The downturn in the economy led to a decline in new product launches last year, which had many packaging manufacturers seeing green. Not in terms of memories of greener pastures of the past, but turning to green efforts to expand their business. From cartons to glass to cans to plastic, each industry is addressing sustainability to better appeal to beverage companies and green-minded consumers.

“Sustainability and innovation overlap somewhat because a certain amount of innovation is required to move forward on sustainability,” says Bill Wight, business manager in the PET business at Eastman Chemical Co., Kingsport, Tenn.

The decline in new product launches had many beverage companies turning to packaging redesigns to freshen up their brand. For packaging designers, many took cues from trends in competing segments. Ed Martin, business development manager for Exal, Youngstown, Ohio, says there’s room for each type of packaging.

“The way I look at primary packaging trends, there’s not one single package that’s going to be used in every case so it’s going to be ‘Will certain products be used more in certain use occasions?’” Martin says.

Promoting recyclability
Carton manufacturer SIG Combibloc, Chester, Pa., sees sustainability as a demand for responsible packaging that works toward a more positive and sustainable future for the environment, says Beatriz Callanta, the company’s marketing manager.

SIG Combibloc is a certified manufacturer of carton packs at worldwide production sites in accordance with the criteria of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) ratings, she says. Its aseptic cartons consist of up to 75 percent of wood fiber, the company says. An FSC Mix label, which denotes the product was sourced from well-managed forests and other controlled sources, has appeared on fruit juice drinks and iced teas cartons in Europe, Callanta says.

The economic downturn had an effect on glass packaging manufacturers, says Joseph Cattaneo, president of the Glass Packaging Institute, Alexandria, Va.

“It wasn’t the greatest year,” Cattaneo says. “Our sales were down about 3 percent and our production was down about 4 percent. In the scheme of things, it wasn’t so bad. You have to look at it in the economic downturn because typically we don’t see that much downturn because people tend to drink and consume beverages more when times are troubled because the cost isn’t as high as maybe some other products.”

Despite the decline, consumers are becoming more aware of the sustainable attributes of glass, explains John T. Shaddox, president of Vitro Packaging, Plano, Texas. Vitro is working with the Glass Packaging Institute to continue to promote the positive attributes of glass packaging, including sustainability, taste and purity issues, Shaddox says.

Glass differentiation
Vitro also provides decoration technology, including paint, pressure-sensitive labels, acid etching and more in house. The company leveraged the in-house department to create a 1920s and 1930s retro-style painted glass bottle for Cheerwine by Carolina Beverage Corp., Salisbury, N.C.

“That’s the perfect example of what Vitro Packaging tries to do,” Shaddox says. “Specifically in the beverage industry, we want special shape molds, special decorations. We even like to get special packaging, such as four-pack carriers or six-pack carriers.”

Beer represents more than 50 percent of glass packaging sales, GPI’s Cattaneo says, so the industry was impacted by the category’s downturn. Owens-Illinois Inc. (O-I), Perrysburg, Ohio, recently rolled out an internally embossed bottle and black glass for beer and other beverages.

Featuring an embossed swirl pattern in the interior neck of the bottle, the Vortex initially was launched by Chicago’s MillerCoors brand Miller Lite. Television commercials during March’s NCAA basketball tournament promoted the effect the pattern has on the beer as it’s poured. The Vortex pattern is not the only option, O-I says. The interior embossing can have multiple patterns to provide benefits to other beverage types.

“I think Vortex is so exciting in terms of what our customers can do in terms of getting some shelf space, getting some more consumer interest, extending their brand, launching a line extension,” says Robert Carlton, director of global marketing communications for O-I.

O-I also introduced black glass bottles to help beverages stand out on the shelf, the company says. Mexican beer brand Simpatico recently launched its imported beer in black glass bottles. The dark glass also provides UV and visible light protection for sensitive beverages, but remains recyclable, says Mike Lonsway, vice president of global product innovation for O-I.

“We also see opportunities in other categories like non-alcoholic beverages, for instance, that might need that light protection, but don’t want that look of a beer bottle,” Lonsway says.

In addition to beer innovations, O-I also sees opportunities with functional glass packages, the emerging micro-distiller market and the health and wellness segment.

Metal minded
Innovation also is a focus for Exal, which has seen growth in demand for its aluminum bottle, Martin says.

“I think in 2002 when the bottles first came out it was kind of like, ‘Hey these are different, they’re kind of sexy, everybody likes the ‘Pow!Wow!’ graphics you can achieve, but as the trend moves into a true sustainable package, now it’s more of a mainstream package,” Martin says. “People are really focusing on the sustainability.”

In addition to the inherent benefits of aluminum, Exal promotes its coil-to-can (C2C) technology, which produces a lighter weight, lower cost bottle made with high recycled content, Martin says. Recognizing the potential growth for aluminum bottles, the company is investing in a third facility in Youngstown with high-speed bottle lines.

Exal’s C2C bottle has been used for limited-time only packages, on-premise bottles as well as for Canadian bottled water brand, Eska. In addition, Exal worked with The Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, to introduce a C2C bottle for its “white tablecloth” business, which consists of high-end restaurants and establishments.

Martin sees the aluminum bottle’s use in retort packaging applications as an emerging possibility. Exal has a resealable, retortable aluminum bottle, which would expand on the bottle’s sustainability advantages, he says. Given aluminum’s natural heat conducting capabilities, the bottle might help retorters conserve energy, Martin suggests.

Crown Beverage Packaging North America, a business unit of Crown Holdings, Philadelphia, is embracing both sustainability and visual differentiation advantages of its aluminum options. The company offers a variety of can sizes and an array of inks, such as thermochromic, glow-in-the dark and soft-touch inks. The company also uses Pictoris high-quality print technology, which uses high-resolution printing plates for improved print reproduction of complex images onto a metal surface, the company says.

Crown also has seen an emerging demand for its products from craft brewers, says Tom Hughes, marketing manager of Crown Beverage Packaging North America.

“We’ve noticed that craft brewers are starting to think about putting their brands and their beverages into cans, whereas before they kind of shied away from it, but they’ve recognized the need for it especially during the summertime when they’re out and about,” he says. “It’s an easier package to carry around — it’s lightweight, it’s durable, it doesn’t shatter like glass, it chills quickly and it’s easy to transport.”

Craft brewers also have embraced cans from Ball Corp., Broomfield, Colo. Ball works with more than 70 craft brewers in North America and expects to supply cans to 20 more by August, says Jennifer Hoover, the company’s manager of marketing communications.

Ball also offers several packaging options addressing the array of aluminum industry trends. The company has seen continued growth in specialty can sizes, such as Coca-Cola’s 7.5-ounce mini cans to the 32-ounce can used by Monster Energy. Ball also has created three options for resealable cans and bottles — the Alumi-Tek bottle, the Ball Resealable End (BRE) and the Cap Can.

Introduced in France in 2008, the BRE features a resealing mechanism that is pressure-tight up to 6.4 bars, Hoover says. A BRE-sealed can is opened by turning the mechanism and sealed by turning back and retains the can’s flat end. The flat, resealable BRE keeps the can’s stackability and other logistical benefits for transport, storage and retail, she says. Produced in Amsterdam, Monster Import with the BRE is imported for the American market. In the United States, Ball once again partnered with Monster for the DUB Edition Jumbo Cap Can. The can has a lug closure on the 32-ounce and 750-ml. cans that has a pop and smoke effect when opened.

Ball also offers various finishes for cans, including Eyeris high-resolution printing and temperature sensitive thermochromic inks. Recently, Rockstar Energy Cola used Ball’s matte finish cans that combine a high-end look with textured feel to reduce condensation so the can is less slippery, the text easy to read and graphics stand out, Hoover says. Rockstar Energy Cola also incorporated black ends and laser-incised tabs for a premium look.

PET prevalence
In addition to aluminum innovations, Ball also increased the average amount of post-consumer recycled (PCR) content in its PET bottles to 6.5 percent, Hoover says. Depending on consumer demands, the content can be higher, she says.

Ball also offers the KHS Plasmax barrier coating that is an ultra-thin Food and Drug Administration-compliant enhanced passive barrier for oxygen sensitive products. The incorporation of Plasmax barrier technology does not interfere with the recyclability of the bottle. Demands for Plasmax-coated bottles are increasing in alcohol and the non-alcohol segments, Ball says.

Organic tea and juice drink Made by Chicago’s Tenaya LLC introduced the first Plasmax-coated bottle this year, Hoover says. Made is packaged in 16-ounce PET bottles with Plasmax barrier and are aseptically filled, which allows the beverage to be packaged without preservatives and ship without refrigeration, both of which are important to the organic beverage, says Charley Snell, founder of Tenaya.

Barrier technology also is a focus for the makers of DiamondClear barrier material, Constar International, Philadelphia. DiamondClear provides oxygen scavenging benefits blended directly into the PET at customizable levels, says Mike Mooney, director of design engineering.

“DiamondClear is a mono-layer system that as the name tells it, it’s really crystal clear,” he says. “It even gives a slightly higher gloss than normal PET so it looks more like glass than anything previously.”

In addition to DiamondClear, Constar also has developed Vertical Compensation Technology and X4 technology for hot-fill beverages. Arizona Beverage Co., Cincinnati, chose X4 technology for its iced tea and Rescue Water products. The technology uses the base of the bottle to get the vacuum performance, Mooney says. This allows the bottle itself to stand out on the shelf versus the more traditional hot-fill bottles, he says.

Constar’s i-Design software-based solution has streamlined the design process and many models also have experienced a 15 to 20 percent lighter weight result, Mooney says. The trend toward lightweighting might be approaching its limit, says John C. Maddox president of consulting firm SBA-CCI Inc., Jacksonville, Fla. While the lightweighting of the top portion of a bottle, including the thread finishes, is likely to continue, Maddox sees the continued downgauging the body of the package to be a problem.

“To continue lightweighting more in the side wall, the consumer already is giving up too much,” he says. “This gets to the critical fork in the road: How far can the brand owner push the positive environmental impact of lightweighting without asking the consumer to accept an inferior package? In the current environmental mindset, the consumer has been willing to accept a lot and that has given the brand owners a huge opportunity for cost savings under the ‘green’ banner. But I believe we are approaching the limits of consumer acceptance, and the ultra-lightweight water bottles might be the first area of pushback.”

Makers of the ParaStar PET resin and Eastar co-polyesters, Eastman, also predicts lightweighting might be approaching its limit, Wight says.

“While on the one had we see the interest in the downgauging continuing, there’s probably a practical limit to how thin you can make a package or how much material you can take out of it before the package stops doing its job of protecting the contents,” he says. “I can’t say whether we’ve reached that limit, but I’m fairly confident that to make further in-roads into the amount of material in a package is going to require serious innovation and probably not just in package design, but possibly in materials design.”

Eastman has further addressed sustainability by reducing the energy used during production of ParaStar PET resin and also works with customers to develop new and lighter weight packages, Wight says.

Eastman also offers Eastar copolyesters that are often used for multi-serve packages, such as Pom Wonderful’s 48-ounce package with integrated handle. Eastar also was used for the packaging of children’s functional beverage Y Water, which is packaged in a reusable Y-shape bottle.

Multi-serve handleware also is impacting the development at DAK Americas Inc., Charlotte, N.C. The company is working on developing extrusion blowmolds for handleware, says Tom Sherlock, business manager. As part of its line of Laser+ PET resins, DAK has created a Laser+ resin with up to 390 nanometers of UV protection built in.

Keeping an eye on sustainability, DAK Americas partnered with Shaw Industries, a manufacturer of carpeting, to create Clear Path Reycling. The joint venture is building a plant in Cedar Creek, N.C., that will create PCR content for Shaw’s products as well as DAK’s PCR resins. It also is paying attention to the possibility of bio-based resin technology, Sherlock says.

“These bio-based materials are extracted from corn-based technology or sugar cane-based technology, we really don’t have a 100 percent bio-package out there yet, but there are a group of technologies that are chasing that trend,” he says.

Going forward O-I predicts more attention outside of the industry in regard to packaging sustainability, Carlton says.

“In the near term, I think there is going to be renewed or more interest around the sustainability of packaging,” he says. “This is a trend, the environment and sustainability, that’s been building for years. But I think you’re going to see consumers and regulatory agencies really want to dig deeper on this particular topic and have a much better understanding of the impact of various forms of packaging at least as it relates to this industry and certain other things outside of this industry.” BI

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