Leiden, vice president of global marketing and PET business manager at Graham Packaging.
In addition, Graham Packaging released G-Lite, a 20-ounce PET stock hot-fill bottle. Up to now, plastic bottles used in hot-filling had to have a substantial amount of material in their base to stand up to the rigors of the process. Graham Packaging spent two years coming up with a new solution. A proprietary technique called HOB, which stands for Highly Oriented Base, creates increased crystallinity in the plastic at the molecular level, says Phillip Sheets, senior project manager for Graham Packaging. This, in turn, allows extreme thinning of the plastic, contributing to less weight.
TalkingRain Beverage Co., Preston, Wash., is using the G-Lite bottle for vitamin-enhanced flavored waters it produces for co-branding. The reduction in plastic resin used in the bottle equates to a cost reduction of nearly 5 percent, TalkingRain says. G-Lite will be rolled out to other customers in various sizes and shapes over the next several months. BI